budget

Revised Haslam budget pays TVA $11.8M to keep Ocoee River rafting afloat

The state will provide $11.8 million to TVA to keep the Ocoee River rafting industry afloat for the next 20 years under the newly-revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget for the coming fiscal year, reports the Times-Free Press.

The state money will reimburse TVA for the cost of power lost when the Polk County river flows freely during the spring, summer and early fall, allowing whitewater rafting operations. Otherwise, TVA diverts the river flow into a plume for electric power generation.

“It’s a huge win for Southeast Tennessee,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who along with Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, have been working with the whitewater industry and their representatives, Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, TVA, the U.S. Forest Service and others to come to an agreement.

Bell and Howell have legislation (HB74) moving in the General Assembly to create a new type of water authority, the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund, to support recreational water releases on the Ocoee.

The new entity would be overseen by an 11-member board and all fees currently paid by whitewater rafting customers to TVA would go into the fund.

Note: TVA now receives funds to repay for loss of power generation through a fee tacked onto each ticket sold by rafting operations, but an agreement on the matter expires in 2018. Under the new deal, TVA gets its money up front, the new development fund gets the fees (expected to be about $4 per ticket) and repays the state over a period of years.

Haslam budget booster amendment: Surplus money for new state library, roads

With his tax package now approved by the legislature, Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday proposed some changes to the 2017-18 state budget plan he presented back in February.

Maybe the most notable revisions are the addition of $55 million in supplemental one-time funding (from the current budget surplus) on road projects — beyond what is envisioned in his tax bill, which includes higher gas and diesel fuel taxes — and $40 million towards the $98 million needed to build a new state Library and Archives building, advocated for years by Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

Both of those proposals are virtually guaranteed approval of the legislature as lawmakers get into serious work on the budget next week. The publicly-released documents don’t say which road projects get the new advance funding (but one could speculate that projects in the districts of legislators who voted no on his proposl might not be a high priority). It also appears that the governor is leaving about $125 million in surplus money for legislators to distribute as they, collectively, decide how to spend.

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TN tax revenue $70M below budget estimate in March

News release from the Department of Finance and Administration

Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin today announced that Tennessee tax revenue fell short of budgeted estimates in March. March sales tax revenues reflect retail activity occurring in February, and overall March revenues were $993.6 million, which is $100.9 million less than we collected in March of 2016 and $70.1 million less than the budgeted estimate for the month.

“March sales tax revenues recorded negative growth and were also below our budgeted expectations,” Martin said. “This is due in part to having one less day of retail activity this February compared to February 2016 and also growing over an extraordinarily high base from last year. In addition, the Department of Revenue implemented a new tax administration system this month and extended the sales tax filing deadline. The April report should capture any March outstanding liability taxpayers owe.

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‘Nashville,’ taxpayer-supported TV show, gets another season

CMT announced on Monday there will be a sixth season of the TV show Nashville, which has now received about $57 million in subsidies from state government and Nashville, reports WSMV.

Last year, the show was canceled by ABC and picked up by CMT. It’s now CMT’s top-rated show, and taxpayer money has helped keep it alive.

“I can tell you unequivocally the show Nashville is not a good investment for taxpayers,” said Mark Cunningham with the Beacon Center of Tennessee.

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More funding recommended for poor in TN court system

After 18 months of study, a task force set up by the state Supreme Court has provided its recommendations on changes needed to provide appropriate legal representation to the poor – including higher pay for the lawyers who serve them.

From the News Sentinel’s report:

“What we are talking about are programs designed to protect the liberties of people from inappropriate interference by the government,” said former Tennessee Supreme Court Justice William C. Koch Jr., who served as chairman of the Indigent Representation Task Force.

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Senate eyes recess while House tussels with taxes

State Senate leaders are considering a week’s recess in late April to let the House catch up in acting on legislation – most notably Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package and the interrelated state budget for the next fiscal year.

And there’s more senatorial criticism of House Speaker Beth Harwell’s move to seek an alternative to the Haslam plan that does not include a gas tax increase.

The budget cannot be approved until the fate of Haslam’s tax plans is decided. Senators expect to approve their latest version, including gas and diesel fuel tax hikes, in Finance Committee next week, clearing it for a floor vote. Harwell, on the other hand, says she wants to instead propose an alternative to the Haslam plan next week.

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Emails show UT officials fired reporter in fear of funding loss in firing reporter

Email correspondence between University of Tennessee at Chattanooga top officials, obtained by the Times-Free Press, show that lawmaker pressure and a fear of losing state funding were indeed involved in the firing of WUTC reporter Jacqui Helbert.

Comments in emails appear in some respects appear to contradict earlier statements of UTC officials on the firing of Helbert, who has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the university.

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New bill would reimburse Nashville area legislator motel cost

Legislators living within 50 miles of the state Capitol could their motel bills paid by the state under a change in current law pushed by House Majority Leader Glen Casada and approved by a House subcommittee, reports the Nashville Scene.

The move came in the form of an amendment to HB1139, filed as a caption bill. At present, legislators living within 50 miles of the Capitol – including Casada – get $59 per day automatically as a “per diem” payment for days when they’re doing legislative work. That’s the amount calculated to cover a day’s worth of meals in Nashville.

Legislators living more than 50 miles away get an extra $171 in “per diem” payments – the amount calculated under a federal government formula as the average cost of a Nashville motel room for a day. Casada’s amendment (the Scene posted a copy HERE, though it’s not yet on the legislative website) appears to let Nashville area lawmakers get their motel bills reimbursed by the state — provided they file a request on each occasion and the amount is no more than the calculated $171 average.

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Opposition develops to demolishing Henry Horton State Park Inn

Marshall County residents are rallying to preserve the inn at Henry Horton State Park, which is scheduled to be demolished under the governor’s budget proposal for the coming year and two legislators representing the county are trying to help, reports the Marshall County Tribune.

As it stands, Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed budget for 2017-18 includes $10.05 million for capital projects at the park, but is missing the approximately $6.7 million that TDEC asked for to renovate the inn at the park.

The budget request includes, among other projects, funding to build a new restaurant and visitor center at the park, but, as it is currently written, would demolish the 60-room inn, without replacement. The request would leave the 12-room motel facility at the park as well as the five cabins that the park offers.

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Roe doesn’t expect Congress to go along with Trump eliminating ARC

The Appalachian Regional Commission is one of 19 current federal agencies that would be defunded under President Trump’s proposed budget, but Republican Rep. Phil Roe of Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District says that’s probably not going to happen, reports the Johnson City Press.

The president’s proposal, subtitled “A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” provides increases to defense spending and law enforcement while eliminating the ARC’s $120 million appropriation, $3 billion for the Community Development Block Grant program — used by rural communities to provide housing, build infrastructure and stimulate job growth — and a slew of other domestic agencies and programs.

… In an emailed statement… Roe, R-Tenn., applauded the Trump budget proposal’s support for national defense and assured the safety of programs benefitting rural Appalachia.

… “In the weeks and months ahead, Congress will decide whether or not to adopt the president’s recommendations. Programs like the Appalachian Regional Commission, which does tremendous good for rural Appalachia, have bipartisan support in Congress and I don’t expect they will be eliminated. I look forward to working with my colleagues in Congress and the president to work toward getting our fiscal house in order and balancing our budget.”

Note: The Atlantic has a list of the 19 defunded agencies, including in its report this observation on eliminating the ARC: Its inclusion is notable, because it serves a region that largely supported Trump, and which he has promised to revive economically.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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