This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The 2012 Legislative session starts in about a month and Gov. Bill Haslam said he’s nearing completion of next year’s estimated $30 billion state spending plan. The budget, which he will hand off to the Legislature early next year, is expected to include around $400 million in cuts to compensate for increasing costs in major funding areas like education, TennCare and pensions.
Tennessee sales tax collections were up 5.2 percent in November, and the state’s general fund revenues have exceeded expectations by $69 million since the beginning of the budget year. Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes stressed Friday that the sales tax collections reflect economic activity in October, meaning the state will have to wait to see the results of the post-Thanksgiving sales until next month.
“It’s freezing. I can’t feel my toes.” But for Markeisha Hayward and hundreds of others waiting outside in bitter-cold temperatures Saturday morning, the chance to apply for one of 1,100 positions available with Nissan was worth it. Yates Services, a local company that has provided 25 years of industrial maintenance and warehousing services to Nissan North America, hosted a job fair to fill the available jobs at Nissan from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Tennessee Technology Center on New Salem Highway.
Two months after announcing that Tennessee would retain its top-tier credit ratings, Moody’s Investor Service has announced that a negative outlook on the state’s rating has been changed to stable, an upgrade described by Gov. Bill Haslam as “more positive news.” The negative outlook was assigned by the rating agency in August, following a downgrade of the U.S. rating for the first time.
During his successful candidacy for governor, Bill Haslam released data listing millions of dollars in income and taxes, contending his tax rate at times topped 48 percent on those earnings. Although Haslam’s report went unchallenged during last year’s campaign, a closer look at it reveals a much lower tax rate for the uber-wealthy businessman turned Knoxville mayor, then Tennessee governor.
TDEC’s decision not to issue permit is ‘injustice,’ says company owner The Jackson-Madison County NAACP and a community group called The West Madison County Concerned Citizens declared a small victory Saturday against an industrial-grade landfill on Betty Manley Road in a majority black community in Denmark. Bill McMillen, owner of A-1 Waste & Recycling LLC, the company responsible for the landfill, said the victory his opponents are celebrating is a “lie.
Rutherford County legislators are predicting a short session, with fewer bills to consider, when the General Assembly convenes for 2012 at noon on Jan. 10. Speaking Tuesday to the Rutherford Chamber of Commerce, state Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, said the goal is to wrap up before April 30. “That saves you money,” he told the crowd.
State Rep. Pat Marsh is focused on wiping away restrictive state rules that could keep Tennessee from adding jobs as the Legislature prepares to convene in January. “We’re looking at unnecessary or burdensome regulations that some of the state departments might have placed on businesses,” said Marsh, a Shelbyville Republican who represents southwest Rutherford County in the 62nd House District.
Wading birds perch like sentries at the edge of a cypress-studded lake here, further gracing a peaceful place that gives no hint of the almost-apocalyptic spasm of violence that created it. Two hundred years ago this Friday, at about 2:15 a.m. on Dec. 16, 1811, an earthquake emanating from miles below this area of northeastern Arkansas buckled the landscape with a force equal to at least 32 megatons of TNT — 2,500 times more powerful than the Hiroshima atomic bomb.
An idea floated by U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Jasper, had environmental groups claiming last week that he was putting the future of beloved fire-prevention spokesursine Smokey Bear in jeopardy. DesJarlais raised the suggestion of a $5 million-a-year cut to the U.S. Forest Service’s outreach programs for schoolchildren in an online poll run by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.
The office of Rep. Scott DesJarlais announced Thursday the congressman will introduce legislation to eliminate the Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Program funds that reward states for recruiting additional food stamp recipients. The legislation comes as a result of the congressman’s week at the helm of Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s YouCut program. The program, which uses crowdsourcing as a way to influence which government programs congress should slash, has been in ongoing since 2010.
U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Franklin, took aim at a very literal form of government overreach today, introducing the Stop TSA’s Reach in Policy Act — the STRIP Act — which she said will “provide more transparency for American travelers.” The bill would “strip” Transportation Security Administration officers of police-like uniforms and badges in an effort to reduce abuses of power such as unnecessary pat-downs or strip searches, a news release from Blackburn’s office said.
Stephen George, a former Nashville editor who took over in September as U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper’s press secretary, is leaving the Nashville Democrat’s office for the same position in the office of U.S. Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky. Yarmuth is a former editor of LEO Weekly, the Louisville alternative weekly where George worked before moving to Nashville two years ago. Katie Hill, a senior account executive at Nashville public relations firm McNeely Pigott & Fox, has been selected to take over from George. She starts Monday.
The federal government spends about $40 billion a year on highway construction, yet, for the vast majority of projects, it does not track how many are over budget, how much goes toward cost overruns, or whether the record is getting better or worse. The result is a patchwork pattern of planning lapses and design errors that sends some states back for more money again and again, a Gannett investigation shows.
Beginning next month, inmates at Charles Bass Correctional Complex, a medium-security men’s prison in Nashville, can start taking liberal arts classes for credit through Nashville State Community College. The program is being funded through a $121,000 U.S. Department of Education grant for young offenders.
TVA tightens its tree-cutting requirements As TVA tackles nuclear reactor construction, idling of coal plants, dam modernization and debt reduction, a little-known tree-removal project with big consequences is confronting Knoxville-area residents. The public utility is trying to comply with strict federal guidelines to keep its transmission line rights-of-way clear or face stiff fines.
Local state legislators may change the 35-year-old act making Erlanger a public hospital, including who appoints the board and the number of trustees. The discussion comes at a time of upheaval at Erlanger, with the resignation of CEO Jim Brexler and questions about a recent board appointment.
Clandestine agents feathered out across the country on Saturday, silently infiltrating the real-world places you shop in order to gather intelligence for online retail behemoth Amazon.com. The agents were shoppers armed only with a smartphone and Amazon’s new Price Check app.
Charter schools are flourishing nationally, frequently hailed for doing what regular public schools cannot: raising disadvantaged students’ test scores. But the 2011 statewide report card shows that’s not the case for all of them in Tennessee.
Jackson-Madison County Schools are still struggling to make the grade. More than two years after the state changed its grading scale to be more reflective of the increased academic standards for students, the district earned all D’s on the state report card for academic achievement in the four core areas — math, reading/language arts, science and social studies — still lagging behind the state’s average of B’s and C’s.
Though her oldest child is only in second grade, Tracey Carisch already has her mind on high school. She wonders what options will exist when her daughter leaves Normal Park Museum Magnet School after eighth grade.
Only one local administrator has expressed an interest so far in applying to be Rutherford County’s next director of schools, even as officials ponder how to conduct their search. Director Harry Gill Jr. submitted a letter to Board of Education Chairman Mark Byrnes Nov. 29 stating that he did not intend to seek an extension on his current contract, which is set to expire June 30. He began the director’s job in May 2003, taking over for Hulon Watson, who retired in December 2002.
We commend Gov. Bill Haslam for speaking out against weakening Tennessee’s open meetings law. This is an important move on his part as lawmakers contemplate the coming legislative session where the law is sure to be challenged.
When education reformers said that Tennessee’s colleges and universities needed more rigor, most prospective students and their parents probably thought they meant courses of study, not how they would pay for school. The money factor is becoming the hardest subject that students of moderate to low income in Tennessee will face along the path to a college degree.
It’s time to emphasize an important point about public higher education in Tennessee: While price is going up, cost has gone down. Then why is tuition increasing?
Time was, a bachelor’s degree from a Tennessee public college or university meant that one had received a solid grounding in core subjects: writing and literature, a foreign language, U.S. history or government, economics, mathematics, and science. But that’s no longer true. At some campuses, students can pick from a wide range of courses, some of them narrow, specialized, weak in content, or slanted to the instructor’s political views.
It is hardly a secret that Tennessee, like most other states, has struggled over the past few years to make ends meet. So recent news of costly problems in Tennessee’s jobless benefits program is alarming.
Many in East Tennessee expressed outrage this week when Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood released a portion of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation file of its probe into Knox County Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner. Blackwood released the information — 155 pages, some with passages redacted, of a report estimated to be 1,200 pages long — as part of his explanation of why Baumgartner’s drug abuse will lead to retrials of four people accused of torturing and killing Channon Christian and Christopher Newsom in 2007.
Through much of Tennessee’s history, state legislators have asserted strong control over what city and county government officials can do, though the trend until recently has been toward granting more local control. Also throughout history, legislators have been somewhat consistent in resenting federal government control over the states — with a few years of intermission for subservience to Washington during Reconstruction.
There is a growing awareness among public employees and officials that the path they’re on is not sustainable. Local governments have to take the growth in pension obligations as seriously as any other fiscal matter before them if they expect citizens to pay their taxes.
With apologies to Alex Trebek of “Jeopardy,” here’s the answer: An elected body that blows taxpayers’ money like it’s burning a hole in a front pocket. Question: What is the Memphis City Council?
There is enormous irony in the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to consider a 26-state constitutional challenge to ObamaCare. Key to the challenge is ObamaCare’s rule that Americans buy government-approved medical insurance or be penalized.