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From the Hill: Legislators ‘hammer out’ details of 2010-2011 state budget this week

By State Rep. Matthew Hill
Budget discussions heated up last week as lawmakers rolled up their sleeves and continued to work on reaching a consensus on a proposal, with some, including myself in the House against against any tax increases.
The leadership previously denounced the administration’s plan to implement an additional $85 million tax on single article sales as a way to balance the budget.
This tax proposal was in addition to $50 million the administration called for by increasing taxes on cable television, cable boxes, business telephone services, and free hotel breakfasts. In total, the Governor has proposed over $130 million in new taxes this year alone.
Opponents of the taxes have maintained, throughout budget discussions, that raising taxes on economic-weary Tennesseans would be irresponsible.
Their plan calls for significant reductions to discretionary spending, no tax increases, and leaving the Rainy Day Fund at roughly $500 million. Tax proponents, on the other hand, have proposed further depleting the Rainy Day Fund and a myriad of increased spending on various projects, funding them with proposed tax increases.
Some of the additional projects being discussed include $16 million for a fish hatchery, $4 million for demolition work at the UT Health Sciences Center, and $5 million for the National Civil Rights Museum. We will continue to hammer out details this week, as the General Assembly is constitutionally required to pass a balanced budget each year. Each General Assembly is allowed to meet for 90 session — or legislative — days over the course of two years. After session on Thursday morning, the House has only five legislative days left to finish business. The Senate has only three legislative days remaining.
The House Calendar and Rules Committee, which is responsible for setting the House floor agendas, considered House Bill 2622 last week. House Bill 2622 prohibits the legislature from requiring any person to participate in any health care system or plan.
Opponents attempted to refer the bill back to the House Health and Human Resources Committee essentially killing for it the year, but the proponents of the bill prevailed and it remained in Calendar and Rules.
After a lengthy discussion, the legislation was deferred until the next Calendar and Rules Committee meeting. House members have fought all year to enact legislation to counter the federal health care takeover, believing that expanding government programs is rarely an effective solution to complex issues. Further, proponents have argued the federal government’s takeover of healthcare will only prove to balloon the cost of healthcare services to the states.
Four more counties were approved to receive public assistance due to flooding. Residents in Cannon, Giles, Marshall, and Pickett Counties may now apply for FEMA assistance by registering online at www.fema.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA. Individual assistance can include grants to help pay for temporary housing, home repairs and other serious disaster-related expenses. Public assistance is also available to state and eligible local governments and certain non-profit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for debris removal and emergency protective measures.
Lawmakers discussed at length on Thursday an amendment that would restrict the use of traffic cameras. A study committee formed last year regarding the issue and met over the summer of 2009. The proposal put forward by the study committee was ultimately rejected by the State Senate. The amendment adopted Thursday prohibits local governments from installing traffic cameras after January 1, 2011 unless adopted by ordinance or resolution. The bill lawmakers to which lawmakers attached the amendment was then deferred until Monday.
Senate Bill 440, passed by the House last Monday night, would require felons who have had their voting rights revoked pay all court costs and any restitution owed in full in order to have their voting rights restored.