Gov. Bill Haslam sits in a budget hearing in January 2012 at Legislative Plaza in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of TN.gov)
University officials will break ground Thursday on the new Science Building that received long-awaited funding as part of the 2012-2013 fiscal budget approved earlier this week by state lawmakers.
The groundbreaking comes less than five months after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam announced Middle Tennessee State University would receive the $127 million needed to pay for the much needed project, which has an expected completion date of 2015.
Twenty million dollars was raised through private donations and additional funds set aside by the university, bringing the total cost to nearly $150 million.
The ceremony, which is free and open to the public, is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at the site of the new building, located just west of the James E. Walker Library.
The event will include remarks by Haslam, state House Speaker Beth Harwell and several other state officials, according to an MTSU press release.
State Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) said Wednesday he is pleased the Science Building has finally come to fruition, especially considering the university spent more than 10 years trying to get funding approval.
“I think if anybody takes too much credit for the Science Building it would be a disservice because a lot of people have spent countless hours securing that funding,” said Carr, who serves on the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee.
During the Republican gubernatorial primary race in February 2010, Haslam attended a Blue Raider basketball game and toured the MTSU campus with university officials, and he saw first hand the condition of the current Science Building, Carr said.
“He could see the need for the Science Building,” Carr said. “We lost the basketball game and won the Science Building.”
Legislators agreed Monday night to a compromise on the $31 billion budget, a 2 percent reduction from last year, but still approved Haslam’s request for $560 million in building construction and improvements, the majority of which provide funding for higher education projects.
Lawmakers also agreed to set aside $50 million in the state’s Rainy Day Fund, and included three significant tax cuts: a gradual repeal of the estate tax, elimination of the gift tax, and a reduction in the food tax.
The budget also saves an additional $200 million in revenue for the cost of federal mandates associated with the Affordable Care Act.
“We have balanced a very conservative budget,” Carr said. “Tennessee is in much better shape than a lot of states, but we do have a dark cloud looming with the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as ‘Obamacare,’ so we are trying to be extremely prudent to account for that legislation.”
In addition, Carr and three other local lawmakers announced Tuesday they secured more than $37,000 in appropriations for the Rutherford County Drug Court Program, which initially was not funded in the proposed budget.
“This facility is setting the standard for intervention and treatment in Tennessee,” said state Rep. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale), who led the effort to increase the program’s funding.
Womick said by securing the funds, “we are ensuring this program continues adding to its strong record of success in Middle Tennessee.”
Carr agreed, saying the Drug Court Program plays an important role in helping individuals who want to work toward recovery, following years of addiction to drugs or alcohol.
“Essentially, it helps to ease the stress on our overloaded court system by placing requirements on those who have committed misdemeanors and felonies, so they can be rehabilitated,” Carr said.
State Rep. Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna), who has led the legislative fight against synthetic drugs, said he was proud to continue his work of supporting the Drug Court Program, and state Rep. Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) touted their success in getting the funds approved as critically important for the community.
“My colleagues and I worked hard to make sure everyone understands the benefits (it) brings, not just to Rutherford County, but all of Middle Tennessee,” Marsh said. “I am proud we could get this additional funding included in the budget.”