As the buzz among voters and citizens continues to grow, there are questions as to how and when the integrity of the State Budget and the budget process was violated. I spoke at length with Senator Campfield yesterday and here is the timeline …
Senator Campfield serves as a member of the Senate’s Health and Welfare Committee (HWC). As such, he was involved in the routine review of the budget items for the state budget which pertain to that committee. During that review it was discovered that there was over $1M in taxpayer funds due to be disbursed to Planned Parenthood (PP) in the upcoming fiscal year. Senator Campfield wanted to end such funding.
Since 1972, Title X funding has provided money in Tennessee for both governmental agencies and 3rd party service providers like PP for Family Planning services. Prior to 2009, there were few restrictions on how that money was disbursed. In 2009, legislation was passed that severely restricted the disbursement. Currently, the only circumstances under which Title X funding can pass to a 3rd party provider is if the local government is unable to provide sufficient service to meet the demand. In Tennessee, that means PP in Memphis and Nashville receives hundreds of thousands of tax dollars annually.
When the funding for Planned Parenthood was noted in the HWC review, Senator Campfield began the process of finishing the task, begun in 2009, of completely defunding PP. In concert with the legal staff of the TN Senate and others, Campfield undertook the weeks long process of crafting language that would accomplish two goals: 1) prevent any further tax dollars from going to PP, and 2) comply with the various restrictions on how such a goal might be achieved.
The result of that work is what became known as Section 78 of the Tennessee State Budget. You can read the full text of Section 78 here along with the language that it replaced in the state’s budget.
After the crafting of the amendment and its inclusion in the text of the budget bill, just a day or so before the budget was to be voted on by the General Assembly (GA), another review of the relevant portions of the HWC’s agenda revealed that language had been inserted into the budget that would potentially negate the intent of Section 78. It was included alongside Section 78.
Campfield notified Senate leadership of the existence of the offending language and prepared another amendment to remove or negate it in the event it was needed. Senate leadership, in the meantime, made an additional amendment unnecessary by striking the offending language from the budget. Per Senator Campfield, there was no investigation of who had added the language at that time as it was assumed to have been an inadvertent error and it had been fixed.
The budget was presented to the Tennessee House on 5/20/11 and was approved, 96-0. The next day, 5/21/11, the Tennessee Senate moved to conform their version of the bill, SB2090, to the House version, HB2139 and voted 32-0 to approve that conformation.
At this point, the understanding of all concerned, save those who had secretly introduced the change, was that Campfield’s amendment, Section 78, was included and was free from any challenging language in the budget.
A day or so after the budget vote, Campfield received a call from a reporter from the Memphis Commercial Appeal who asked about the inclusion of language in the budget that potentially invalidated Section 78. Campfield sought to correct the reporter and related the story of the inclusion of the language and the Senate’s dealing with its presence in the budget prior to passage. The reporter corrected Senator Campfield and pointed to a section of the budget some 30 pages away from Section 78 where the offending language had been reinstated and then properly voted on and passed.
This prompted the original Commercial Appeal article by Richard Locker on 5/24/11. Senator Campfield also blogged about it on his blog, Camp4U. Tom Humphrey at The Knoxville News Sentinel also picked up the story on 5/24/11 and David Oatney and I began blogging about it on 5/26/11. To date, I have not found original coverage in any Tennessee media outside of the four mentioned above.
Immediately, via Social media such as Twitter and FaceBook as well as comments on blogs and media reports, the response of the voters and citizens of Tennessee began to appear. For all practical purposes, their response has been unanimous. They wanted to know who had done this and they wanted that person’s head.
Senator Campfield had investigated the origins of the second appearance of the offending language beginning on 5/24/11. He spoke to Doug Himes, an attorney responsible for budget drafting, and asked who had included the language. He was told it was a legislator but Mr. Himes refused to release the name of the legislator citing attorney-client privilege.
Appeals to Lt Governor Ramsey and Speaker Harwell mount as citizen’s interest in the story grows. Tennesseans are asking who did this and what is to be done about it.
On 5/28/11 in the afternoon, Lt Governor Ramsey and Speaker Harwell release a joint statement in which they promise to make sure PP is defunded in the upcoming legislative session beginning in January, 2012. They make no comment whatsoever on the identity of the legislator who secretly altered the budget.
The notion that, beyond the ethical and moral challenges with such a change to the state’s budget, it is possible the action could have criminal implications picks up steam.
With the GA adjourned for the year and the long Memorial Day weekend at hand as well as GA staffers being given both Friday the 27th and Monday the 30th off for the holiday, there was little that took place across the Memorial Day weekend.
On Tuesday the 31st, Super Talk 997 morning drive host Ralph Bristol entered the discussion. He had me on the program in the 7AM hour to talk about the issue. [UPDATE 6/1/11 @ 12:45 David Oatney reports that 1510 WLAC's Steve Gill has also weighed in on the matter. Editor]
Across the holiday weekend and into the beginning of the week, responses from the legislators themselves began to surface. Again, they were uniformly on the side of “What in the world just happened in our Legislature?” as opposed to “No big deal, this sort of thing is common and happens all the time!” variety. [UPDATE 6/1/11 @ 12:30 It has been suggested by more than one person that this sort of thing happens all the time. Tom Humphrey of the Knoxville News Sentinel observed that, while it was possible this has happened before and not come to light, the only other such incident he can recall goes back about 20 years to the issue of liquor sales in the Knoxville airport. There a change was made between a Committee vote and the House floor vote on the matter. It was discovered after the House passed the secretly altered bill but before the Senate voted on it. The Senate at the time refused to entertain requests to not vote on the altered language and passed it. Liquor would be served in Knoxville's airport. While there was much speculation, the identity of the person who made the change was never discovered. Editor] Few were willing to go on the record as there was still a huge gap in the information stream; no one had been identified as the perpetrators of the change. There were, however, names being suggested “off the record.”
This morning I discover that, despite multiple references to Section 78 and the location of the offending language on page 39 of the budget in a wide variety of media, I cannot find a relevant response to a search for either “78″ or “Title X” in the official online Senate or House version of the budget. A day or so after the budget was proposed might be considered an acceptable time frame to be behind in accurately posting such information. It has been 11 days since the budget passed the Senate, 12 days since it passed the House and two weeks since the budget’s final form was set. Where is the language of the actual budget that Tennessee’s General Assembly voted on and passed? [UPDATE 6/1/11 @ 12:00 The official language linked to above is the original language for the budget at the beginning of the legislative session. This is the language that is then subject to later change and amending. The secret alteration was accomplished by adding the offending language to a large amendment to that original budget language. Page 39 of both the House version and the Senate version of the amendment contain the offending language. Thanks are due Tom Humphrey of the News Sentinel for pointing me in the right direction on this. Editor]
After much off the record speculation and name dropping, someone finally is publicly naming names. David Oatney at the Knoxville State Examiner and The World According to Oatney blog quotes an unnamed source that 3 GOP Senators were behind the changes to the budget language and that 2 GOP Representatives had knowledge of the matter.
Stay tuned here for updates …