Listening to the Quiet Pop of the ‘Copeland Cap’

Once upon a time, when Democrats controlled the Tennessee Legislature and the governor’s office, many Republicans complained when the state budget broke a constitutionally mandated limit on state spending called “the Copeland cap” after former Republican Rep. David Copeland of Chattanooga, who led the crusade to make the provision part of the state constitution in 1978.
Republican criticism was decidedly muted when lawmakers again this year proceeded with “pop the Copeland cap,” or have state spending that increases at a rate greater than growth in personal income within the state.
Andrea Zelinski has delved into the matter for TNReport. Some excerpts:
(Legislative leaders) say “popping the ‘Copeland cap'” has become standard bipartisan operating procedure at the Capitol while acknowledging it’s still an important yardstick for keeping the budget in perspective. So far, they say they will not break the cap in the next budget year. If that estimate holds, it would be the first time in four years.
….In the final days of the legislative session, lawmakers almost unanimously acknowledged the current year’s budget would exceed the state’s economic growth by 2.15 percent, or $250 million.
The House voted 91-6, and the Senate OK’d HB2136 exceeding the cap on a 27-0 vote — although five Republican members of the legislature who were present the day of the voting did not weigh in, including Sens. Mae Beavers, Stacey Campfield, Rusty Crowe, Jack Johnson and Kerry Roberts. On the House side, votes against popping the cap were cast by Republicans David Alexander, Glen Casada, Joshua Evans, Joey Hensley and Matthew Hill and Democrat John Mark Windle.
(Senate Majority Leader Mark) Norris, who sponsored the bill to break the cap in the Senate as part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget package, blamed the increase on the hospital assessment fee and bond bills for economic development projects like the Electrolux manufacturing facility. He said the Legislature may have technically broken the Copeland cap but is still “meeting the spirit of the restriction.”
Beavers, who took a pass on the Copeland cap vote, says she opposes breaking the cap “under any circumstances.”
“I just don’t believe that we should be spending more than the growth in the economy,” said the Mt. Juliet Republican. Beavers added, though, that the cap system should be reexamined to allow for budget maneuvers like depositing money into the state’s savings account without coming off as an increase of state spending like it does now.

…It’s actually rather unrealistic to believe that the state can always keep government spending below the growth of the economy, budget director Bill Bradley told the state Senate in one of the final meetings of the Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
“Had you never allowed for a spending limit increase … you’d be at a level of $8.6 billion appropriations today from state tax revenues, and that’s almost a $4 billion difference,” said the Haslam administration official. The state’s education funding alone is $4 billion of the $13 billion state-funded portion of the budget, Bradley said.

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