On Feb. 8, Gov. Bill Lee gave his third state of the state address, during which he highlighted a number of spending items important to Tennessee citizens.
In 2020, the General Assembly approved the largest budget in the state’s history, with an increase of $2.8 billion compared to the previous budget. Part of that budget includes significant funds for infrastructure and rural investment, over a billion dollars will be directed towards infrastructure and investments in rural development:
• $200 million to local government infrastructure grants.
• $21.1 million to rural development for community asset improvements, marketing and downtown revitalization are all targets for these funds.
• $472 million directed to new funding for business and economic development.
• $85 million for railways.
• $40 million for airports.
• $200 million directed to one time increase in broadband deployment focusing on unserved areas through grants and tax credits.
Education is also getting a huge bump in this budget, as well, including:
• $120 million in teacher pay raises.
• $110 million in new education spending to aid in teaching through the COVID-19 pandemic.
• $10 million to create Governor’s Investment in Vocation Education sites. This will be prioritized by the greatest workforce revitalization need.
• $341 million in total new funding for K-12 education.
A lot of money is going to be spent in Tennessee in the next year, and that means bidding opportunities for Tennessee businesses to win those contracts.
The filing deadline for lawmakers to introduce bills was Feb. 11 and, though we are still weeding through all of the bills filed, there are a couple of themes that seem to be surfacing. One is that many of our local governing bodies are looking to find ways to make electronic meetings a norm, not just while dealing with COVID-19.
There is one bill that was filed by Sen. Dawn White (R-Murfreesboro) and Rep. Mary Littleton (R-Dickson) that concerns me, especially when you take into consideration the new budget that was just passed and all of the money that will be pumped into infrastructure and rural development. The bill proposes to increase from $10,000 or more to $25,000 or more, the amount for which a local board of education or the governing body of a public charter school must make purchases or expenditures by competitive bids.
Currently, any purchases or expenditures $10,000 or higher needs to have a public notice run to inform the public of the contract and to allow local businesses to bid on those contracts. This means that all contracts less than $25,000 can be given out to businesses without any notification to the community. I have spoken to several local business owners who said a $10,000 contract is significant and important to their success. The increase in the threshold for public notification is an opportunity for insider deals and corruption to happen in our communities.
Our governing entities have an obligation to be transparent and to proactively let citizens know how government is spending their taxes. By allowing this bill to pass, I think we would be allowing our elected and appointed officials to operate without public knowledge and scrutiny.
With more than $1 billion that will be spent in Tennessee in 2021, every contractor and every business deserve the right to bid on these contracts.
Carol Daniels is the executive director of the Tennessee Press Association.