Charging at Windmills, Democrats Plan Minority Reports on Budget

Democrats plan to argue one last time to beef up that budget with money from a recent increase in tax collections.

House Floor Leader Craig Fitzhugh says he’ll offer two alternatives to the agreed-upon “conference committee” budget. These are called “minority reports.”

One is a large-scale expansion of the budget — something Fitzhugh originally introduced as the “Democrat’s alternative budget.”

“We recognize money that’s already been collected, and give a tax reduction in the form of a food tax reduction, and also save bonding costs, expand scholarships, and put $15 million to technology centers for job growth.”

That alternative has been slapped down by Republicans on the floor and in Friday night’s conference committee.

In practice, minority reports are only useful when the full House or Senate refuses to accept the conference committee report.

Lawmakers are planning for today to be the last day of the 2012 legislative session.

The conference committee report on the budget (actually on the spending document, the appropriations bill) was threshed out in Republican caucuses rather than in the public meeting of the conference committee.

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick explained to reporters Friday night that his caucus had agreed earlier in the day on the final shape of the bill.

“I feel like it’ll go over well out of the Republican Caucus in the House. We did have a caucus meeting today and discussed pretty close to what we just passed out of the conference committee. And got some good support in there, so I think, I think we’ll be good on the Republican side and hopefully can pass it.”

In the conference committee, McCormick tabled (killed) all amendments proposed by Democrats.

During the Friday night conference committee meeting, Sen. Bill Ketron, a Republican, apparently made a verbal slip and said that the important differences are between the parties, not between the two houses….

“Let’s just take everything that we like…both parties agree … of all the likes, there’s only 10 …issues that are different.”

Fitzhugh’s shorter minority report/alternative budget reflects more modest expansions of programs. Fitzhugh:

“That’s the one where we would, instead of having local projects, we would make sure they were regional or statewide, and it would use existing revenues to fund some things that we had obligations for, five or six different things.”

His best example is giving a million dollars each to five community colleges to complete building plans, rather than what the conference committee calls for, one million dollars to just one of those two-year schools, Roane State.

Fitzhugh says all five of the schools, including Roane State, were short-changed several years ago when declining revenues shut down their planned expansion projects.

Senate rules say the minority report can be heard before the majority report is adopted. House rules are vague – in the past they’ve been allowed on sufferance.

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