NASHVILLE (AP) — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that the state’s revenue surplus of more than a half-billion dollars should stay in the bank despite calls from Democrats to use it to offset tuition costs and provide tax relief.
The Blountville Republican spoke to reporters following a meeting at the Legislative Plaza. He said it’s bad policy to spend the money at this time because of future costs that may arise, such as expenses resulting from the new federal health care law.
“That’s not the way this should be used right now,” Ramsey said. “It’s good fiscal policy to keep that money in the bank until we figure it out.”
State Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes announced Wednesday that collections came in at $130 million above estimates in June, which brought the year-to-date surplus to $540 million.
Sales tax collections, which make up about two out of three tax dollars collected by the state, beat projections by $26.6 million in the month, while corporate franchise and excise came in at $98 million above estimates.
Republican Gov. Bill Haslam included about $210 million of the $540 million in his revised spending plan for the year but wanted to keep the remainder — now about $331 million — in reserve.
Last month, the University of Tennessee Board of Trustees and the Tennessee Board of Regents voted for tuition and fee increases of as much as 8 percent for the fall.
Democratic leaders requested a special session to discuss using the excess revenue to halt tuition increases, but Haslam said he didn’t think that was “wise planning for the state.”
They also want to use the state surplus to drop the sales tax on groceries below 5.25 percent. Haslam included funding in his budget to reduce the sales tax from 5.5 percent.
Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis said Thursday that the state’s surplus is an example of the “government collecting more … money than it can spend” and reiterated a need for tax relief.
“Higher sales tax collections are a sign that our economy is improving, but many people are still struggling,” he said. “By providing tax relief, we can ensure everyone shares in Tennessee’s success, not just our wealthiest citizens.”
Democratic House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley agreed.
“We have the means to make putting food on the table a little easier and make college a little more affordable,” he said. “If we ignore this opportunity, it is simply irresponsible.”