Press Release from the Tennessee Senate Democratic Caucus, June 4, 2010:
Spending plan restores funding to combat infant mortality, provides tax relief for storm victims
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Senate Democrats put Tennesseans first in passing a state budget that created no new taxes but instead laid groundwork for job opportunities and educational success in the state’s future.
“Senate Democrats led the way in placing the priorities and values of Tennesseans above extreme partisan politics,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney (D-Jackson). “In the end, bickering and posturing gets us nowhere. Senate Democrats cut through the noise and provided the leadership Tennesseans expect.”
Led by Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle (D-Memphis), Senate Democrats were able to successfully negotiate a budget that provides vital services for Tennessee’s most vulnerable babies, creates job opportunities across the state, gives desperately needed support to our farmers and helps thousands of Tennesseans who suffered catastrophic damage during the May floods.
The spending plan comes after Senate Republicans presented a budget proposal full of crippling cuts to many successful state programs, including the Governor’s Office of Children’s Care Coordination, which works to lower the infant mortality rate in Tennessee.
Tennessee has the 47th worst infant death rate in the country, with Memphis’ death rate ranking the worst among U.S. cities and comparable to that of some third-world countries. Democrats stood firm on ensuring that those funds would be restored in the final Senate version of the budget passed Thursday.
“We should be doing everything we can to save our babies’ lives,” Kyle said. “We as Democrats could not, in good conscience, go home and tell the mothers and fathers of this state that we were going to turn a blind eye to their children.”
Democrats also led the way in job creation by developing a new program to help develop small business job growth throughout Tennessee, and funding education to train Tennesseans for the jobs of the future. The new Small Business Jobs Opportunity Fund will provided low-cost loans and financial assistance to up-and-coming small businesses looking to grow and create new jobs in Tennessee. The program is contingent on the funding being approved by Congress later this year.
Also included in those federal funds is $120 million for community colleges and technical schools, which will train students quickly and effectively for new jobs coming to the state through companies like Volkswagen, Hemlock and Wacker Chemie.
But Senate Democrats also remembered what makes up the backbone of Tennessee’s economy: farmers. Farming contributes $44.2 billion to Tennessee’s economy and employs 342,000 Tennesseans, but Senate Republicans wanted to severely limit the agriculture enhancement grants that provide funding for cost-share programs, equipment assistance, and agriculture growth programs in Tennessee. Senate Democrats added $20 million to those grants, splitting the addition between state and federal funds.
“These grants help farmers keep farmland in their families for generations by allowing them to adapt to changing agricultural trends,” Finney said. “At a time when our economy needs a boost, agriculture enhancement grants are a great investment in Tennessee.”
Finally, Senate Democrats helped their neighbors who needed help the most. Sen. Douglas Henry (D-Nashville) and Sen. Joe Haynes (D-Goodlettsville) sponsored legislation to provide nearly $20 million in sales tax relief on all major home and repair purchases, as well as property tax breaks for those whose homes have been destroyed.
The tax break, which will be capped at $2,500, will help affected West and Middle Tennesseans save thousands of dollars as they continue to rebuild their lives. The legislation will not severely impact revenues, as the state would not have counted on a drastic increase in such purchases had the floods not occurred.
“Tennessee is known as the Volunteer State for a reason, and our neighbors have earned national recognition for the assistance they have provided for each other,” Henry said. “This tax relief is one more way that lawmakers can help our neighbors in a time of great need.”
While some Senate Republicans insisted that they had to make draconian cuts to score political points, Democrats buckled down and fought for those who needed help the most while staying economically responsible. The Democratic spending plan provides for a healthy rainy day fund of about $600 million, meaning the budget will prepare Tennessee for the coming year while still saving for the future.
“Tennessee values are built on common sense and prudent decisions, not knee-jerk reactions and one-size-fits-all solutions,” Finney said. “This budget was a hard budget, but it is also a responsible budget for all of Tennessee.”