House, Senate adopt Haslam's $32.8B budget plan

Associated Press • Apr 17, 2013 at 8:58 PM

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Lawmakers in both chambers of the General Assembly on Wednesday approved Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's $32.8 billion budget proposal.

The Senate unanimously approved the spending plan on Wednesday afternoon, and the House later followed suite on an 83-14 vote. The bill goes back to the Senate to weigh minor changes.

The House vote came after the chamber rejected a Democratic proposal to include a provision to allow for the state to spend up to $3 billion in federal Medicaid money should the governor succeed in negotiating an expansion under the federal health care law.

House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, rejected those arguments.

"If the governor thought this was something he needed to do, he would have put the language in the appropriations bill," Sargent said.

Haslam has sought a special deal to allow the state to use the money to subsidize private coverage for the uninsured and to have more flexibility on benefits and co-pays.

Sargent said the indications are that the federal government "at the present time is not inclined to do this" and that any agreement could take at least four months. Haslam has assured lawmakers he would seek their specific approval for any deal on Medicaid expansion.

House Minority Leader Crag Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, criticized the refusal to write the provision into the budget.

"The alternative is we wait until next year when we come back," he said. "The downside of that is we will be leaving $1.2 billion on the table that has no strings attached."

House Republicans also rejected an effort by freshman Rep. Micah Van Huss, R-Jonesborough, so lawmakers would have more of an opportunity to parse through the budget documents. Sargent argued that they had had ample time to attend budget meetings throughout the legislative session.

The budget includes $77.4 million for a 1.5 percent pay raise for state employees, $22.2 million to reduce the sales tax on food by 0.25 percent, and $18.7 million to continue the elimination of the state's inheritance tax.

The measure also has $100 million to shore up the state's rainy day fund, which is currently $356 million.

Democrats say the budget contains $2.3 million in unaccounted revenue and tried unsuccessfully to restore funding for programs that would benefit the elderly.

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