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Lawmakers Approve Funding for TBED Initiatives in Tennessee, Maine

June 20, 2007

As July 1 approaches, the beginning of the 2008 fiscal year for most states, several state legislatures are still working to wrap up their appropriation bills. Maine and Tennessee are two of the most recent to close their books on next year’s budgets, and each has included increased funds to support TBED initiatives. Highlights for both states are provided below.
In light of the $50 million R&D bond referendum passed by the legislature earlier this year, additional funds were included in the FY 2008-09 biennial budget for the Maine Technology Institute (MTI). MTI will receive $750,000 each year of the biennium to administer the bond that will be voted on in November (see the April 9, 2007 issue of the Digest). In addition, $2.5 million was appropriated for a new Cluster Enhancement Fund.
Lawmakers cut $55,000 from MTI’s Applied Technology Development Centers, and no new funds were included for the Maine Economic Improvement Fund, which supports university research. The much-larger bond, if passed, will provide competitive awards to continue to fund university R&D activities.
Manufacturing businesses that currently are not included in the designated geographic Pine Tree Development Zones will be eligible for the benefits, as requested by Gov. John Baldacci during his Inaugural Address (see the Jan. 8, 2007 issue of the Digest). The legislation expands the benefits to businesses that make a commitment to increase jobs by at least 20 and that have a minimum investment of $2 million.
The biennial budget also includes other new investments in higher education within the university system and community colleges. The University of Maine System will receive a $5 million increase to ease the need for pending tuition increases, and $3 million is allocated to the Maine Community College System for a proposed 500-student expansion.
Lawmakers did not include the governor’s proposed 50 percent tuition reimbursement for community college students, or a proposal for expanding the middle-school laptop program into high schools. 
Tennessee lawmakers approved several key legislative priorities championed by Gov. Phil Bredesen, including a $73 million alternative fuels strategy, a $45 million jobs package, and historic investments in education. 
The FY 2007-08 budget includes $41 million for a pilot switchgrass ethanol plant - the centerpiece of Gov. Bredesen’s alternative fuels strategy designed to position the state as a leader in the production of biomass ethanol and related research (see the March 12, 2007 issue of the Digest). The plant will be operated by the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, with the goal of producing ethanol in large volumes at a price that is competitive with gasoline.
Included in the Economic and Community Development budget is $45 million for the governor’s “Next Step Jobs” strategy to support high-tech industries across the state. The budget also allocates $4.2 million for the state’s broadband initiative and $1.2 million for the Rural Opportunity Fund to provide loans to targeted start-up businesses in rural communities. 
Several education-related measures aimed at improving the state’s graduation rates and increasing accountability also were approved during the legislative session. The budget appropriates $295 million to fully fund the state’s portion of the costs associated with at-risk students, expand funding for English language learning, and increase teacher salaries. In addition, the budget allocates $1.3 million for the Governor’s Institute for Science and Math and $2 million for Teach Tennessee to address teacher recruitment in specific shortage areas such as math and science. The budget takes effect July 1, pending the governor’s anticipated signature.