The Tennessee legislature, which has produced an austerity budget severely reduced from last year’s levels, has apparently managed, nevertheless, to save several threatened programs of more than usual importance to Memphis and Shelby County.
As of 11:17 Thursday night, the state Senate overwhelmingly passed a version of budget for next fiscal year that contains full funding for the Governor’s Office of Child Care Coordination, including infant mortality prevention programs, as well as $5 million for the National Civil Rights Museum, conditional upon federal matching funds. Also salvaged were funds for demolition of buildings on the University of Tennessee Center for Health Sciences campus.
The House was scheduled to take up the budget on Friday, likely the last full day for the current legislative session, and was expected to vote its approval.
As part of the cliffhanger negotiations over the budget between leaders of the two legislative chambers, the infant morality programs and the NCRM funds had been in jeopardy, with Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) keeping them at arm’s length until the issue of a $16 million fish hatchery desired by House Speaker Kent Williams (Ind., Elizabethtown) had been dealt with.
Williams, who had been backed by the House Democrats, eventually relented on the fish hatchery, which had been regarded as a bargaining chip of sorts.
One indication of the agreement was the fact that even State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown), a persistent foe of state spending who was in the minority that voted against several of the bills that closed out budget arrangements in the Senate, took to the floor Thursday night to approve the inclusion of the infant morality funds in the final budget version.
Said Kelsey: “I think we’re making the right decision in funding these programs, in addressing the infant mortality issue that affects our state.” Kelsey also announced that he and State Rep. John DeBerry (D-Memphis) would be presiding over a breakfast at the Urban Child Institute in Memphis on Wednesday, “and we’re going to get to the bottom of this issue, and we are going to solve this plague that is afflicting our entire state.”
UPDATE: Acting in its turn, the House rapidly concluded consideration of the budget Friday, and, as of 1:58 CST, voted its approval 94-0 -- the first time in history, suggested one member from the floor, that there had been a unanimous vote in the body for a fiscal budget.
As had been true in the Senate, there was a certain amount of last-minute contentious rhetoric, as when gonzo conservative Rep. Stacey Campfield (R-Knoxville) persistently challenged a budget provision calling for an enhanced degree of minority contracting.
At one point, engaged in a prolonged tete-a-tete with Democratic caucus leader Mike Turner, Campfield wondered rhetorically what in a given situation wasn't equal.
Turner's reply: "I'm tall and good-looking, and you're not. That's not equal."