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From the Hill: With time winding down, lawmakers still at work on state budget

By State Rep. Matthew Hill
Budget discussions continued last week, with conservatives standing firm against any wasteful projects and tax increases.
Lawmakers have maintained, throughout budget discussions, that raising taxes on economic-weary Tennesseans and additional money spent on wasteful projects are irresponsible. Their plan calls for significant reductions in discretionary spending, no tax increases, and leaving the Rainy Day Fund at a healthy level.
Flood relief plans have been discussed during budget negotiations as lawmakers recognize the need for aid. Proposed methods for funding flood relief proposals include using cash from the state’s Rainy Day Fund, using a portion of stimulus money, and through various tax relief measures.
We 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 three legislative days left to finish business. The Senate has only one legislative day remaining. Lawmakers can continue session after the legislative days are depleted, but cannot receive per diem beyond 90 days.
The Governor’s original budget proposal totaled $28.4 billion, including over $130 million in tax increases. House leadership previously denounced the Governor’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, long-distance telephone services, and free continental breakfasts that hotels and motels sometimes provide.
The House passed House Joint Resolution 1253 commending Arizona for its bold move on immigration policies. Arizona recently passed a law that allows law enforcement officials to require citizenship documentation on any citizen that is detained or arrested. The resolution passed with a 67-27 vote.
The recent immigration policy adopted by Arizona has received national attention. In a poll conducted by MSNBC, NBC, and Telemundo, 61 percent of Americans support Arizona’s actions. Lawmakers have defended the law’s importance from both an immigration and economic standpoint. Individual states and municipalities across the country have implemented a slew of illegal immigration laws in the last few years following inaction by the federal government.
To read the resolution in its entirety, please visit http://www.capitol.tn.gov/Bills/106/Bill/HJR1253.pdf. The resolution has been sent to the Senate for action.
Lawmakers debated at length last week on the House floor whether or not to allow traffic surveillance cameras. House Bill 2875 was originally introduced to allow the formation of “automobile clubs and associations,” but lawmakers attempted to add a flurry of amendments to the bill that aimed at restricting the use of traffic cameras, imposing new regulations on them, or banning them outright.
After January 1, 2011, no local government may place or operate traffic cameras on any highway that is maintained using state funds unless the location has been adopted by ordinance or resolution.
Numerous bills were filed this year to either ban or lessen the impact of traffic surveillance cameras in Tennessee, after public outcry reached a fever pitch.
Cities and counties in Tennessee have increasingly turned to the automated systems for surveillance of intersections and roadways. The Tennessee General Assembly studied the use of traffic cameras over the summer and fall of 2009. Lawmakers echoed criticisms from constituents that in addition to a violation of rights, the motivation behind the cameras is money, not safety.
Proponents of the cameras argue that safety is the priority in using the cameras.
The bill recommended by the committee stalled earlier this year, but the amendment passed Thursday contains similar wording.