Can GOP avoid voucher embarrassment?

Frank CagleFrank Talk

If the state House of Representatives ever takes a floor vote on Gov. Bill Lee’s “Debit Card Education Plan,” perhaps House Speaker Glen Casada ought to get up and tell legislators that it has become necessary to pass this bill in order to see what’s in it.

It’s positively “Pelosi-esque.” Though this is education, not Obamacare.

Amendments and excisions in trying to pass the bill smack of desperation. It’s been amended four times in the House to get it through various committees. If the votes are not there, the bill may get rolled in order to wait on Senate Finance. If it’s killed in the Senate, the administration may avoid the major embarrassment of having the governor’s signature education bill repudiated by a Republican majority on the House floor. The worst thing for Lee and Casada would be to run the bill not realizing they don’t have the votes.

(You may remember when the House Republicans pulled a bill out of committee and voted to kill the Common Core curriculum, catching the Haslam administration flat-footed.)

Longtime voucher opponent state Rep. Mathew Hill, R-Jonesborough, in exchange for his vote, offered an amendment in House Finance to take money away from the big school systems, including Knox County, and give rural school systems a grant. This was an effort to buy rural legislators’ support. As a fundamentalist Christian, Hill – I’m sure – is familiar with the story of Esau, who sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. He needs to read it again. But the amendment got enough votes to move the bill to the floor. What is jaw-dropping is that the amended bill was not opposed by Finance Committee member state Rep. Jason Zachary, a Republican who represents Southwest Knox County.

The Senate Finance Committee could vote on a voucher bill Wednesday, but it appears the administration does not have enough votes to prevail. The bill is opposed by finance committee members Todd Gardenhire and possibly chair Bo Watson from Chattanooga and Knox County’s Richard Briggs. The committee may vote to take Chattanooga and Knoxville out of the bill, leaving only Nashville and Memphis. If the votes aren’t there at that time, then will it get rolled or will it get killed? Or did some of the “no” voters get their arm twisted over the weekend? Finance Committee members, who have the expertise, have looked at the funding for the voucher plan, and they see financial disaster down the road.

Meanwhile, the Senate version of the bill varies greatly from the House version, and even if it were to pass the Senate and House it would be hard for a conference committee to come up with a version that could then go back to each body for final passage. Especially if the Senate version cuts out Chattanooga and Knoxville and the House version includes them.

It may have reached the point where Lee supporters will pass “something” so as not to embarrass him. Or maybe they believe that a half-assed voucher plan is better than nothing.

If the final version of the bill does not include Knox County, it will be embarrassing for its sponsor, state Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville.

Meanwhile, Knox County is discovering the difference in not having homeboy Bill Haslam in the governor’s office. Knox County Schools will be getting $6 million less than expected in Lee’s budget. If Haslam cannot be convinced to run for the U.S. Senate, the seat now held by Lamar Alexander will go to Middle Tennessee. East Tennessee has reduced political power already.

Can they do that? Memphis gave IKEA, the Swedish put-it-together-yourself home-furnishings giant, a tax abatement in return for the company proposing 175 jobs. The store may not have been as successful as hoped; the company has not provided all the jobs promised. The company has proposed to the city that it take away two years’ worth of tax abatements. A company proposing to give up tax breaks? What?

Really? Reporters covering the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral stood solemnly in front of the structure and reported that the Crown of Thorns and a nail from the cross at Jesus’s crucifixion were saved. Roman Emperor Constantine sent his mother to Jerusalem 400 years after the crucifixion, and she came back with these items. I’m not saying she bought the items in a gift shop in Palestine, but the provenance is a bit questionable.

Spelling’s bad enough: Pity the poor radio and TV reporters who have to learn to pronounce the surname of South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg, who is running for president. It’s bad enough learning how to spell it.

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