The 2019 session of the 111th General Assembly has adjourned recently to become a part of Tennessee history with some of the most important bills of the year approved during the final week of legislative action. This includes passage of the state budget, several bills providing tax relief, and a package of legislation aimed at supporting our rural communities.
The $38.6 billion balanced budget maintains Tennessee’s sound fiscal practices by not taking on any new debt and continues to support education, focuses on the needs of Tennessee’s rural and distressed counties and encourages job creation. In addition, $45 million was provided in the budget for tax relief, including the professional “privilege” tax for 15 professions in Tennessee. Earning a living should be a right, not a privilege, and I was very pleased that we made great progress in removing this tax on hardworking Tennesseans.
Among other tax relief measures passed this year was legislation to aid our rural and agricultural communities by exempting water used for agricultural purposes from the sales tax. Senate Bill 1460 will help farm operations in our district and throughout Tennessee with much needed relief. The General Assembly also took action to repeal the privilege tax on ammunition sales by approving Senate Bill 423 which I sponsored.
Another tax cut bill, which I co-sponsored, will help spur the installation of broadband Internet services by exempting fiber-optic cable from the state’s sales tax after it has been attached to a utility pole, building, or other structure or installed underground. Senate Bill 1458 will aid our efforts to get the infrastructure in place to expand broadband in our rural communities. This legislation is aided by the $20 million included in the budget to fund the final of the three-year initiative implemented by former Governor Bill Haslam to expand broadband to rural and underserved communities.
In addition, $15 million was set aside in this year’s budget for future tax relief with revenues received as a result of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Wayfair decision. This is a court decision regarding collection of online sales taxes. Our Senate Finance, Ways, Means Committee, on which I sit, stood firm on utilizing any tax windfall gained as a result of the Wayfair decision to offset tax relief measures for Tennesseans, rather than using it for new programs or existing expenditures. The General Assembly has cut or reduced taxes every year since 2011, saving taxpayers approximately $800 million. This includes reducing the sales tax on food by nearly 30 percent, phasing out the Hall income tax, eliminating the gift and inheritance taxes, and cutting taxes on manufacturing to enhance job creation.
Overall, I am very pleased to report that our rural communities fared very well with passage of the 2019-2020 budget. Highlights of the appropriations bill include:
THEC - Includes $25 million in non-recurring funds for GIVE Community grants to upgrade and expand K-12 Career and Technical Education programs in rural areas.
K-12 - Includes $2 million in non-recurring funds for additional APARC grants to enhance rural high school career and technical education programs.
Jobs - Includes over $15 million to promote innovation and entrepreneurship aimed at increasing new businesses from research and development activities throughout the state; for rural development grants and loans for small, minority and women-owned rural businesses.
Agribusiness - Includes $500,000 recurring and $500,000 non-recurring to provide funding for grants and services to agribusiness in Tennessee’s rural communities and distressed counties.
In other budget action, education was a high priority this year. I was very pleased to receive funding for the school safety grant legislation which I sponsored on behalf of Governor Bill Lee. The budget includes a total of $40 million for school safety grants for K-12 schools. It also provides $71 million for teacher pay raises, $39.4 million to fully fund the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP), and $8 million to expand the Tennessee Early Intervention Services Program for young children up to age three with learning challenges.
In addition to the GIVE Community grants for career and technical education programs, the budget provides $4 million to increase access to vocational education for high school students by doubling the dual enrollment credits available. This is very important to help our students get ahead of the curve on obtaining a post-secondary degree or credential. The budget also contains $12.3 million for additional needs-based student assistance awards for vocational and career education.
You May Contact Senator Hensley at
425 5th Avenue North, Suite 746
Nashville TN 37243
Toll Free 1-800-449-8366 ext. 13100
855 Summertown Highway
Hohenwald TN 38462
Cell Phone 931-212-8823