NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Gov. Bill Lee's plan for the next fiscal year includes big increases for law enforcement, infrastructure, K-12 and higher education funding.
Unveiling his plan before the state, Gov. Lee showcased Monday a $1 billion increase to education in the state. By 2023, $750 million of that increase would be for one-time use, including $200 million to move schools out of floodplains. In 2024, the state would have a $750 million recurring increase to help fund the state's new school funding formula, which hasn't been released, yet.
In the budget, there will also be $627 million in infrastructure and transportation spending. This includes current Tennessee Department of Transportation projects and others in rural counties. It would be combined with federal money to achieve those goals.
Higher education would see large investments as well. At least $1.9 billion have been allocated for a variety of improvements to college campuses, including a $250 million addition to improve the grounds and facilities of Tennessee State University.
The governor laid out a plan to add 100 new Tennessee Highway Patrol positions as well as 50 for the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. He also announced a plan for a $356 million law enforcement training academy.
"Our funding commitment to law enforcement shows a respect for the rule of law and a rejection of the defund the police movement that we've seen across this country," said Gov. Lee.
The total state budget would be increased by more than a billion dollars to $52.6 billion. Included in that number are $2.75 billion in capitol improvements and maintenance.
The governor released his full speech to the public. While he made a lot of promises to make the state better, critics have been vocal about his leadership.
Some protesters gathered in the halls of the capitol to voice their displeasure with Lee as he entered the House floor chamber.
Also, state Democrats weren't pleased that the governor failed to mention COVID-19 and the state's response during his speech. Nashville Democrat Rep. Vincent Dixie said he believes the governor is missing true opportunity for growth.
"There are over 22,000 people that have lost their lives to this pandemic, to this particular disease. To this virus. He made no mention of that," said Rep. Dixie. "That was the very most important thing we needed to talk about today is our COVID response, and how do we keep each of every one of us safe and how do we keep our students safe in schools."
Rep. Dixie said the governor could make clear progress in the state by expanding TennCare and helping some of the 300,000 Tennesseans who are currently uninsured.
Dixie also pointed to rising crimes rates in the governor's term.
"The policies that he has passed — open carry — has seen the violence rise here in Tennessee," said Dixie. "Before this passed, my Democratic colleagues, all of us learned, the day would come because of open carry."
The governor also announced a proposed $125 million for teacher pay raises. Though, those in the department of education couldn't say what percent base pay raise that would mean for teachers.
Lee said the new formula would address pay raise increase funding that doesn't make its way to teachers.
"Historically, funds put in the salary pool don’t always make it to deserving teachers," he said. "When we say teachers are getting a raise, there should be no bureaucratic workaround to prevent that."