Lee’s $40.8B budget proposal in the media

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his second State of the State address in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here’s a look at how Gov. Bill Lee’s second State of the State address played in the state media:

Chattanooga Times Free Press:

Lee, whose wife Maria is a former teacher, zeroed in on education during much of his speech, noting that “in this building, we work hard to develop student-centered education policies, but out there in the classrooms is where it happens. We make it law, but teachers make it happen.”

Daily Memphian:

Saying the “majority” of the state’s efforts must focus on traditional public schools, Lee said he is putting a $117 million increase into teacher and educator salaries, a 4% pay increase designed to push starting teacher pay to $38,000 a year.

“We make it law, but teachers make it happen,” Lee said. “No teacher I know does it only for the money, but you and I know a worker is worthy of their pay.”

Associated Press

Education advocates caution that even with a $117 million boost, it may not be enough to help teacher salaries.

“While that is a large yearly increase, it breaks down to about $1,450 per teacher, or approximately $28 a week,” said Beth Brown, president of the Tennessee Education Association, when talking about the state’s approximately 80,000 instructional staffers.


Criminal justice reform was among some issues notably lacking details. Lee, who has been an advocate, had hinted in the past that he’d focus on reforming the state’s criminal justice system. Lee said that based on recommendations made by the Criminal Justice Investment Task Force, he will propose legislation that improves community supervision and expand recovery courts.

The Tennessean:

Overall, the mood inside the House chamber was jovial, with Republicans praising Lee’s assessment and vision for Tennessee. Democrats later criticized the governor for doing too little, too late on issues like education funding and criminal justice reform.

With a proposed $40.8 billion budget, Lee’s most significant plans for the year include notable increases in public school teacher pay and the creation of the new endowment fund.

Nashville Scene:

Helping partially fulfill another Republican priority, Lee said he wants to cut the professional privilege tax from $400 to $200. In 2019, lawmakers and the governor teamed to reduce the number of professions subject to the tax. The $200 reduction in the tax — still applied to money managers, lawyers and other professionals — will cost the state $40 million.  Lee called the privilege tax “arbitrary and unfair.”

And for good measure, Tennessean reporter Natalie Allison and photog George Walker teamed up for this gem: A photo of Rep. Kent Calfee swigging from a chocolate syrup bottle on the House floor while clutching crackers in his other hand. The bottle is a favorite prop of the Lenoir Republican, who claims to drink water out of it to amuse his grandchildren. Allison’s tweet had received nearly 10,000 likes by Tuesday morning and 2,700 retweets.

The photo also ran on the front pages of the print editions of The Tennessean and the Knoxville News Sentinel.

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