This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis have awarded $25,000 to Gerdau in Jackson. “If Tennessee is going to become the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, then we must offer a well-trained workforce to employers,” said Haslam in a news release. “This kind of training grant not only helps educate workers, but also provides incentive to employers looking to relocate or expand in Tennessee.”
Gov. Bill Haslam wants to spend $1.5 billion for road improvements across the state under a transportation plan released Thursday. Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Transportation unveiled the three-year initiative, which involves 96 projects in 55 counties. The projects range from the widening from McAdoo Creek Road to State Route 76 to construction of an overpass in Murfreesboro to the lengthening of a ramp near Interstate 440 in Davidson County.
Senate passes civil service reforms Lawmakers in the Tennessee House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve tax reductions on two fronts, lowering the state tax on groceries and beginning the phase-out of Tennessee’s estate tax. Both reductions are a part of Gov. Bill Haslam’s 2012 legislative package. Following the votes, Republican legislators trumpeted the passage of the bills, calling it a “landmark moment” for Tennesseans. “Our Republican majority was placed here to balance the budget, cut wasteful spending and lower taxes,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell in a news release.
Tennessee’s House of Representatives approved two bills Thursday which would ease the state taxpayer’s burden. The Commercial Appeal reports the house voted to phase out the state inheritance tax by 2016 and reduce sales tax on grocery food from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent July 1. Passage by the Senate is a virtual lock since both sets of legislation have been agreed to by House and Senate leaders as well as Gov. Bill Haslam. The food tax cut passed 96-0 while the inheritance tax cut passed 88-8.
As the Tennessee General Assembly draws ever closer to the end of its session, several key business-related bills are undergoing final work or reaching the finish line. Here’s a rundown of a few key moments this week: • House Republicans cheered passage this week of twin tax cuts legislators have agreed on with Gov. Bill Haslam. An eventual repeal of the inheritance tax and a deeper cut in the food tax — both of which we reported were part of a deal struck weeks ago in a subcommittee — are now subject to further Senate action.
You’ve heard the debate over slashing the inheritance tax: Conservatives say it frees up job creators, and liberals call it an overblown tax cut for the rich. The ultimate economic impact of a repeal — still winding its way through the Tennessee General Assembly — depends upon decisions of individual businesspeople. People like Becky Sharpe. “The biggest concern is wondering whether those who would inherit the business could afford to (keep it),” said Sharpe, who is president and CEO of two Nashville companies.
Tennessee’s sales tax collections again came in above budget and showed year-over-year growth in March. Total March revenue was $916.1 million, a $99 million increase from March 2011 and $78.6 million above budget expectations. Last month, the state warned that rising gas prices might cut into revenue and consumer optimism. That didn’t appear to be the case. “March sales tax collections, representing February spending, recorded the 24th consecutive month of positive growth,” Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes stated in a release.
Tennessee again saw improved tax collections in March, a sign of continued economic progress despite risks in the short and long term The Department of Finance and Administration announced this week that March revenues were $916 million, nearly $79 million more than the state budgeted. Sales taxes, as well as franchise and excise taxes on businesses, both yielded more revenue than the state estimated, though other taxes fell short of expectations.
In a split decision, a state appellate court has shot down prosecutors’ bid to block retrials ordered up in the January 2007 torture slayings of a Knox County couple. A three-judge panel of the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals voted 2-1 to deny the state Attorney General’s Office’s application for extraordinary appeal of Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood’s decision to grant new trials in the slayings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23. Blackwood ordered new trials for all four defendants in the case, but the state sought to appeal his rulings in only three, conceding there was proof former Criminal Court Judge Richard Baumgartner was impaired during the trial of Vanessa Coleman.
A Hawkins County judge has agreed to resign after he was formally charged with violating the state’s judicial code of conduct for taking money from clients for his personal benefit. In an agreement reached Friday with the Tennessee Court of Judiciary, James Taylor is immediately suspended from his position as general sessions judge in Hawkins County and will resign on May 1. Upon his resignation, the formal charges against him will be retired, according to the agreement.
On Thursday, the state Senate took a test vote to see who likes what method of appointing judges. A proposal much like the Tennessee’s current system got one vote more than a measure that would put a federal-type, appoint-and-confirm system in place. Senator Mark Norris wants a referendum on a system that looks a lot like what’s in place now – the Governor appoints judges to the bench, voters decide if they stay there. But a House committee changed his proposal it into something like the appointment system for federal judges–the Governor nominates a judge and the Legislature would vote to confirm him or her.
Legislators have reached what Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris calls “the stalemate place” on how Tennessee’s top judges should be selected and are now racing to delay a decision until next year. After a convoluted series of events, the Senate has before it two proposals for amending the state constitution. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he hopes lawmakers will approve both before adjourning the 2012 session, probably in two weeks. If that happens, lawmakers can pick up the stalemate next year and try to resolve it.
A Tennessee bill that requires police to arrest people involved in serious car accidents but don’t have a driver’s license and proof of insurance is awaiting the governor’s signature. A companion bill, one that would set a higher bail for those who, in addition to being involved in the serious accident, turn out to be in the country illegally, is still in the House Finance Subcommittee, according to its sponsor, Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas. The bill is set to be heard next week.
Tennessee nursing homes will be allowed to hire their own doctors starting this summer, a move industry leaders say will improve patient care and help bolster financial performance. A bill passed in the state Legislature this month creates an exception to the “corporate practice of medicine” doctrine, which prohibits physicians from being employed by an entity not owned by doctors. The move could have a positive effect on other health care providers, especially hospitals.
Though tornadoes have drastically altered some Hamilton County neighborhoods, the landscape of these areas still appears untouched on the county’s Geographic Information System website. The most recent aerial photos were taken in 2010. Local officials are working to change that. Hamilton County commissioners recently agreed to pay for aerial photography to update the maps. The site serves many functions, such as providing property and owner data. Tracts can be viewed with a topography overlay to aid engineers and surveyors.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander and U.S. Rep. Phil Roe paid a call to two Carter County establishments Thursday with a message that the 2012 presidential election could be the most important in a long time. The legislators enjoyed a cornbread and bean lunch with a large group of supporters and friends at County Commissioner Steve Lowrance’s Blackberry Antiques in Valley Forge. They then moved on to meet with a group of Stoney Creek well-wishers at A.D. Fletcher’s Store.
Blackburn, Roe credited with pushing project to fed short list Congressional leaders came to town Friday afternoon to meet with veterans and to celebrate the long-anticipated veterans nursing home for Clarksville. As announced in September, the veterans nursing home will be on a 9.5-acre site behind the Walmart on Fort Campbell Blvd., near the 101st Airborne Division Parkway and providing residents with access to shopping, banks, drugstores, grocery stores, restaurants and other needs.
Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper says despite international outcry over North Korea’s military buildup, the U.S. is not keen on confrontation. A botched North Korean satellite launch has helped stoke fears the isolated country is preparing for another nuclear test. Cooper says North Korea is “embarrassing itself” by continually putting its nuclear ambitions above its people, many of whom are near-starving. At the same time, Cooper, who sits on the House Armed Services committee, cautions North Korea is not a place the U.S. wants a fight. Cooper points back to the Korean War, saying “we tried that.”
Vanderbilt University could lose more than $50 million in federal research money — cuts that could impact jobs and spending in Middle Tennessee — if Congress doesn’t reach an agreement on budget cuts for the coming fiscal year. That includes $37 million in grants from the National Institutes of Health , the principal biomedical research arm of the federal government. “It directly impacts jobs because salaries are paid from these grants,” said Judsen Schneider, a visiting research fellow at Vanderbilt’s Center for Stem Cell Biology.
The Tennessee Valley Authority and partners have given leadership awards to Nashville Electric Service and several other distributors for their work to promote the Green Power Switch program. Leading power distributors were recognized in such areas as having the most consumers and businesses signed up for the program and the highest percentage of customers participating. “Green Power Switch is all about consumers stepping forward to support cleaner energy being generated in the Tennessee Valley,” said Patty West, TVA director of renewable energy programs.
The Tennessee Valley Authority will raise its wholesale rates another 2.1 percent in May to cover the anticipated higher expenses of buying more power from other utilities as temperatures warm this spring. TVA said today the typical electricity user in its 7-state region will pay from $1 to $3 more during May because of the increase in the monthly fuel cost adjustment. Despite the increase, TVA said its fuel costs are still 1.5 percent below a year ago.
With summer approaching and anticipation that energy demand will increase, TVA is boosting its wholesale power rate by 2.1 percent in May, raising residential utility bills an estimated $1 to $3 a month. TVA announced Friday that it will raise its total monthly fuel cost from the 2.163 cents per kilowatt-hour April rate to 2.311 cents per kilowatt-hour for the billing period starting May 1. Utilities served by TVA typically pass the expense on to their customers.
Port of Memphis officials voted Friday to sell the Tennessee Valley Authority an option for a site that is under consideration for a new electricity-generating plant. It’s part of TVA’s internal review of a plan to spend $600 million to install scrubbers at the aging, coal-fired Allen Fossil Plant in Frank C. Pidgeon Industrial Park. The Memphis-Shelby County Port Commission approved an agreement, subject to legal review, to charge the seven-state utility $35,000 to hold the 75-acre site for up to a year.
For the first time since 2009, Nashville’s industrial vacancy rate fell below double digits, according to Cassidy Turley’s latest market report The area’s 9.7 percent vacancy rate “bodes well for the market, proving that it is back on track,” states the report. However, the vacancy rate for industrial space remains worse than the historical average of 8 percent. The industrial market also saw online retail giant Amazon.com break ground on two new fulfillment centers in Rutherford and Wilson counties.
April is proving to be a banner month for alternative energy as two solar arrays formally opened within days of each other last week. The West Tennessee Solar Farm in Haywood County is the largest in the state with 21,000 panels. The array at Agricenter International in East Memphis is the largest in the state with tracking panels that move to follow the sun across the sky. And there are more than 4,000 of those. The two solar farms are milestones in Tennessee’s pursuit of alternative energy sources for the power grid and a solar industry.
While it may be several days before area apple growers will see the full extent, they are anticipating damage to their crops due to Thursday’s overnight frost. Ty Petty, Unicoi County University of Tennessee Agricultural Extension agent, said Thursday afternoon that earlier in the day he visited a small apple orchard to evaluate the freeze damage to the crop. He said the fruit crop is ahead of schedule because of warmer-than-usual temperatures during the late winter and early spring.
After hearing Metro school officials discuss $723 million in education needs, Mayor Karl Dean was noncommittal Friday on whether his administration would be able to fully fund the district’s massive proposed increase in the upcoming budget. “We have things we’re going to have to look at,” Dean said when asked whether the school board’s request for a $48.9 million budget increase is a realistic figure to fund. He added that public education remains a top focus.
School officials hoping to raise Metro Nashville’s starting teacher pay from 27th highest in the state to third are asking the city and taxpayers for an extra $6 million next school year to do that. It’s part of a bigger spending plan school officials are asking Mayor Karl Dean and the council to approve. In a budget hearing Friday, Metro Schools Director Jesse Register said just the buzz about raising starting teacher pay from about $34,000 to $40,000 this fall is helping recruit new teachers.
Yacoubian researchers poll MCS, SCS staff A majority of Memphis City Schools teachers have little or no confidence in Supt. Kriner Cash. An even larger number have lukewarm faith or less that district managers work in teachers’ best interests, according to a recent survey done for the commission planning the merger. The findings are a world apart in Shelby County Schools, where 74 percent of teachers rate Supt. John Aitken highly and even more (83 percent) trust his management team to look out for them and keep them informed of changes affecting their jobs.
When he returned to Memphis last week from Charlotte, N.C., Memphis City Schools superintendent Kriner Cash went directly to The Racquet Club of Memphis where a group of 500 was winding up a rally in support of the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative. “What a difference a day makes,” Cash said of his day and a half touring Charlotte as one of three finalists for the job of superintendent of Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools.
There will be another vote probably next month. But the schools consolidation planning commission has endorsed the general idea that students in the merged Shelby County Schools system will have the same school assignments for at least the first two years of the merger. The decision Thursday, April 12, comes with a few exceptions for school closings the countywide school board might feel are needed because of population shifts and transfers of students.
Even as Bradley County Schools wraps up major reconstruction and demolition projects, education officials are considering what construction project takes priority next. Consultant David Brown of KBJM Architects made recommendations to the county school board Thursday regarding federal grant applications for three capital projects: renovations to Lake Forest Middle School, an eight-classroom pod for Walker Valley High School and a new elementary school in southern Bradley County.
In recent months, there have been numerous national reports identifying improvements in the job market, showing slight improvements in the housing market, or remarking on the climbing stock market — all to give some evidence that the economy is improving and the nation is in fact turning that hardest of corners and better days are on the horizon. Unfortunately, this scenario is not playing out in small businesses and in homes across the country, and particularly here in Tennessee.
Conservatives say less government is better, yet some lawmakers interlope in local and private matters. Conservative politicians like to trumpet that less government is better government. But some Tennessee state legislators seem to have plugs in their ears when that trumpet blares. Some of our local representatives and senators have injected the state into the school merger issue. Legislators passed legislation telling teachers how to teach science. Legislation is under consideration that tells businesses and schools what they can or can’t require employees to do on the parking lots of those entities.
From my perspective as a University of Tennessee student living in Fort Sanders, the article “Campus Crime Up Slightly in Tennessee” is not only flawed but also subtly represents a growing problem with our police force on and around the UT campus. UT Police issue an email statement every time there is a crime committed on or around campus. During the past year, I have received 11 notifications of robbery, all of them armed and/or aggravated, often with injury to the victim and usually with the threat of death. In the same time, I received two notifications of assault and one notification of a double shooting and murder.
Tennessee marked an important milestone last year, and nearly broke a bigger record. In 2011, 945 people died on our state’s roads, the fewest traffic-related deaths in 48 years. If only a few more lives had been saved, the number would have fallen below the 941 who lost their lives in 1963 while driving home or to work or to another place where they were known and loved. Typically, no one gets behind the wheel of a car with the intention of causing a crash, but when drivers ignore traffic laws by running red lights, they intentionally put others and themselves at risk.
It is good news for all of us that our local congressman, rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., has been honored with the “Spirit of Enterprise Award” by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “Over the past year, Congressman Fleischmann has worked to protect and advance the interests of American job creators,” said President Thomas J. Donohue of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “By supporting pro-growth policies, Congressman Fleischmann is helping unleash the power of free enterprise to put our economy on track and put Americans back to work.”