Lee budget hearings get underway Monday

Gov. Bill Lee, second from left, holds a budget hearing with the Department of Economic and Community Development on Nov. 4, 2019. (Erik Schelzig/Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee is holding annual public budget hearings this week. Given the state’s massive budget surplus and influx of huge amounts of federal money, this year’s hearings will likely come without the charade of having departments to outline theoretical spending cuts (most of which didn’t come to pass, even in more meager times).

Lee has followed predecessor Bill Haslam’s style in hearings with department heads, mostly avoiding controversy or criticism. Then-Gov. Phil Bredesen, by contrast, would often home in on perceived shortcomings to pressure his Cabinet members to perform better – or be replaced. 

The first of this year’s set of hearings should give a good indication about how things are going to go: The Department of Health has been battered by controversy ever since the firing of vaccine chief Shelly Fiscus this summer. An AP records request found top agency officials were dismayed at her firing. Commissioner Lisa Piercey, meanwhile, was “really angry” that colleagues had written nice things about Fiscus in an email about her departure, according to the report. “It’s been fun around here,” chief medical officer Tim Jones wrote.

It would come as a big surprise if Lee touched on any of that this morning.

UPDATE: Here’s what Lee had to say to open proceedings with the Health Department:

It’s been a long difficult year and I commend you for the work that you’ve done. Much pressure, much scrutiny, much challenge, health issues for many Tennesseans, loss of life, loss of health. And for a department of public helath, there’s probably never in recent history been as great a challenge to deal with and navigate through, and I’m increadibly proud of what you and your team, fully across the board, has done.”

Here’s the full schedule:

Budget Hearing Schedule (all times listed in CT)

Monday, November 1

  • 9 a.m.-9:45 a.m. Department of Health
  • 10 a.m.-10:45 a.m. Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services
  • 11 a.m.-11:45 p.m. Division of TennCare
  • 1:15 p.m.-2 p.m. Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities
  • 2:15 p.m-3 p.m. Department of Human Services
  • 3:15-4 p.m. Department of Children’s Services
  • 4:15 p.m-4:45 p.m. Department of Military / Tennessee Emergency Management Agency

Tuesday, November 2

  • 9 a.m.-9:45 a.m. Department of Education
  • 10 a.m-10:45 a.m. Tennessee Higher Education Commission
  • 10:50 a.m.-11:20 a.m. Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation
  • 11:30 a.m.-noon Department of Tourist Development
  • 1:30 p.m.-2 p.m. Department of Agriculture
  • 2:15 p.m.-3 p.m. Department of Labor and Workforce Development
  • 3:15 p.m.-4 p.m. Department of Transportation

Wednesday, November 3

  • 9 a.m.-9:45 a.m. Department of Economic and Community Development
  • 10 a.m.-10:30 a.m. Department of Commerce and Insurance
  • 10:45 a.m.-11:15 a.m. Department of Financial Institutions
  • 11:30 a.m.-noon. Department of Human Resources
  • 1:30 p.m.-2:15 p.m. Department of General Services
  • 2:30-3 p.m. Department of Revenue
  • 3:15-3:45 Department of Finance and Administration

Thursday, November 4

  • 9:00-9:45 Department of Environment and Conservation
  • 10:00-10:45 Department of Correction
  • 11:00-11:45 Department of Safety and Homeland Security
  • 1:30-2:00 Tennessee Bureau of Investigation
  • 2:15-2:45 Department of Veterans Services