Tennessee coming up short of revenue projections while state leaders push for school voucher plan

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — Since the new fiscal year turned over, Tennessee’s revenues have come up nearly $280 million short of projections.

“We’re going to have to scrutinize things more closely than we have the last couple of years,” Sen. Bo Watson (R-Hixson) said. “That’s not necessarily a bad thing.”

Watson chairs up the Senate Finance Committee. Though the state is short of projections, that’s not necessarily not to say Tennessee is struggling.

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“Short revenue-wise is 40% higher than we were just before the pandemic,” Gov. Bill Lee (R-Tennessee) said.

Lee is more or less correct. For example, take a look at revenues from 2019. That March, the state brought in $1.1 billion. This past December, though it was about $80 million short of projections, the state netted $1.9 billion.

Still, the money to fill the current budget shortfall has to come from somewhere, which means programs that have continuously been funded on a year-to-year basis or newer ideas that could cost the state some money likely could see the chopping block.

“Members are going to hear that we’re not able to do some things that we were able to do in the past.”

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Now of course, what those things are Republicans won’t share until Lee finalizes his budget and gives us a peek at his State of the State address next Monday.

At the same time, Lee is pushing his plan to give public tax dollars to families who send their students to private schools, a notion Democrats and even some Republicans are nervous about financially.

Take Sen. Richard Briggs (R-Knoxville) for example. He estimated the cost would be $800 million if it only accounted for the students already in private schools before any student in public school even takes one.

“Are we opening a Pandora’s box that we really don’t know where this thing is going to go?” Briggs said.

When News 2 asked about the fiscal responsibility of such a move, Lee said the state would not spend money it did not have.

“If there’s anything worth investing in, it’s our children’s education,” he said.

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There is currently no bill language out around the education voucher scholarship program. The bill filing deadline is technically Thursday, but lawmakers tend to file amendments which ‘make the bill’ well after that deadline.

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