Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he is on board with a plan to build a $16.9 million fish hatchery in upper East Tennessee, a project that just a few months ago he said was perceived by voters and GOP lawmakers as “purely pork.”
He approved a motion to move forward with more than a quarter million dollars worth of planning for the project at a State Building Commission meeting in Nashville Thursday, later telling reporters he always supported the fish hatchery but just didn’t think last spring was the right time to fund it.
“It was just getting the cart before the horse from the very beginning,” Ramsey said. “That’s what I’ve argued from the very beginning. I’ve never, ever said I was against the project. Ever.”
If state revenues perk up by the next legislative session, Ramsey said he’d support adding the remaining costs of the fish hatchery to the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget.
The hatchery drew controversy earlier this year during contentious state budget negotiations.
House Speaker Kent Williams pushed for funding the facility, to be located in his hometown of Elizabethton. Senate Republicans and Ramsey stood firmly against the project. “Fish,” GOP lawmakers became fond of saying, “is the new pork.”
At the time, Ramsey denied speculation that his opposition to the hatchery was a move to punish the Republican-turned-independent Williams for voting with Democrats in 2009’s infamous House Speaker election in which Williams edged out GOP-favorite Jason Mumpower.
Rather, Ramsey said the project was simply an unacceptable example of out-of-control government spending.
“This is a symbol of running things the Tennessee way, not the Washington way,” Ramsey said at the time.
He made the comments in May as the legislature scrambled to wrap up the year’s legislative session in time for campaign season. Earlier this month, Ramsey lost in the primary election to Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. However, he still holds the top leadership position in the Senate.
The State Building Commission, which includes both Ramsey and Williams, authorized the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to move forward with $290,000 worth of pre-planning work on the hatchery. Blueprints for the facility will be ready by January, according to Dwight Hensley, TWRA Chief of Engineering and Real Estate.