Democrats Seek Special Session to Freeze Tuition, Cut Food Tax

News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – Senate and House Democrats called on Governor Bill Haslam Wednesday to convene a special legislative session to freeze tuition rates and cut the food tax, using part of the $225 million in excess revenues the state has collected.
“Now is the time to provide tax relief for all Tennesseans, especially those who are training for new jobs that require a college degree,” said Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney. “If we’re serious about growing jobs and putting people back to work, then we shouldn’t be raising fees on people who want to work.”
Caucus leaders calculated that, based on numbers provided by the Tennessee Board of Regents and the University of Tennessee, $78 million of the excess revenues would cover all proposed tuition increases at state colleges and universities. Democrats made the announcement as UT trustees met to discuss an average 6 percent tuition increase.
The Board of Regents, which oversees six state universities as well as community colleges and technology centers, proposed similar tuition increases last week.
“It is wrong to tax people who are going into debt to improve their lives,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle. “A tuition increase is simply a tax on students. The money is there. The question is whether the political courage on the other side is also there.”
Democrats also pushed for an additional 1 percent decrease to the sales tax on groceries, which would provide $85 million in tax relief for all Tennesseans. Lawmakers reduced the sales tax by .25 percent during the regular session, meaning Tennesseans would save only 25 cents per $100 of groceries.
“We can provide Tennesseans four times the amount of tax relief in a matter of days,” said Senator Tim Barnes of Clarksville. “It would mean a lot to people in my district who are barely making ends meet as it is.”
The remaining $62 million in excess revenues would go into state reserves.
“This is about providing real results to every Tennessean and telling college students of all ages that we support them,” Finney said. “That’s the message that should be coming from every lawmaker’s office, regardless of political party.”

Note: Asked for comment on the Democrats’ proposal, Haslam spokesman David Smith emailed this:
We want to be sure we have a complete picture of what our budget commitments will look like before we interrupt the budget process and start spending funds in an ad hoc way. There are still unknown expenses out there that a comprehensive budgeting process accounts for – such as TennCare inflation or fully funding the BEP. Also, providers have been saying they can’t pay the hospital assessment fee forever. Regarding higher education, the governor has said and continues to believe we need to focus on higher education in Tennessee, and examining the cost structure is certainly part of that process. That shouldn’t be done from a quick-fix perspective.
Of note:
-The operating budget for state higher education was not reduced in the upcoming fiscal year for the first time in recent memory
-the budget includes $342.6 million in campus improvements and maintenance

One thought on “Democrats Seek Special Session to Freeze Tuition, Cut Food Tax

  1. Eric Holcombe

    I don’t seem to remember this kind of enthusiasm from the Democrats when the Republicans were suggesting cutting the sales tax on food. In fact, Boss Hogg was continually pushing “revenue enhancement”, a.k.a. a state income tax on top of the 7% sales tax. I am glad to see them come around, but I am afraid it is too little too late. The TBR school I attended now has tuition rates over 100% higher than 20 years ago. In fact, tuition today WITH the lottery scholarship is higher than it was before the lottery WITHOUT the scholarship. This largely took place while Democrats ruled both the legislative and executive (and therefore by default, the judiciary) branches. For some reason they didn’t seem to notice it then…

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