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House GOP resolves differences over Tennessee spending plan



NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A day after infighting among majority Republicans threatened to blow up a carefully crafted Tennessee budget bill, the House returned into session Friday to restore most of the original $37 billion spending plan.

The chamber voted 83-2 to send the measure to the Senate, which is expected to send the bill to the governor next week.

"Common sense prevailed," said House Majority Leader Glen Casada, a Republican from Franklin. "In the heat of the moment yesterday they wanted to spend all this money, and as they slept on it last night they realized it was basically irresponsible."

The only major change that ended up being placed into the document was to direct $55 million to county road programs. That money had originally been designated by Republican Gov. Bill Haslam to start tackling a $10 billion backlog in state highway and bridge projects.

The previous day had featured heated debates among Republicans in caucus meetings and behind closed doors, as a faction of disgruntled GOP members banded together with Democrats to add several amendments to the bill to pay for a range of items such as veterans' flights to Washington, emergency care for infants and a $300 million pool to pay for capital projects in school districts.

Those amendments threw the House budget plan out of balance, and Senate leadership threatened to return the measure without the amendments attached. That would have set up the uncomfortable scenario where the House might have voted down the entire budget.

The state constitution requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget plan every year.

"It's actually quite comical that the bloc down here that is the most conservative allied with the most liberal one and they almost became fiscally irresponsible," Casada said.

The fight over the budget bill in the Republican caucus is an aftershock of last month's vote on Haslam's transportation funding proposal, which included the state's first gas tax hike since 1989. That measure split the Republican caucus 37-35 when it passed the House, and it would have failed without Democratic support.

Opponents argued Thursday that a deal had been struck with Democrats to pass the fuel tax hike, and argued that that opened the door to their own deal with the minority party.

Rep. Terri Lynn Weaver of Lancaster told her Republican colleagues on Thursday that she was still angry about the gas tax bill and that she planned to vote against the budget.

"I think we've been lied to. I don't feel right about it. We've got a surplus, we've got so many things," she said. "I'm just going by my gut. Hey, I might be wrong, but I'll sleep good tonight."

By Friday, Weaver and most of the other disgruntled Republicans had changed their tune and voted for the budget bill. The only Republican to vote against the bill was Rep. Andy Holt of Dresden, who also voted against last year's budget.

Rep. G.A. Hardaway of Memphis was the only Democrat to vote against the bill. He said he cast that vote because he was denied the opportunity to ask questions of the bill's sponsor.

Rep. Gerald McCormick said in the end most Republicans realized that the budget had more good elements in it than bad, and decided to drop their disagreements with each other.

"It was more about personalities than it was about substance," the Chattanooga Republican said.