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VOL. 127 | NO. 85 | Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Lawmakers Reach Agreement on Governor's Budget

LUCAS L. JOHNSON II | Associated Press

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NASHVILLE (AP) – A panel of Republican and Democratic lawmakers reached an agreement late Friday that will restore funding for key projects in Gov. Bill Haslam's more than $31 billion spending plan.

Members of the House and Senate held a conference committee to work out their differences.

Earlier Friday, the Senate on a 32-1 vote passed a version of the plan that made nearly $60 million in cuts to a number of programs and projects. The House approved its version the day before on a 66-30 vote.

The two chambers were trying to reconcile differences on projects before the measure could head for Haslam's signature.

The Senate proposal would have cut more than $12 million to the Memphis Regional Megasite, which Haslam had said was a bad idea. Other large cuts included $4 million in funding to the University of Memphis at Lambuth, $1 million for the Radnor Lake land acquisition, and $300,000 for the National Civil Rights Museum.

The conference committee basically nullified the Senate plan and restored funding to those programs and projects, and others.

Members of the committee mainly debated what was considered a local or regional project, in terms of what should be funded. For instance, House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh wanted to fund a program called Education Equal Opportunity Group that helps educate students about state government.

Because it was considered a local project, it wasn't funded.

"These are things that help people ... that help educate people," the Ripley Democrat said.

One controversial closure that remains is the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. State officials say closing the 90-year-old facility will save the state about $8.5 million.

The debate on the Senate floor Friday to keep the center open wasn't more than an hour long as in the House on Thursday, but it was almost as spirited.

Sen. Eric Stewart, whose district includes the center, said it houses some of the state's toughest juveniles that other youth centers would probably have trouble handling.

Stewart, D-Belvidere, compared closing the center to shutting down Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, and sending those inmates to other facilities.

"Let's send the meanest of the mean to other facilities," he said. "Taft is the Riverbend of the juvenile justice center."

Haslam in January presented his spending proposal that called for raises for state employees, more spending on construction on college campuses and tax cuts on food and estates.

Both budget proposals include funding for reducing the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent, increasing the exemption for the inheritance tax from $1 million to $1.25 million and enhanced penalties for gang and gun crimes.

According to a spokesman for the Senate speaker, the last time a conference committee was held on the budget was in 2000.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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