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VOL. 124 | NO. 118 | Thursday, June 18, 2009

House Speaker Prepared to Cancel Taiwan Trip

By LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press Writer

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NASHVILLE (AP) – State House Speaker Kent Williams said Wednesday he’s prepared to cancel his trade mission trip to Taiwan because balancing the state budget is more important.

The Elizabethton Republican and four other House leaders are scheduled to leave Friday afternoon for Taiwan. But the House and Senate have to agree on a state spending plan before the fiscal year starts July 1.

The state budget is the only measure Tennessee lawmakers are constitutionally required to pass each year. Lawmakers are trying to reach a budget compromise this week and adjourn, but legislative leaders from both chambers say there’s still much work to be done.

If an agreement isn’t reached this week, Williams said he’ll cancel the trip because “state government comes first.”

He said Wednesday that the trip is a trade mission with legislators from Georgia to learn more about opportunities in the Asian nation. Taiwan’s government is paying for most of the trip, although lawmakers are to pay some personal expenses.

“We have shipped over there already probably 20 or 25 different items that are made in the state of Tennessee to let them know what we can do here,” Williams said.

As for the state budget, reaching a compromise has been complicated mainly by cuts Senate Republicans want to make on top of those already proposed by Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen.

The Senate is scheduled to take up the proposal Wednesday.

Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis noted that Bredesen’s budget proposal envisions an overall 10.2 percent spending reduction, while the Senate Republican proposal would cut 10.3 percent.

Williams has described the House version – which is also awaiting a full floor vote – as a “compassionate budget” because it doesn’t include some of the deeper cuts proposed in the Senate Republican version.

In the original budget, Bredesen has proposed cutting more than 700 state jobs. But the House measure would protect many state workers from layoffs until the end of June 2010, and would issue bonds for bridge projects and higher education buildings. Neither provision is included in the Senate version.

The House plan also differs from its Senate counterpart in that it would restore about $5 million each for coordinated school health care grants, the Department of Children’s Services and the mental health programs for families and children.

Despite the wrangling, Williams said he’s still hopeful about finishing this week.

“There’s a chance,” he said. “If not, we’ll come back next week.”

___

Read SB2355 and HB2392 at http://www.capitol.tn.gov.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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