Saturday, May 29, 2010

Senator Mark Norris, My Hero of the Day

On Thursday night the State Senate Finance Committee voted to restore funding for conservation. Below is how the event was reported by Forever Green Tennessee:

Last night, Senate Finance Committee members voted FOR the environment! When Finance Chairman Randy McNally, (R) Oak Ridge, proposed the permanent elimination of all “dedicated” conservation funds, Senator Kyle (Democratic Leader) asked for a vote to restore the real estate transfer funds. It was seconded by Senator Norris (Republican Leader) and then received favorable 9:2 vote.
Senator Norris is to be commended for his bold action. If he had not seconded the motion to restore the conservation funds, there is little doubt that the Republicans on the Committee would have voted with Republican McNally and against Democrat Kyle. The funding would have been lost.

I realize this has probably been one the most difficult state budgets ever to pass. Due to the state of the economy, revenue projections are down. Gov. Bredesen proposed a series of tax increases as a way to balance the budget, Republicans from the Tennessee Senate favored more spending cuts and House members from both parties in the House wanted to dip into the state's reserve fund. None of the options were attractive. Raising taxes will likely kill jobs and hamper recovery although some tax loopholes could no doubt have been closed without serious pain to the consumer or negatively impacting job creation. There is not a lot of fat left in the Tennessee budget and any cuts are now painful. To dip deeper into reserves may negatively impact Tennessee's bond rating and the state may need the reserves even more next year. There were no easy choices.

One of the things under consideration to balance the budget was to take funds dedicated to conservation and put them in the general fund as has been done for the last seven years. The conservation funds comes from a tax on real estate transfers that specifically dedicates the revenue to conservation. The tax is estimated to produce about $9.5 million dollars this year. The fund is used to save critical habitats, beautiful vistas, and natural treasures such as waterfalls. It is saving for public enjoyment some of the most beautiful spots in Tennessee.

Senator Norris and the Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee did the right thing for three reasons: (1)The fund is important. It is saving beautiful natural treasures for future generations. (2) It is immoral to pass a tax for one purpose and spend it for something else. We see this done all the time. A blatant and notorious example occurred in Nashville some years ago when a water bill rate increase went to fund the bonds to build the Titans football stadium. Often taxes are raised to support education and then diverted to other purposes. (3) Republicans should not be the party always opposed to conservation and environmental protection. Hunters and fishermen and hikers and birdwatcher and people who enjoy the great outdoors and people who want clean air and clean water are not all Democrats. The Republican Party should not cede this constituency to Democrats. To be perceived as the party opposed to the environment does not help Republicans. Conservation and environmental protections should be non-partisan issues.

The final budget has not yet passed and something could yet happen that endangered the conservation fund, but it appears the fund will be in the final budget. Probably without Senator Norris' second of Senator Kyle's amendment, that would not have happened. That is why Senator Norris is my Hero of the Day.

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