Greetings Folks of the Fortieth…
Count your many blessings even if you can not get your yard mowed!
Here is what is happening on the Hill
As we enter the homestretch of the first legislative session of the 106th General Assembly, House lawmakers began a thorough review of the budget this week. In a presentation to the House of Representatives on Wednesday, Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Dave Goetz emphasized the increasingly dismal revenue numbers as a reason for the deep cuts presented in the new budget proposal.
Revenue continues to drop
Although the state’s revenue has been declining since the beginning of 2008, revenues for the last few months have been particularly low. The decline in sales tax revenue had been a fairly steady 6 percent until it accelerated last month and dropped to an approximate 10 percent decline. Making matters worse are declining revenues on big ticket items such as homes and cars.
Commissioner Goetz outlined that the technical corrections bill, which legislators have yet to see, should produce roughly $63 million through closing tax “loopholes” and increasing a myriad of fees on various services and industries.
While the Administration is arguing that these increases will offset other cuts, House members are concerned that some of the provisions are far-reaching, and some even place an increased burden on small businesses, which are already facing difficulties with the struggling economy.
Reserves in good shape, stimulus money will plug holes
The state’s various reserves accounts are in good shape, with the state’s Rainy Day Fund standing at $750 million. The federal match for TennCare has also increased, freeing up more state dollars to be directed elsewhere. The Administration is proposing to use the stimulus funds to plug holes, but
concerns have been raised about that tactic. The stimulus is essentially one
time money, but the Administration has proposed using some of it to fund recurring items in the budget—something House members have cautioned against doing since February.
The budget is typically among the last bills passed by the legislature before adjournment. The General Assembly will carefully review language in the amendment in the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee next week and make any needed changes before the bill goes to the full body for final consideration.
Judicial selection process reformed, legislation passes Senate, House on Thursday
The House approved legislation Thursday, after a lengthy debate, that reforms the selection process for the state’s appellate and Tennessee Supreme Court judges. Legislators have debated the issue for nearly 16 weeks in the committee system, hearing testimony from dozens of attorneys, former judges, current judges, and scholars. The Judicial Selection Commission, a component of Tennessee’s current plan for appointing judges, is set to expire next month.
The bill, Senate Bill 1753, sets up a new nominating commission with fewer attorney members and less special interest input. Lawmakers indicated they would still pursue a separate measure that would call for a Constitutional Convention to let the people decide whether or not they want to elect the judges or opt to continue a system of nomination by a commission, followed by a retention vote from voters.
Tennessee’s Constitution says judges must be “elected by the qualified voters of the state.” The lengthy debate in the legislature has focused on whether or not the selection process with a retention vote meets that test, with detractors saying that it blatantly violates the constitution.
The legislation provides for a 17-member Judicial Nominating Commission that would have at least 10 attorney members. After being appointed through this process, the judges would stand for approval by the voters who could decide whether or not to "retain" or "replace" them, a move that proponents say is more clean than the current ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on the ballot regarding the retention of judges.
If voters decide to replace a judge, an interim judge would be appointed by the governor until the next election. At that point, the people could decide who would fill the slot through a popular election, which is the same process by which the state’s trial judges are currently selected.
I took my oath of office as a member of the 106th General Assembly of the State of Tennessee to faithfully support the Constitution of this state and the United States Constitution. I passionately believe in our sacred document. Therefore when stated in Article IV Section 3 ‘The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the state” my friends you can not get any clearer then that.
It is an honor to serve you and I look forward to seeing more of you when session concludes. Blessings!