NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Tennessee lawmakers are trimming in half Gov. Bill Lee’s spending wish list items on restaurant and grocery store sales tax holidays, broadband expansion and local government grants. Instead, they want to funnel the money into the state’s pension plan.
Committees in the Republican-supermajority Legislature on Wednesday released their tweaks to the GOP governor’s spending plan.
Their amendment also removes a major hurdle for a bill to create a new three-judge panel to hear challenges of state laws and policies, funding the project at $1.1 million recurring.
That’s despite conflict-of-interest concerns that the initial judges who will hear cases against the governor and his administration would be appointed by the governor, who would pick each judge from a slate of candidates provided by the Trial Court Vacancy Commission. The judges, one from each Grand Division of the state, would face partisan statewide elections for eight-year terms starting with the August 2022 general election. The bill has not passed yet.
House and Senate plans both remove $50 million of the governor’s $100 million, two-week plan for a sales tax holiday for restaurants, bars and groceries. They would eliminate $100 million of the $200 million Lee had proposed for broadband expansion. And they drop $100 million of the $200 million Lee had planned for general local government grants.
The $250 million in one-time money trimmed would go toward the pension fund.
Republican Rep. Patsy Hazlewood said the plan is to include another $100 million for broadband in the following year’s budget, if more money is needed after the state receives federal broadband money that is coming its way.
She said more federal money will also be going to cities and counties, and likewise, another $100 million would go to local governments from the state in the following budget if it’s necessary.
The legislative approach also would drop Lee’s nearly $17 million plan to reduce the professional privilege tax on agents, broker-dealers, investment advisers, osteopathic physicians and physicians.
Lawmakers still need to pass the budget in the last few days of session. The governor can reduce or veto line items, but lawmakers can override with majority votes.