Tennessee lawmakers leave door open for special session to deal with infusion of federal funds
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has brushed aside the idea of a special session to deal with billions of dollars in federal funding, but some key lawmakers say lawmakers may need to be called back to Nashville at the end of its summer to handle the overflow of money.
The state is expected to receive $ 8.6 billion in federal funds, including $ 4 billion in state coffers, of which $ 3.82 billion is for fiscal stimulus and $ 216 million for projects of coronavirus-related assets, according to reports.
Another $ 2.27 billion will go directly to county and city governments, and $ 2.3 billion is planned for local school districts. School districts also have about $ 2.7 billion more from previous allocations.
Lawmakers adjourned the first year of the 112th General Assembly on May 5. But discussions have circulated for weeks as to whether lawmakers should return to approve spending of those federal funds and make other adjustments.
Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee Chairman Senator Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said this week it was not clear whether the legislature could avoid a special session due to the sheer amount of money. destined for Tennessee. The 2021-2022 fiscal year begins on July 1.
As part of the state budget expansion request process, agencies seek approval of budget adjustments to account for the extra money, and House and Senate finance chairmen interview their members for see if they approve the adjustments or if they want to hold hearings before the presidents approve the money. .
“We’re going to try to run our normal expansion request process with these new federal dollars coming in unless it’s so heavy we just can’t handle it. We don’t know yet,” said Watson.
Not only the large amount of money involved, but also the number of expansion requests and the potential for reallocation of local funds could force lawmakers to return to Nashville, Watson said.
For example, the governor put $ 100 million into the state’s $ 42.6 billion spending plan for broadband expansion. But the federal funding could bring in an additional $ 100 million for operating broadband in underserved areas, and lawmakers will have to decide whether they want to get that money back from the state sooner or until January, Watson said.
Likewise, money going directly to school districts and local governments could ‘supplant’ funds approved by the legislature for schools and city and county governments, and lawmakers might need to determine how much to reinvest in the school. state budget, according to Watson.
“I would say if the federal government is replacing the state dollars, then the state should at least consider whether we can reallocate those dollars for other purposes,” Watson said.
An extraordinary session, which would probably cost the state around $ 50,000 for a day, seems unlikely, however.
A spokesman for Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, confirmed that lawmakers had previously spoken about the possibility of asking the governor to convene the General Assembly, but now hope to avoid one.
“While there have been discussions and it is still an option, a special session may not be necessary. Lt. Gov. McNally hopes the process of requesting expansion through the committees of the finance as well as the bipartisan fiscal responsibility group will make a special session budget unnecessary, ”McNally spokesman Adam Kleinheider said in a statement.
House Speaker Cameron Sexton said no discussions were underway regarding a special session.
And Lee, when asked about the need for a special session, said bipartisan members of his financial stimulus accountability group should be able to avoid the need for a rally this summer.
Speakers from the Senate and House, finance presidents, other Democrats and Republicans, the finance and administration commissioner and the comptroller are on the panel. The group will work to determine how the money should be spent to “ensure transparency” and the contribution of Tennesseans, Lee said.
The Tennessee Journal reported in April that the addition of Pro Senate Speaker Tem Ferrell Haile of Gallatin and House Finance Chair Patsy Hazlewood of Signal Mountain to the group was seen as a way to prevent a special session.
Still, House Democratic caucus chairman Vincent Dixie said he believed “serious discussions” were underway, at least on a preliminary basis, to hold a special session. He has a different view than Republican leaders have on how any special session devoted to federal money should be used.
“I don’t mind having a special session, but I don’t want it to be like this budget process is one where Democrats have no input. There hasn’t been a meaningful conversation between Democrats. or Republicans throughout this process, ”said Dixie mentioned.
Dixie and other Democratic leaders have claimed they have stayed on the sidelines as Republicans who hold a supermajority split the funds in the budget ahead of a final vote. House Speaker Sexton balked at the idea, saying the Main Democrats received budget details as soon as they were available.
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