Republican lawmakers making up most of Northeast Tennessee's legislative caucus said there was one item missing from Gov. Phil Bredesen's plan to reform education funding.
They liked what Bredesen had to say Thursday about reforming the state's Basic Education Program (BEP) but also wanted to hear something about sales tax relief on food items.
"We are going to be insistent on some sort of tax relief for the people in conjunction with these (education) improvements," House GOP Leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol said.
State Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, said he was disappointed Bredesen had nothing to say about cutting the sales tax on food while pitching his BEP plan.
"I was disappointed that the discussion was ‘Let's spend all the money,'" Hill said.
But Bredesen, in a conference call with reporters, said that with an estimated $100 million to $300 million worth of revenue growth coming into state government, "additional possibilities" might be considered.
"I happen to feel ... that we have a lot more to gain as a state by putting the proper investment in education ... rather than doing a tax cut on food in a state that is already the 48th state in the nation in terms of taxes," said Bredesen, who wants a 40 cent cigarette tax increase to help pay for BEP reform.
State Rep. Jon Lundberg said he has a problem with a tax increase being discussed while the state is expecting up to $300 million in revenue growth.
"School funding should be a priority, without question," said Lundberg, R-Bristol.
One group often critical of Bredesen - the Tennessee Center for Policy Research (TCPR) - took Bredesen's plan to task.
TCPR noted two "key actors" in developing "BEP 2.0" were Republican state Sens. Jamie Woodson of Knoxville and Randy McNally of Oak Ridge.
"In fact, Woodson and McNally are considered the key votes needed to pass the governor's bloated budget, which has exploded to nearly $28 billion," a TCPR release said. "Some believe that the additional education money promised to Knox and Anderson counties will ensure the support of Woodson and McNally, likely enabling the budget to pass."
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said BEP reform, putting more money in reserves, and delivering one month worth of tax relief on food is on his goal list.
"There's no doubt in my mind we can do all those with a cigarette tax much, much less than what the governor wanted to adopt. ... Twenty (cents) is still our goal," Ramsey said.
Mumpower said the idea of taking the sales tax off food in either November or December is gaining steam.
"That actually will put money in people's pockets at a time of year when they need it most," Mumpower said.