Tennessee Arts Commission.
Reading from a Times Free Press article on the House floor, Democrats charged that $500,000 of that would go toward a new Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va., located literally across State Street from Bristol, Tenn.
Rep. Phillip Johnson, R-Pegram, sought to question the veracity of the article published last week in which Ramsey stated the money was going for that purpose.
According to a digital recording, [Senate Speaker and Lt. Governor] Sen. Ron Ramsey told reporters last Thursday the planned museum "is on the Virginia side -- barely. Literally on State Street. It's on State Street in Bristol. We'll put our money through the Arts Commission here as a grant to the city of Bristol and then they'll do their part."
State Street divides Bristol, Tenn., and Bristol, Va.
Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, initially sought to evade questions about the museum's location. Eventually, he implicitly acknowledged it was in Virginia but said "this will be tourism for the entire area. ... It will help Bristol, Tenn., as much if not more than Bristol, Va.
The money would be given by the city of Bristol, Tenn., to the Tennessee-chartered Home of Country Music Alliance. Several House Republicans said the tourism revenues would benefit Tennessee with visitors simply walking across the street into Tennessee to visit restaurants and shops.
|Artist's rendering of the new Birthplace of Country Music Museum. Bristol is a city divided right along State Street. The Birthplace of Country Music Alliance is headquartered in Bristol, Tennessee, but has a Bristol, Virginia mailing address.|
It is worth noting that the proposed BCMA Museum and Gift Shop will be located on the Virginia side of the border, therefore it stands to reason that Virginia will receive most of the sales tax revenue generated by the Museum. However, it should also be noted that the state of Virginia has committed $3.5 million to the museum, as well as private donations, so Tennessee's $500,000 stake in the project seems minuscule, comparatively speaking.
I am not privy to all the details about this legislative controversy, but I have been a strong advocate on this blog for adequately funding cultural heritage organizations, so my natural inclination is to support any effort that makes it possible to preserve our local history, regardless of geopolitical borders.
UPDATE 5/18/2012: Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law the bill that grants funding for the Bristol museum project. According to the Knoxville News Sentinel:
"The governor's budget includes spending on projects and programs lawmakers at one point flagged as pork barrel spending, including a $500,000 for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va., across the street from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey's Republican district Bristol in Tennessee.
"It's kind of an easy target to say, oh that's in Virginia. Why are we funding it when it's yards from Tennessee?" he said. "It's not like we funded something that's in northwest Virginia."
When asked if he was "comfortable" funding the museum, he said "I think I am... it's a little different situation because of the way the city of Bristol is laid out."