Gov. Bill Lee proposes massive shift in state funding in response to the coronavirus pandemic

Mar 19, 2020

Gov. Bill Lee speaks to reporters Wed., March 18, 2020.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Mike Osborne) -- Gov. Bill Lee’s revised budget is now in the hands of state lawmakers as Tennessee responds to the coronavirus pandemic.

The governor outlined his emergency budget yesterday during a press briefing. Top items include shifting $150 million into covid-19 related healthcare. Lee is also asking the legislature to deposit an additional $350 million into the state’s rainy day fund, bringing the fund total to $1.5 billion.

Reporter's asked Lee why he's placing more funds in savings at a time of crisis. The governer responded that the economic impact of the virus may last for months or even years, and he believes the sum is reasonable given the state’s $38 billion plus annual budget.

“A 1.5 billion dollar rainy day fund is a substantial amount ...but we need to have that size of a rainy day fund when we have that size of a budget and the opportunity that we may have a downturn that lasts longer than any of us hope.”

Lee went on to note the state does have other resources to draw on during the current crisis, including $1.3 billion dollars on reserve in the unemployment benefits account, and $750 million in state welfare funds.

To keep the state budget balanced, the governor has proposed eliminating items included in his original budget, including $250 million in mental health funding, half of the proposed $117 million for teacher raises, and a $40 million cut in professional privilege taxes.