The 111th Session of the Tennessee General Assembly will be a creature unlike any before, according to new Deputy Speaker of the House Matthew Hill. Lack of early revenue information and a massive changeover in personnel in both the legislative and executive branches will likely mean a longer session than usual with more key decisions being taken later in the term.
More than a quarter of the house members are freshmen. Glen Casada is a new speaker with new ideas, which include reconstituting some committees that had been done away with in the past.
Hill said the incoming Bill Lee administration has already told leaders on Capitol Hill the new governor will not be submitting a budget until March, which is much later than usual. “That may not be such a bad thing,” Hill said, noting the new representatives will have more time to learn their new roles and responsibilities before having to buckle down to budget wrangling.
Figuring out the exact numbers that will be collected and distributed in Internet sales tax funds will determine whether the state’s fiscal situation improves. “If you’re in that $400 million to $500 million range, that’s around what we collect on groceries, which is the most stable source of tax revenue in this state,” Hill said. “That has the potential to blow the roof off the place from the standpoint of revenue to the state.”
Another unknown at this point is the federal government’s distribution of block grants related to entitlements. “That will put a huge amount of responsibility on states – on the state legislature and the governor – but that’s what we’ve asked for. That’s what we’ve said we wanted.”
“Internet sales tax and the Medicare/Medicaid block grants are big X factors right now. They’re unknowns, so we’re just going to have to wait and see what happens.”
Once the revenue side is clearer, the spending priorities will include addressing workforce improvement, education and recidivism. But the first priority of the GOP supermajority, Hill said, is, “to not screw anything up. Tennessee is one of the best-run states in the country.”