Legislative Update

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Governor Lee presents conservative budget proposal highlighting job growth, public safety and education improvements

Governor Bill Lee presented his first State of the State / Budget Address to the General Assembly last Monday evening outlining his proposals for the 2019-2020 budget year. The proposed budget continues Tennessee’s strong fiscal stewardship which has earned the state triple-A bond ratings with the nation’s top credit rating agencies and recognition as one of the best financially managed states in the U.S. It also makes key investments to promote job growth, improve education, expand rural opportunities, and enhance public safety.

In addition, the Governor offered initiatives to modernize healthcare and make it more affordable.

Lawmakers went straight to work last Tuesday examining budget details. The Senate Finance, Ways and Means Committee heard testimony from administration officials who gave a budget overview and answered numerous questions about the spending plan. Committee members expressed strong support for the Governor’s plan to add a record-breaking deposit to the Rainy Day Fund that will lift the state’s savings account to a historic high of $1.1 billion. The fund is critical in times of emergency or a downturn in the economy.

The $38.6 billion budget represents a 1.1 percent growth and cuts $42.2 million in costs without compromising services. It also does not take on any long-term debt. On tax relief, the proposal provides $10 million to fund legislation repealing the amusement tax on gym memberships which has disproportionately impacted small business owners. The tax relief legislation advanced through the Senate Revenue Subcommittee this week. The tax, which is exempted for gyms over 15,000 square feet, serves as a disincentive for physical fitness centers at a time when Tennessee is ranked 40th in the nation for physical activity and 35th for adult obesity. Illnesses related to diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease costs Tennessee directly and indirectly more than $5.3 billion annually.

The Senate’s nine standing committees have scheduled a combined 59 hearings to review individual budgets of all departments and agencies of state government over the next five weeks.

The full speech is available on Governor Lee’s website and the proposed budget is available on the Department of Finance & Administration website.

Proposed budget prioritizes education improvements

GIVE Act expanding access to vocational and technical training advances through the Senate Education Committee 

The centerpiece of Governor Lee’s 2019-2020 budget is funding for a series of proposals designed to improve education opportunities for Tennessee students, preparing them for the jobs of the future. This includes $25 million for the Governor’s Investment in Vocation Education (GIVE) Act, expanding access to vocational and technical training for Tennessee students. The legislation authorizing the program was approved by the Senate Education Committee this week.

Senate Bill 805 is a two-pronged approach that utilizes regional partnerships to develop work-based learning and apprenticeship opportunities. GIVE also provides funding for high school juniors and seniors to utilize four, fully-funded dual enrollment credits for trade and technical programs. Previously, high school students only had access to two fully-funded dual enrollment credits. With access to four credits, students will now be better prepared for entry into the workforce within two years of graduation.

Two grant programs will fund the initiative: GIVE Community Grants and GIVE Student Grants. Using the framework of the state’s Labor Education Alignment Program (LEAP), the governor will recommend new funding to support work-based learning through GIVE Community Grants. These competitive grants will go to regional partnerships between TCATs, industry, and K-12 to build new programs in work-based learning and apprenticeships, market-driven dual-credit opportunities, and the expansion of industry-informed CTE offerings at local high schools.

GIVE Student Grants will be funded via the Tennessee Lottery and support expanded access to dual enrollment.

In addition to the GIVE Act, other key proposals in the budget to improve education and support teachers and students include:

  • $71 million for a pay raise for teachers and school personnel across Tennessee and professional development programming;
  • $175 million in new funding to support teachers and students in the state’s traditional public schools;
  • $30 million in new funds, to be combined with $10 million in recurring funds, to provide school safety grants to better protect teachers and students;
  • $25 million for an Education Savings Account (ESA) pilot program to serve low-income students in districts with three or more schools ranked in the bottom 10 percent, with no loss of funding for the school district in which the pupil leaves;
  • $12 million to double the amount of facility funding available to public charter schools and provide new criteria for access to public facilities;
  • $5.45 million for the Future Workforce Initiative to increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) training in K-12 schools;
  • $4.5 million to support a three-year pilot program to provide support services for high school students in Tennessee’s 15 distressed counties; and
  • $500,000 to support and recognize those schools that prioritize teaching our nation’s history and civic values.