A fight is brewing over a $120 million plan to build a permanent home for the Tennessee State Museum, led by lawmakers who think the money could be put to better use.
Less than two weeks after Gov. Bill Haslam gave the green light to plans to build on a section of Bicentennial Mall long earmarked for a museum, state Rep. David Alexander (R-Winchester) is hinting there could be an insurrection among Republicans. He thinks the state should save the money or spread the wealth over several projects, like building roads.
"People have come to me and said that's an awful lot of money for one project," Alexander says. "And I tend to agree with them."
The state museum is currently just a block away from the state Capitol, in the basement of the Tennessee Performing Arts Center.
Supporters of the museum project, like House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, say a new building is needed to preserve artifacts. The Franklin Republican predicted a permanent location would draw visitors from around the state.
"Just look at the children that go to that museum (now). There's buses. We all think they're here at the Capitol, but a lot of times, they're at the state museum."
Money for the project will come from an unexpected surge in business tax collections, which the state can't bank on happening again, says Sargent.
He argues it's smarter financially to pay for the museum with cash right now. Borrowing the money, he estimates, would cost the state $13 million a year for 20 years, more than doubling the project's current price tag.
Sargent says opposition is coming from "a few" Republicans.
Lawmakers expect to come to a decision on the museum within the next couple of days. House leaders hope to approve the state budget, which includes the museum project, by the end of this week.