Fiscally Conservative Balanced Budget Passed By House Of Representatives

In the final week of this year’s legislative session, the House of Representatives passed the state’s annual budget bill with an 83 – 2 vote. The bill’s passage was the culmination of months of tireless work crafting a fiscally responsible and balanced plan for Tennessee’s future.

The $37 billion budget cuts taxes, puts $132 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, fully funds Tennessee’s educational system, and focuses in on job recruitment and infrastructure investments. For a second year

in a row, and the second year in recorded Tennessee history, the state budget does not take on any new debt.

When Republicans became the General Assembly’s majority party in 2011, Tennesseans asked for fiscal responsibility to be a priority moving forward. The 2017-2018 budget holds true to that principle while ensuring Tennesseans get the services they expect from state government.

As other states are mired in partisan gridlock and out-of-control spending, Republicans in Tennessee have made responsible decisions that will continue to ensure the state is positioned to be a top leader in the country on jobs. Since January of 2011, over 265,000 new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee. Additionally this year, Tennessee remains the lowest debt and lowest taxed state in the entire nation.

Highlights of the 2017-2018 budget include:

IMPROVE Act
A large portion of the budget this year revolved around passage of the “Improving Manufacturing, Public Roads, and Opportunities for a Vibrant Economy” (IMPROVE) Act. The comprehensive infrastructure funding plan includes an increase in the state gas and diesel tax that is completely offset by tax cuts in other areas of government. Specifically, the IMPROVE Act includes a 20% reduction in the tax on food, cuts the Hall income tax, and decreases the franchise and excise tax on Tennessee companies aimed at helping recruit new industry to the state. Increased property tax relief for veterans and the elderly, an issue House Republicans have advocated in support of over the last several years, is also included in the plan.

The goal of the IMPROVE Act is to create a reliable source of funding that is capable of meeting the demands of new road construction across the state, as well as cutting down on the reported $10.1 billion backlog of road projects currently on Tennessee’s books.

Tennessee Reconnect Act
Another prominent portion of the 2017 legislative year included the Tennessee Reconnect Act — a plan that will offer all Tennessee adults without a degree access to community college tuition-free and at absolutely no cost to taxpayers.

With the passage of the Reconnect Act, Tennessee becomes the first state in the nation to offer all citizens — both high school students and adults — the chance to earn a post-secondary degree or certificate free of tuition and fees.

Tennessee STRONG Act
As a counterpart measure, House Republicans also passed the Tennessee STRONG (Support, Training, and Renewing Opportunity for National Guardsmen) Act, establishing a four-year pilot program for eligible members of the Tennessee National Guard to receive a last-dollar tuition reimbursement toward a first-time bachelor’s degree.

The STRONG Act is part of a broader initiative by Republican lawmakers to help veterans, their families, and all those involved with protecting Tennessee and the United States on a daily basis.

Broadband Expansion
Also passed this year is the Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act, which will expand broadband internet services across the state, especially to Tennessee’s rural areas that currently completely lack coverage.

Tennessee ranks 29th in the country for broadband access, with 13 percent of the state lacking accessibility to high speed internet. While only 2 percent of the state’s urban citizens lack access, 34 percent of rural residents are without coverage, placing them at a distinct disadvantage over their city counterparts.
The Tennessee Broadband Accessibility Act addresses broadband access and adoption through business investment and deregulation. Coupled with the state budget, the legislation makes targeted investments through grants and tax credits that focus on the state’s unserved areas. The legislation also permits the state’s private, nonprofit electric cooperatives to provide retail broadband service — something they have been completely unable to do in the past.

Other notable investments of the 2017-2018 budget include:

$200 million to fund the Basic Education Program (BEP), including $100.4 million for teacher salaries;

$132 million to bring the state’s Rainy Day Fund to an all-time high of $800 million, well on the way to the goal of $1 billion;

$8 million to increase salaries paid to Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities service providers who care for the state’s most vulnerable;

$2 million for prevention, education, treatment, and recovery services with the Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services;
Funding for 25 new Tennessee State Troopers and the addition of new local prosecutors and public defenders;

$40 million for a new State Library and Archives building to collect and preserve Tennessee records of historical, documentary, and reference value;

$10.65 million for disaster relief in Gatlinburg and Sevier County after the devastating wildfires in November 2016;

$11.8 million to keep the Ocoee River rafting industry and operations afloat for the next 20 years;

$655 million in state dollars for maintenance and new buildings across general government and higher education;

$135 million transferred from the General Fund to pay back the Highway Fund;

$78 million for higher education and the Complete College Act;

$15 million for career and technology education equipment;

And $9.5 million combined to expand substance abuse and crisis intervention treatment services and support across the state.

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