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Carter County Fish Hatchery a Flop Among Republicans

GOP says taxpayers shouldn’t be put on the hook for Kent Williams’ pork project. The House speaker says his home district deserves to nibble on state subsidies just as much as anybody else.

House Speaker Kent Williams says a $16.9 million trout hatchery in his home district would help boost the local economy, but lawmakers who live nearby think the idea sounds a little fishy.

Calling it “fish pork,” several legislators in Upper East Tennessee districts say there is no space in the state budget to fund special projects during tight economic times. Building a fish hatchery in Carter County is simply a pet project for the independent Speaker of the House of Representatives that he’ll then use to bait voters come election time, Williams’ rivals in the chamber charge.

It’s a move they say will leave cash-strapped Tennessee taxpayers on the hook to pay the tab.

“We have lots of fish farms in East Tennessee. They’re called rivers and lakes and streams,” said Rep. Jon Lundberg, a Bristol Republican who neighbors Williams’ district. “We don’t need to spend $16 million on, truly, a version of fish ‘pork.'”

For his part, Williams says a facility in Carter County would become a stimulator for the economy of Upper East Tennessee, an attractant to boatloads of tourists, not unlike a similar facility in Texas that the speaker says lands 80,000 visitors a year.

“Why shouldn’t Carter County and upper East Tennessee just get just a little chunk?” said Williams, who added that other areas have benefited from economic developments when the state attracted companies like Volkswagon or Hemlock Semiconductor.

“It’s not like we’re asking for $500 million. It’s a little chunk. And I don’t know why I’m getting so much resistance on it,” he said.

In addition to the schools of fishermen who’ll be reeled in not just by the hatchery but also the nearby rivers and streams to wet their lines, the planned aquatic learning center will help educate swarms of visiting students from regional school systems. All those visitors would in turn chum the economic waters with tourist dollars at restaurants, shops and lodging, claims Williams.

But Lundberg thinks Williams is telling fish stories — that in fact the hatchery wouldn’t make that big an economic splash. The primary beneficiaries of all the new trout swimming in nearby waters will primarily be local recreationalists, he said. And while the prospect of catching a few more lunkers for creel and skillet on a weekend outing no doubt sounds nice, he said it’ll hardly heat up the local economy.

Republicans also point out that Williams’ “little chunk” looks more like a pretty good sized hunk when considering some of the much cheaper projects GOP lawmakers have also announced they’ll be tossing back instead of keeping onboard next year’s budget, including $5 million for a National Civil Rights museum and $4 million for construction work at the University of Tennessee Health Sciences Center in Memphis.

State officials don’t know what kind of economic impact to expect, either.

“There’s no way to know. We’d probably project 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year,” said Bart Carter, TWRA fisheries manager for the northeast region. Another agency official, TWRA Assistant Director Nat Johnson, said tourist numbers could be as high as 60,000 visitors based on attendance numbers at a similar facility in Athens, Texas.

Athens is less than 100 miles from the Dallas–Fort Worth–Arlington metroplex, which has a population — around 6.5 million — greater than the entire state of Tennessee.

The Northeast Tennessee Tourism Association said their region now has the fastest growing economy in the state. According to 2008 data, the last year available, the state showed the largest economic growth statewide with $640.64 million in travel-related spending in the eight-county area. Carter County, with population of 59,000 people, collected $31.2 million in travel-related expenditures.

The whole idea of spending money on the fish-hatchery project at this point in time makes Justin Owen’s head swim.

“This is a prime example of government gone wild,” said the policy director for the Tennessee Center for Public Research. He added that the Tennessee Constitution “doesn’t say anything in there about hatching fish.”

“What the Speaker calls a capitol project is really code name for pork-barrel spending,” said Owen, who this week launched a Facebook event page urging lawmakers to “Say No To Fish Roe.”

“He’s flat out saying by virtue of him being Speaker he can redirect money to his district,” Owen said.

Gov. Phil Bredesen added the fish hatching capitol project to his budget earlier this month. The plan, which is close to the Independent speaker’s heart, was tacked onto a long list of amendments to the Democratic governor’s $28 billion spending plan.

The state now owns and operates 10 fish hatcheries across the state, including two others in nearby Buffalo Springs and Erwin. If the state OK’s building the facility in Carter County, hatchery operations would be run by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and supported through licensing fees and federal funding, according to the governor’s budget office.

The hatchery, which would create some 22 jobs, needs another $16.1 million in funding this year to get off the ground. About $800,000 for planning and architecture work was paid for by the state last year, according to the administration.

If passed, the remaining funding would depend entirely on whether Tennessee receives some one-time federal dollars expected to top off at $341 million.

Democrats so far are including the project in their budget proposals, but House Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, of Old Hickory, wouldn’t say how far the party would go to support the Speaker’s project.

House Republican Leader Jason Mumpower — who, like Lundberg, hails from Williams’ neck of the woods — would not go so far as to say the idea is dead in the water. But he reiterated the GOP line that this year “is not really the time for earmarks of any type.”

“What we need to do is pass a budget that includes no new taxes, and make sure we keep expenses under tight control,” said the Bristol Republican.

10 replies on “Carter County Fish Hatchery a Flop Among Republicans”

Elizabethton on track for $15M TRW fish hatchery
Published March 26th, 2009


Rivals spar over Carter fish hatchery plan
By John Thompson
Elizabethton Bureau Chief

ELIZABETHTON — Some of the first punches were traded in Round 3 of the the political battle between Speaker of the House Kent Williams and his challenger, former State Rep. Jerome Cochran.

The rematch is not official unless Cochran defeats Priscilla G. Steele in the Aug. 5 Republican Primary, but Cochran began the attack shortly after midnight Monday with a news release in which he announced he was opposed to funding $16 million in next year’s budget for a new Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency fish hatchery at the end of Cherokee Park Drive.

“I believe the fish hatchery is a wonderful project but we simply cannot afford it at this time. Supporting this project is similar to a family that can’t afford its mortgage going out and buying a new car,” Cochran said in his release.

“During a difficult budget year when the state legislature has cut salaries for teachers and state employees, the fish hatchery should not be a top priority,” Cochran said in his release.

Williams responded strongly when he learned of Cochran’s statement.

“Jerome Cochran has no idea of what is in the budget, he hasn’t been in Nashville in four years and he really didn’t know the budget when he was here,” Williams said, adding that Cochran’s statements about cuts in teacher pay were not true.

Cochran responded to Williams by saying it demonstrated “an arrogance of power.” He said “you don’t have to be in Nashville to see what tax increases are doing to families and small businesses.”

“The money for the fish hatchery is not coming from state funds,” Williams said. “It looks like we are going to get $341 million in federal stimulus money. That is money that has to be spent. You can’t put it in a rainy day fund, it is going to be spent. It is going to be spent all over the state, why not spend a little of it in Carter County?” Williams said.

Cochran said he had not been aware that the $16 million for the project was coming from federal money, but he said with a trillion-dollar deficit, he believed spending federal borrowed funds was even more of a bad idea.

“That doesn’t change things, it is still more wasteful spending, whether it is coming from D.C. or from Nashville, it is still irresponsible,” Cochran said.

Williams said there was noting irresponsible about the fish hatchery. It is a project the TWRA has been working on for nearly a decade and he said it should have been accomplished when Cochran was representing the district.

“He says this is not the time to build it, but it has never been the right time for the past 100 years in Nashville for any project for Carter County or Johnson County or Unicoi County or Washington County,” Williams said.

Williams said he was elected to get things done for his district and he is doing that.

He also defended the state’s financial condition. He said the state budget has been slashed by 15 percent in the past two years in response to declining revenue, but unlike most other states, Tennessee continued to invest in its infrastructure.

Williams said as a result of that investment, Tennessee is in much better shape for recovery than other states. He said last month’s increase in revenue is a positive sign, but even if there is no economic growth at all in the state next year the budget will be balanced. He said there is still $400 million left in the state’s rainy day fund.

“There are a lot of states that would love to be in our position,” Williams said.

[…more at hyperlinnk]

Aid bill could save 3,000-plus teaching jobs in TN |

TN Didn’t Count On Aid

Tennessee is one of a few states that didn’t count on the additional Medicaid assistance when it put together its budget for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Instead, the legislature established a list of projects that would be funded if the extra funding were approved. Among those are:

• $120 million for community and technical colleges.

• $90 million to improve the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s communication system.

The Tennessee Highway Patrol estimates that only half the state has reliable radio coverage, endangering citizens and the safety of troopers.

Colleges, teachers win big in aid bill
Nashville schools’ plan for better teachers won’t link pay, scores
“We have towers in the state that are aged and in need of repair,” said Mike Browning, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Safety.

• $60.6 million for economic development projects, including $9.6 million for the 3,500-acre West Tennessee “megasite” near Interstate 40 in Haywood County.

• $10 million for a small-business jobs fund.

A total of $341.6 million in contingency spending was identified by the legislature. It wasn’t immediately clear how a lesser amount would be divided. (The same amount federal funding as identified by TNGA House Speaker Kent Williams as a funding source for the Tennessee General Assembly to allocate toward the proposed TWRA Elizabethton cold-water trout hatchery )

Ramsey promises Jonesborough voters 20 year Governor’s Pork Project @ $1.554 million per year

“…Ramsey stood outside the Storytelling Center for some time talking with Mayor Kelly Wolfe, Town Administrator Bob Browning and the president and Jimmy Neil Smith, founder of the Storytelling Center, discussing downtown revitalization and the courthouse square revitalization act. State Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, who was on board in introducing the bill to the Legislature also was downtown for the discussion.

Ramsey said he believes if he is elected governor the Jonesborough will have a much easier time getting it passed next year.

“I think this year we will have the correct information to begin with and, No. 2, I hope I’m governor so that I can submit it in the budget when I submit the budget and then it will be a whole lot easier to pass.”

HB2682 Municipal Government – As introduced, enacts “Courthouse Square Revitalization and Tourism Development Zone Act.”
(Adobe Acrobat .pdf file)

HB2682 Fiscal Note ($1,554,000 decreased state revenue per year)

Rep. Casada reveals permanent GOPer opposition to Elizabethton hatchery | Tea Party HD

TNGA Rep. Glen Casada reveals position that with an increase of Republican majority numbers within the Tennessee House of Representatives that permanent opposition to the construction of the proposed TWRA Elizabethton fish hatchery will be “a done deal”.

Ramsey lies over 16 emails: “E-mails on fish hatchery don’t back Ramsey claim” | The Tennessean't+back+Ramsey+claim%22+%7C&cd=2&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari

E-mails on fish hatchery don’t back Ramsey claim
Count shows pros, cons even
By Erik Schelzig

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey told reporters toward the end of the legislative session that e-mails from constituents supported Republican senators’ opposition to a fish hatchery project in northeast Tennessee.

An Associated Press records request filed the day after the legislature adjourned Thursday shows that GOP senators received just 16 e-mails about the $16 million fish hatchery, and that they were evenly split on the project.

Ramsey’s spokesman did not respond to a message seeking comment.

(…more at hyperlink)

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