Lawmakers are always fighting over money

Hank Hayes • May 10, 2017 at 2:55 PM

They fight over money when there’s a surplus.

They fight over money when there’s not enough of it to go around.

When the legislative session is about to end, maybe they just like to fight, period.

One of the last things Tennessee lawmakers do before they come home for the year is pass a balanced budget because the state constitution mandates it. The state had a more than $1 billion surplus on its hands at the start of the year. But the state budget has a lot of moving parts, and lawmakers often try to manipulate those parts at the last minute.

Take late last week, for instance. Northeast Tennessee House lawmakers submitted a more than $8 million budget amendment for Aerospace Park, Tri-Cities Airport’s aviation-related economic development effort. The lawmakers indicated they had a deal with Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration for the amendment to go through.

But the deal blew up.

State Rep. Bud Hulsey, R-Kingsport, explained what happened in a Facebook post: “We all met with the Governor last Monday and it looked favorable. The appropriation package of the budget was presented the next day, and it appeared that the $8.1 mil had been stripped out on the Senate side, with me being told that one Senator had commented something to the effect of, ‘those East Tennessee boys who voted against the gas tax need to be taught a lesson’ … In the meantime back on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats found that the money promised them if they all voted for the gas tax had been stripped out of the budget on the House side. They were livid.”

There’s been a perception in the past that our lawmakers don’t fight hard enough when it comes to securing funding for Northeast Tennessee.

Two years ago, Tri-Cities elected officials asked them to start a “serious dialogue on how we can create equally vibrant economies beyond Middle Tennessee.”

They suggested additional research funding for East Tennessee State University, consideration of a “megasite” industrial property within the region and a “thorough evaluation” of the effectiveness of state incentives in Middle Tennessee.

Former Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, responded by saying a $25 million state investment convinced Eastman Chemical Co. to keep its corporate headquarters in Kingsport and invest $1.6 billion in the global specialty chemical company’s “Project Inspire,” which included a new corporate business center.

Still, Ramsey admitted there are “two economies” in Tennessee. “We’ve got Nashville and the surrounding counties and then everything else,” he said.

Hank Hayes covers politics and business for the Kingsport Times-News. He can be reached at: hhayes@timesnews.net.