(NASHVILLE)- The 2019 session of the 111th General Assembly has adjourned to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes the passage of the state budget, legislation expanding TennCare coverage for in-home care for children with severe disabilities, a bill to eliminate the state’s professional privilege tax for 15 licensed professions, and several significant measures improving education and public safety.
The $38.6 billion balanced budget proposes state government spending for the next fiscal year that begins July 1, 2019, and extends to June 30, 2020. Senate Bill 1518, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices by not taking on any new debt, continuing to reduce unnecessary spending through state government efficiencies, and putting a record investment in the state’s emergency savings account, better known as the Rainy Day Fund. Such fiscally conservative practices have resulted in Tennessee being ranked among the best-managed states in the nation.
The General Assembly has cut or reduced taxes every year since 2011, saving taxpayers approximately $800 million. This includes reducing the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent, phasing out the Hall income tax, eliminating the gift and inheritance taxes, and cutting taxes on manufacturing to enhance job creation.
“The appropriations amendment recognizes the historic growth we have seen through sound fiscal management of the state,” added Senate Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman John Stevens (R-Huntingdon). “It also recognizes that through the hard work and efforts of our citizens, the state has come to realize additional revenues. A high priority of the Senate was to return a portion of those revenues to the citizens of Tennessee through a number of tax cuts. In total, there are over $45 million in tax cuts in the overall budget, including the professional privilege tax cut and a sales tax cut on the installation of fiber optic cable which will be critical for our rural counties in expanding access to broadband.”
Other highlights of the budget include:
Sound Financial Practices
- Historic deposit to the Rainy Day Fund of $225 million, bringing the emergency fund to the highest level in state history at $1.1 billion;
- Puts $4.6 million in the state’s pension fund to reduce future liabilities and keep promises to retirees, as well as maintain Tennessee’s status as the least indebted state in the nation per capita; and
- Reserves approximately $15 million to fund future tax relief next year.
- Provides $71 million for teacher pay raises;
- Includes $39.4 million to fully fund the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP);
- Includes a total of $40 million for school safety grants for K-12 schools; and
- Provides $8 million to expand the Tennessee Early Intervention Services Program for young children up to age three with learning challenges.
Prioritizing Vocational Education
- Includes $25 million for the Governor’s Investment in Vocational Education (GIVE) Initiative community grants to upgrade and expand K-12 and career and technical education programs in rural areas;
- Provides $4 million to increase access to vocational education for high school students by doubling the dual enrollment credits available;
- Contains $12.3 million for additional needs-based student assistance awards;
- Provides $2 million in grants to enhance rural high school career initiatives; and
- Includes $426,000 recurring and $975,000 non-recurring for Correctional Education program for inmates to help them obtain employment and reduce recidivism.
- Includes $27.34 million to create a Katie Beckett program to help families provide in-home care for some of the state most vulnerable children;
- Provides $9.3 million to the Employment and Community First Choices (ECF) program to expand services to help individuals with intellectual or developmental disability gain as much independence as possible;
- Provides $3.5 million for Tennessee’s Health Care Safety Net, which provides primary care, behavioral health, case management, and emergency dental services to uninsured adults age 19 to 64;
- Provides $3.5 million to serve the uninsured in Tennessee through increased funding for community faith-based organizations and federally qualified health clinics which assist the Department of Health in providing services; and
- Includes $11.9 million to continue funding appropriated last year to raise the pay of direct services personnel working with individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
Renewed Focus on Mental Health
- Contains $5 million for the state’s Behavioral Health Safety Net to expand services to an additional 7,000 uninsured adults with serious mental illness;
- Provides $3 million for a new Creating Homes Initiative that will provide regional housing facilitators to help those recovering from substance use disorder;
- Provides $4 million for a transportation plan to help mentally ill or individuals suffering from Alzheimers or dementia from being transported by law enforcement officers; and
- Adds $6.2 million to support the state’s four regional mental health institutes.
Creating Job Opportunities
- Includes $20 million for broadband initiatives to fund the final year of a three-year initiative to increase broadband accessibility through grants and tax credits in rural areas which is critical to job development;
- Provides $70 million to create new job opportunities for Tennesseans through FastTrack job development;
- Provides $15 million to promote innovation and entrepreneurship aimed at increasing new businesses from research and development activities throughout the state for rural development grants loans for small minority and women-owned rural businesses; and
- Includes $4 million for the Tourism Marketing Task Force to aid the state’s tourism industry which has a tremendous impact on Tennessee’s economy.
- Includes $3.3 million to increase the penalties for fentanyl and its derivatives;
- Provides $15.6 million to increase the starting pay for corrections officers and $5.5 million to raise salaries for veterans officers and counselors in the state’s prisons to hire and retain personnel essential to public safety;
- Adds $2.4 million to hire 40 additional state probation and parole officers to reduce the current caseload levels and bring supervision standards in line with industry best practices
- Provides $1 million in grants to Men of Valor and Project Return to help keep former offenders on the right path; and
- Includes $1.6 million to increase pay for attorneys representing indigent defendants and $1.7 million in statutory raises for the state’s District Attorneys (DA) General.