NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Republican Gov. Bill Lee unveiled proposals on education, improving infrastructure, addressing ongoing children’s services issues, and more in his fifth State of the State address delivered Monday night.
Among Lee’s proposals, which must be approved by the Republican-controlled General Assembly, is a one-time three-month sales tax holiday on groceries that would run from Aug. 1 to Oct. 31, 2023 if approved.
The governor also proposed more than $150 million in annual tax relief for small businesses through the Tennessee Works Act.
Citing the need for continued financial stability, Lee wants to add another $250 million to the state’s rainy day fund.
The governor also promoted his $3 billion transportation modernization plan. He cited a $26 million transportation project backlog.
“Simply put, we are way behind, and we have to change the way we fund and build our roads and bridges,” Lee said.
The plan would involve “choice lanes,” or express lanes that drivers can pay to use in urban areas. The governor says choice lanes are not toll roads.
“And hear me when I say this: toll roads are not on the table,” the governor said.
Lee also wants to commit another $300 million to help localities build and maintain roads.
The governor unveiled education initiatives that included spending an additional $350 million through the state’s new school funding model, which would include $125 million for teacher pay raises.
Lee said the minimum pay for teachers was $35,000 a year when he became governor. He wants it to be $50,000 when he leaves office.
The governor also wants to place at least one Homeland Security agent in each county to improve school security.
“We have done a lot to make schools safer, but I do not want to look up months from now and think – we should’ve done more,” Lee said. “I intend to make this a priority in this budget and every year after this.”
On crime, Lee proposed hiring another 100 state troopers and increasing funding for district attorneys and the state’s violent crime invention fund, which is used by local police.
The governor was interrupted by a protester after mentioning the Supreme Court’s recent decision to overturn Roe v. Wade.
“Civility is not a weakness by the way, it is a strength,” Lee said in response, which was followed by a standing ovation.
Lee went on to propose a $100 million grant program for crisis pregnancy centers.
He also announced $190 million in proposed additional funding to the Department of Children’s Services.
Lee also unveiled proposed conservation projects that would include establishing four new state parks plus expanding and improving three additional state natural areas. The governor also wants to revitalize 175 former industrial sites across the state that pose an environmental hazard and prepare them for reuse.
Lee’s budget also includes $50 million for a Nuclear Fast Track Fund to lure companies to Tennessee to “establish a nuclear development and manufacturing ecosystem.”