Tennessee House at budget impasse after strange day of unusual coalitions

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – No one ever said the state budget process was easy, and the evidence was on full display Thursday in the Tennessee House as its members wrestled with the last few hundred million dollars of the overall $37-billion-dollar document.

It came after an unusual day where the minority Democrats horse-traded with some of the Republican majority’s most conservative members outside on a rainy capitol balcony.

The makeshift coalition helped pass a $150 million amendment to establish a local schools endowment paid for out reserve state funds.

Then there was a series of other House amendments passing late Thursday afternoon for a variety of sometimes individual projects that totaled around $350 million.

It led to exasperation from one of the most powerful Republicans in the House.

“I cannot in good conscience–being chairman of the House Finance Ways and Means–vote for a budget that is out of balance by $350 million,” said Franklin Representative Charles Sargent.

His words left House Speaker Beth Harwell trying to cast a sunnier outlook on the gloomy day both inside and outside the second floor Capitol chambers.

“Certainly we had some members that worked with the Democrats on some proposals,” said Harwell moments after the House adjourned until Friday morning. “I would rather they had not done that, but we are going to get thru this and again balance our budget. Always do. Always will.”

House Democrat leader Craig Fitzhugh, whose members are outnumbered 3-1 by Republicans, explained what he was doing working with the most conservative members.

“Sometimes when we have interests that overlap…we can get together and there was a group of them who thought like us that we did not get a proper vetting in the budget process,” Rep. Fitzhugh told News 2.

Sitting back waiting for the House to do whatever it will on Friday was the Senate, which emptied its chambers until Monday waiting on the House version of the budget.

“I am hopeful that after their session tomorrow and maybe the weekend, their membership will fell more comfortable what we have to work with and what opportunities lie ahead,” smiled Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris.

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