The final countdown to the end of Tennessee’s current legislative session appeared to have begun in earnest Wednesday. The Senate approving their version of the state budget and the House Republican Caucus voted to finish their business by Friday afternoon instead of continuing into next week.
The Senate budget, crafted by the Haslam administration and guided through the chamber by Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville, coasted through with the support of the GOP supermajority.
Democrats in the Senate were vocal in their opposition to some aspects of the roughly $32 million package, or, more accurately, to nearly $2 million that wasn’t being spent.
Memphis Democrat Jim Kyle expressed frustration with the fellow senators following the floor session, telling reporters “we’re leaving $1.9 million and we’re refusing to appropriate it, which means the money goes into a fund the governor will then spend next year, as opposed to…very worthwhile projects.”
“We’re not funding them for reasons that the majority would not ever explain,” Kyle continued. “We’re saying we’re not going to feed people we could be feeding… we’re not going to provide healthcare, we’re not going to provide social services for people who have been receiving it.”
Norris characterized the decision to hold back a portion of funds as “ the most prudent course of action to follow.”
The House passed the budget bill 82-14. Lower-chamber Democrats tried to amend it to leave open the possibility of snatching up federal Medicaid-expansion dollars under the Affordable Care Act, but Republicans shot that effort down.
A first-term House GOP lawmaker, James Van Huss of Jonesborough, tried to delay a vote on the budget until Thursday, saying he hadn’t had time to absorb all its details. But that request died as well on a 54-36 vote.
A member of Harwell’s staff estimated for TNReport that upwards of 50 items remain left to consider.
Senate Majority Leader Norris told reporters Wednesday that he is confident the upper chamber can finish its business by the end of the week as well.