Lee proposes $55.6 billion Tennessee budget plan
Gov. Bill Lee is making a $55.6 billion budget proposal for fiscal 2023-24 that adds $3.3 billion for roads statewide and $125 million for teacher pay while offering $412 million in tax breaks.
The proposal, which the Lee Administration is calling a “no-growth” plan, is about a half-billion less than the current budget, mainly because of a reduction in federal funding initially spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic three years ago.
Gov. Lee is set to make road construction one of the priorities of his second term, and the $3.3 billion is to be split equally among the state’s three grand divisions. The governor has already unveiled a plan for public-private partnerships designed to expedite road projects and possibly lead to construction of “express” routes that motorists could use in urban areas by paying a fee.
Using a projected $6.3 billion in surpluses, the spending plan puts $250 million toward the state’s rainy day fund, which will lift it to $2.05 billion, in addition to large amounts toward the state retirement plan and unfunded obligations for retirees.
Finance and Administration Commissioner Jim Bryson noted the proposal assumes “conservative growth,” in line with economists’ recommendations, as well as no new debt or increases in employee positions.
The proposal calls for hiring 100 new state troopers, but vacancies in other areas are being eliminated.
“By continuing to lead with decisions based on conservative financial principles, Tennessee is in a good position to meet any challenges the future might bring while always looking to improve the lives of Tennesseans,” Bryson said in a budget briefing Monday in advance of the governor’s State of the State address.
The governor’s proposal calls for a projected $288 million break through a three-month “holiday” on food and food ingredient taxes and a $7.3 million break in the excise tax through a paid family leave tax credit. The rest of the reductions would come through a mixture of excise, franchise and business tax breaks.
The plan spends $350 million more on K-12 education, combined with $750 million approved last year, to increase funding for the state’s new schools formula. Another $50 million is to go to school safety grants and a school safety initiative through the Office of Homeland Security.
The state is spending $18 million immediately on the Department of Children’s Services in an attempt to end a crisis in which Tennessee’s foster kids have been staying in state offices and moved from home to home, in part because of a shortage of case workers.
More than $193 million is being added to the department’s budget next fiscal year, including $15.8 million for case manager salary adjustments and $7.2 million for foster care pay increases, $39.7 million for provider rate increases and $11.4 million for private case management expenses.
The plan also includes $100 million in grants for crisis pregnancy centers and $27 million for placement of foster children with disabilities.
Nearly $1 billion targets the state’s colleges of applied technology to update buildings, buy property and construct new facilities.
To bolster the state’s parks system, the plan puts $130 million toward lodges at Henry Horton and Natchez Trace state parks and $51 million for new parks called Middle Fork Bottoms, Scott’s Gulf, North Chickamauga Creek and Devil’s Backbone.
This story was originally published by the Tennessee Lookout.