- Associated Press - Thursday, May 4, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Deep divisions among majority Republicans in the Tennessee House on Thursday threw a monkey wrench into the state’s $37 billion annual spending plan.

Republican opponents of the gas tax hike that Gov. Bill Haslam has already signed into law led the charge to amend the state budget bill with a variety of pet projects that didn’t make it through the committee process. They were supported by Democrats, who say the GOP reneged on a deal to fund a block grant program for schools in exchange for earlier votes on the gas tax bill.

The result was a tense floor session featuring several closed-door meetings and heated exchanges. House Republican leaders ultimately decided to drop their resistance to the amendments, given that the Senate was unlikely to go along with them.

But a vote on the heavily-amended final version of the bill was put off over concerns about violating a provision in the Tennessee Constitution that requires lawmakers to pass a balanced budget. The chamber could update the bill to say that any extra costs would be covered by reserves, but many members are interested in bolstering the state’s rainy day fund rather than making withdrawals from it.

One amendment proposed by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, would redirect $12 million from TennCare reserves to pay for emergency infant care around the state. Rep. Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga questioned why Hill hadn’t decided to bring the idea up before Thursday.

“These poor little babies, you just thought of them this morning?” McCormick asked.

“No, sir,” responded Hill. “And I do not appreciate the insulting tone.”

“Well I don’t appreciate being used like this in a budget process, either,” McCormick shot back before Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell gaveled an end to the argument.

Two other amendments would create funds to help school districts around the state pay for capital projects. Democrats introduced a $150 million proposal. They said that’s what they had expected to be adopted because they supported Haslam’s transportation plan. A new $300 million version was brought by Republican Rep. Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, who said he’s still working out details.

The debate over the budget bill reflects ongoing fallout in the Republican caucus over the gas tax bill. That measure split the Republican caucus 37-35 when it passed in the House last month. Opponents on Thursday repeated claims they were lied to about the impact of that bill and that it wouldn’t have passed if not for a deal with Democrats.

Amid the impasse, the House decided to adjourn until Friday. The Senate, meanwhile, decided to go home until Monday.

All of the House furor over the amendments may turn out to be for naught. Senate Speaker Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, said the upper chamber is unlikely to adopt any of the changes.

“I would be for stripping off the amendments and sending them back a clean bill,” he said.

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