stimulus

Lee’s addition of lawmakers to stimulus group seen as effort to forestall support for special session

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee on Wednesday added two lawmakers, House Finance Chair Patsy Hazlewood (R-Signal Mountain) and Senate Pro Tem Ferrell Haile (R-Gallatin), to his Financial Stimulus Accountability Group. The move is being perceived in some circles as an effort to let the air out of a movement to have the General Assembly come back into special session later in the year to take a direct hand in appropriating billions of dollars flowing to the state in the former of federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Here is the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the addition of Senator Ferrell Haile and Representative Patsy Hazlewood to the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group (FSAG). The bipartisan group will continue its work to support Tennessee’s economy and ensure proper fiscal management of federal relief funds, meeting publicly and reporting regularly to bring transparency to the process.

“As Tennessee’s strong economic recovery continues, we must ensure federal dollars coming to our state are used wisely and effectively,” said Gov. Bill Lee. “I thank Sen. Haile, Rep. Hazlewood and all members of this group for their valuable input as we steward these resources and serve Tennesseans.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to serve on this panel which is charged with ensuring this money is used properly to best benefit our citizens,” said Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile. “We have a huge responsibility to see that these funds are managed in the most effective manner and Governor Lee is taking every step possible to ensure the most efficient use. I look forward to working with him and the other members of the group to make good decisions about how these funds are spent.”

“One of the biggest challenges facing our state currently is using federal stimulus dollars in a fiscally responsible manner to ensure all Tennessean’s benefit,” said Rep. Patsy Hazlewood. “I appreciate Governor Lee appointing me to Financial Stimulus Accountability Group, and together our work will make sure we can continue to effectively address the immediate and emerging needs of our state.”

Since its founding in April 2020, the FSAG has overseen nearly 90% of all federal dollars distributed to Tennessee through the Coronavirus Relief Fund, authorized in the CARES Act. In 2020, the group proactively invested these dollars into the state’s unemployment trust fund, which successfully protected jobs and prevented tax hikes. The FSAG also supported the allocation of over $300 million in grants to small businesses across Tennessee.

The FSAG is currently preparing for implementation of the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund, an additional tranche of relief authorized by Congress in March 2021.

Effective April 2021, members of the group include:
• Governor Bill Lee
• Lieutenant Governor Randy McNally
• House Speaker Cameron Sexton
• Senator Bo Watson
• Senator Raumesh Akbari
• Senate Speaker Pro Tempore Ferrell Haile
• Representative Patsy Hazlewood
• Representative Pat Marsh
• Representative Harold Love Jr.
• Jason Mumpower, Comptroller of the Treasury
• Commissioner Butch Eley, Finance & Administration

Slatery sits out GOP AGs’ letter questioning federal stimulus rules for states, cities

State Attorney General Herbert Slatery, right, speaks with Rep. Jerry Sexton (R-Bean Station) on the House floor in Nashville on Feb. 3, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee Attorney General Herbert Slatery is sitting out an initiative by Republican colleagues from other states raising concerns about rules attached to a key part of the $1.9 trillion federal economic aid package signed into law last week.

A letter signed by 21 Republican AGs questions Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration for announcing that $350 billion in COVID-19 relief for state, local, and tribal use cannot be used to offset tax cuts. That restriction would represent “the greatest attempted invasion of state sovereignty by Congress in the history of our Republic,” according to the letter sent to Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.

A White House official told The Washington Post the stimulus bill sets conditions about how states can use the money, but does not say they can’t cut any taxes. “It simply instructs them not to use that money to offset net revenues lost if the state chooses to cut taxes,” the official said.

Previous rounds of federal stimulus funding passed under former President Donald Trump included provisions barring states from using the money to “backfill” revenues lost during the economic downturn.

Slatery earlier this month was one of 19 attorneys general signing on to a letter urging defeat a bill by congressional Democrats they said would “federalize state elections and impose burdensome costs and regulations on state and local officials.” In December, Slatery joined an amicus brief supporting a Texas lawsuit seeking to overturn the result of the presidential election to sway it in President Donald Trump’s favor.

How the Tennessee delegation voted on the COVID relief package

Marsha Blackburn speaks at a business forum in Nashville on Aug. 15, 2018. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Tennessee’s congressional delegation was divided on the $900 billion COVID-19 relief package that includes $600 in direct payments to most Americans.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Maryville) voted in favor, while Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-Brentwood) was one of just six members to vote against the measure in the upper chamber.

Among the Republicans in the House, Reps. Tim Burchett of Knoxville, Scott DesJarlais of Winchester, Mark Green of Ashland City, and John Rose of Cookeville were among the 53 no votes.

Fellow GOP Reps. Chuck Fleischmann of Chattanooga, David Kustoff of Memphis, and Phil Roe of Johnson City voted in favor, as did Democrats Jim Cooper of Nashville and Steve Cohen of Memphis.

The package passed the Senate on a 92-6 vote and the House 359-53. While Tennessee holds 2% of the seats in Congress, the state’s members accounted for 8.5% of the votes against the stimulus package.