Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee delivered his third State of the State address and presented budget and legislative priorities to a joint session of the General Assembly.
According to Lee, decreased spending and adjustments at the beginning of the pandemic have led to a surplus in the budget.
“We have taken a fiscally conservative approach throughout this past year, maintaining strong reserves and budgeting for conservative growth rates,” Lee said. “Indeed, our budget is strong, and the differences are stark when you compare our state’s conservative budget to states with very different approaches.”
Lee plans to use the surplus to grow the economy and create jobs, return to pre-pandemic priorities, focus on evidence-based budgeting, increase reserves, and ensure efficiency and transparency.
The governor is proposing $41.8 billion in spending with the greatest amount of spending being on capital maintenance and improvements. Lee also wants to commit $120 million toward increasing teacher salaries and $200 million to expanding broadband throughout the state.
In addition to outlining budget and legislative priorities, the governor lauded the state’s rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We have consistently been in the top 10 for vaccine distribution nationally and we expect that to continue in the weeks and months ahead,” he said. “Good news doesn’t always get noticed, but our vaccine distribution plan is recognized by former CDC Director Redfield as the most medically sound and practical plan in the country.”
Though hospitalizations have fallen significantly from peak levels, the state has experienced over 10,0000 deaths due to the pandemic.
In response to the proposed budget, Democrats are saying that it “fundamentally fails to address the biggest challenges that Tennessee families are facing.
“At a time when Tennessee families are facing a school funding crisis and teacher shortage, a health and childcare crisis, shocking financial insecurity and an overdue reckoning with racial injustices, this budget proposal fails to meet our moment of need,” said Democratic representatives.
“The governor talked a lot about fiscal stability, but state savings accounts don’t mean anything to families who have lost their health coverage, who can’t afford or find childcare or who have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet.
“This budget is out of touch with Tennessee families and small businesses. It invests more in buildings than it does in people. The governor is proposing more support for out-of-state corporations than for small business owners who live here and are struggling to recover.”
According to Democrats, Lee’s budget “underfunds schools, ignores the workers and businesses who suffered most from the pandemic and economic crisis, leaves hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans without the care they deserve, and mostly goes the wrong direction on criminal justice.”