This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has announced he has requested a secretarial designation of natural disaster for Hancock and Hawkins counties due to April’s freeze. Haslam made the request in a letter to U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. A secretarial designation would make farmers eligible to apply for lost income recovery, low-interest loans and other disaster assistance through the USDA Farm Service Agency.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Nature Conservancy say they expect an $8.8 million purchase of undeveloped property in Johnson County to be a boost to tourism and create jobs. The state and the conservation organization announced Thursday that they have acquired the 8,600-acre Doe Mountain, just southwest of Mountain City. Doe Mountain, which contains miles of existing roads and trails, is one of the largest remaining blocks of forest in private ownership in the Southern Blue Ridge region.
Governor Bill Haslam has named a new top prosecutor for the 8th Judicial District. District Attorney General Paul Phillips has announced he will retire on September 1, 2012. The Eighth Judicial District is composed of Campbell, Claiborne, Fentress, Scott and Union counties. Phillips has held the job since 1982. Gov. Haslam has appointed Lori Phillips-Jones to take over after Phillips’ retirement.
Tennessee’s INCITE Co-investment Fund has announced its second round of investments. Three more companies are receiving more than $3.8 million in funds from participating private investors. This allows the companies to, combined, leverage approximately $1.4 million in co-investment funding from the state. The current round of companies includes J2 Software Solutions, a Tullahoma-based company providing various public safety organizations with software and technology solutions to aid their operations; Consensus Point, a Nashville company with a collective intelligence solution that can generate prospective business insights; and Knoxville-based Aldis Inc., whose product is aimed at the traffic management sector.
Companies moving to or expanding in Tennessee have received at least half a billion dollars in state grants and state and local tax breaks since 2006, promising to create thousands of jobs. By 2011, as the nation emerged from the recession, an overwhelming amount of those positions had been cut, representing a negative return on the state’s multimillion-dollar investment. In short, the state has lost much of what it paid for. Meanwhile, Republican Gov.
It was a tool that undoubtedly helped lure some big-name, high-dollar projects to Tennessee under Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. Think Hemlock Semiconductor, Volkswagen and Wacker Chemie, companies that received millions of dollars in state tax credits and are each investing more than $1 billion in Tennessee. Now, tax credits are facing an uncertain future as Republican Gov. Bill Haslam looks to put his own stamp on the state’s economic development effort.
In the high-stakes competition for jobs, it’s a primary arrow in the quiver for Middle Tennessee communities: cutting companies a break on their property taxes. Middle Tennessee counties have awarded $184.4 million in tax breaks since 2005 to lure new industry to their communities and help existing companies grow, more than three times the amount of state training and infrastructure grants given to Middle Tennessee companies during the same time period.
A revised detour will be in place Saturday for this weekend’s shutdown of a three-mile section of Interstate 24 downtown for the Nissan Taste of Music City Festival. The section of I-24 eastbound and westbound closed for bridge work from the I-24/I-65 split north of downtown to the I-24 and I-40 split east of Nashville will be closed from 9 p.m. today to 5 a.m. Monday. The Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge will be closed to through traffic starting at 6 a.m. Saturday for the Taste of Music City, scheduled for 5-9 p.m. the same day.
The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the state can go after the family houses and property of people who died owing money for end-of-life care even if that property has been left to family members in a will. The state has long had the right to go to court to make a claim against the estate of someone who died owing money for long-term or nursing-home care. Wednesday’s unanimous ruling, however, reverses a lower court’s decision barring TennCare from making a claim against property that was given away in a will.
A former Hawkins County judge who resigned amidst criminal allegations against him has now been indicted on theft charges by a Davidson County grand jury. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation reports James “Jay” Taylor, 41, of Rogersville, was indicted on 36 counts of theft more than $500 and less than $1,000, three counts of theft over $1,000 and two counts of theft less than $500. Taylor turned himself into authorities Thursday morning and was booked into the Davidson County Jail.
State Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, formally announced Thursday he is seeking re-election to the 22nd Legislative District he has represented since 2006. Calling it an honor to serve the district, which includes rural areas of Bradley County as well as all of Polk and Meigs counties, Watson said in his announcement that during his House tenure “we have taken many steps forward in the 22nd District and I want to continue to serve you and complete the work we have begun together.”
Mayor Karl Dean, injecting himself into two Metro school board decisions, said he’s “deeply disappointed” about the board’s vote to deny KIPP Academy’s charter expansion and hopes Great Hearts Academies would address diversity concerns in a revised charter application. “The Great Hearts academic program is understandably attractive to many Nashville parents seeking additional educational options,” Dean, an outspoken charter advocate, said in a statement Thursday evening.
Mayor Karl Dean, perhaps the city’s foremost champion of charter schools, blasted the Metro school board Thursday for rejecting a prominent charter operator’s application to open a second school in Nashville. “I am deeply disappointed that the school board denied KIPP Academy’s application for a second charter school, even after the district’s charter school review committee recommended approval,” Dean said in a statement released just before 6 p.m.
Short Mountain species, views, headwaters will be protected A remote Tennessee mountain where drug dealers grew and hid mounds of marijuana for more than a decade will soon become protected parkland. Nearly 1,000 acres on Short Mountain in Cannon County will be kept free of development to instead remain wild and natural for hunters and hikers — an unusual outcome for forfeited drug property. But this was no ordinary land.
Knox County Commissioner Jeff Ownby, arrested last week on an indecent exposure charge, will not resign from his 4th District seat and plans to attend Monday’s board meeting to vote on the proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, his attorney said Thursday. In addition, defense attorney Gregory P. Isaacs lambasted the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services for telling the News Sentinel and other local media outlets that three foster children were removed from Ownby’s home as a result of the arrest.
Wharton, Flinn join for proposed addition, top rate allowed The Memphis City Council on Tuesday will hear a proposal to increase the city sales tax rate by half a cent, to the maximum amount allowed under state law. Such an increase, which Memphis voters would have to approve, would place the city’s local-option sales tax at 2.75 percent, up from the current 2.25 percent, and could bring in as much as $47 million annually. Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn will propose the ordinance with the support of Mayor A C Wharton.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell says he has signed the county’s $1.2 billion annual operating budget, despite the fact that the County Commission added $980,000 in spending that he opposed. The biggest chunk of additional spending was $495,000 for the homeless. The commission voted last week to finalize its approval for this and other routine spending for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The budget process wraps up relatively early this year: In 2010 and 2011, commissioners approved the budget in June.
In a surprising turn of events, the Dyer County Budget Committee unanimously approved to reallocate 6 cents from property tax revenue currently designated for education into the debt service fund. In addition, 3 cents from the school transportation fund will also be reallocated into debt services. The move made it possible for the debt service and education budgets including the transportation budget to be approved at the end of Wednesday’s meeting by the budget committee.
Tennessee Press Association attorney agrees with chancellor’s decision Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s ruling that the Rutherford County government failed to provide adequate public notice before approving a mosque set a Sunshine Law precedent, an open meeting expert said. “In affect, he’s plowing new ground,” said Knoxville attorney Rick Hollow, a 40-year-plus legal counsel for the Tennessee Press Association.
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said Thursday he senses a growing consensus in Congress that the nation needs to reform the tax code while also restructuring entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. “I really do think that the sweet spot for our country is pro-growth tax reform,” Corker told reporters after addressing the Tennessee Business Roundtable. “That’s lowering marginal rates but doing away with loopholes (in order to) generate more revenues — and certainly economic growth — linked to long-term entitlement reform.”
Senator hopeful that parties will work together to solve nation’s fiscal problems U.S. Sen. Bob Corker said he is optimistic that Democrats and Republicans in Congress will be able to come together to solve some of the nation’s fiscal problems. He said that is something that must be done if the United States is to prosper in the world economy. “We need to deal with our own fiscal issues and get them off the table,” Corker told the Jackson Sun Editorial Board on Thursday.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker says there’s widespread support for closing tax loopholes, as part of a potential deal to rework entitlements like Social Security and Medicare. But Corker jokes the fight over exactly which loopholes lawmakers close will amount to a “permanent employment plan” for lobbyists. Speaking to business leaders in Nashville, Corker said figuring out which loopholes to close would pit such executives against each other.
Tennessee Senator Bob Corker is tempering his longstanding call to cut government debt with a warning. Corker worries the U.S. will follow down the path of the European debt crisis. Corker points to so-called “austerity measures” in Europe: unpopular government cuts in areas like healthcare and education. Corker acknowledges it’s not a perfect comparison, because right now the U.S. can borrow easily. But he warns investors might not always be so fond of American debt.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe said Thursday the Department of Veterans Affairs will be exempt from automatic spending cuts called for in the 2011 Budget Control Act. Roe, a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, noted the VA won’t be held to “sequestration” or about a half-trillion dollars’ worth of defense and non-defense discretionary spending cuts scheduled to begin early next year. “It’s pulled out. It’s not part of those automatic cuts. … We have so many veterans in our district,” Roe, R-Tenn., said in a conference call with reporters.
Scottie Mayfield promised Thursday to serve no more than 10 years if elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, making a pledge his top opponents recently refused or evaded. Mayfield campaign spokesman Joe Hendrix said his boss decided to address term limits after reflecting on prior conversations with members of Congress. “They told him they’d like to support certain legislation or initiatives, but choose not to vote for [them] because it would hurt their re-election,” Hendrix said.
U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar signed an agreement updating an international waterfowl conservation agreement with Mexico and Canada during a Nashville convention Thursday. The update to the 25-year-old regulations, called the North American Waterfowl Management Plan, was signed by Salazar at the Ducks Unlimited convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center. The U.S., Canada and Mexico all adhere to the plan, which sets out to conserve wild and migratory birds across the continent through habitat protection and by other means in all three countries.
Thousands of Tennesseans can expect a check from their health insurance company in August as insurers comply with a provision of the still-controversial and still-undecided Affordable Care Act. Insurers in Tennessee will pay around $29.5 million in rebates this year to 223,583 Tennesseans, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, to meet a spending threshold set by the health reform law. The threshold, called the medical loss ratio, was set to require insurance companies to spend a minimum of 80 percent of their premiums on health care, not on other business costs like executive pay or marketing.
The government’s contractor at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant Thursday indefinitely suspended a number of maintenance activities at the plant because of poor performance in certain safety-related procedures. B&W Y-12, a partnership of Babcock & Wilcox and Bechtel National, halted all “lock out/tag out” activities at the Oak Ridge plant, where nuclear warhead parts are manufactured and dismantled and where the nation’s largest stockpile of bomb-grade uranium is stored.
Job fair for Smyrna plant scheduled for Saturday Yates Services is hosting a job fair to fill many of the 1,000 open positions for Nissan’s Vehicle Assembly and Electric Vehicle Battery Plant in Smyrna. The fair will be from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the Murfreesboro Career Center on 1313 Old Fort Pkwy. The company is recruiting to fill long-term, full-time positions. Yates Services is hiring for off-shift positions, including nights, afternoons, weekends, and rotating shifts for the following jobs.
Adrian Burnett Elementary is busting at the seams with almost 675 students walking its halls intended for only 500. “We do not have one extra inch of space in this school,” said Kathy Duggan, the school’s principal. “We have a lot of shared space here. … There are lots and lots of needs.” On Thursday, school officials gave members of the media a tour of Adrian Burnett, Shannondale Elementary and Gibbs High — three of the facilities that would see improvements if the school board’s budget is approved by the Knox County Commission next week.
The group planning out a consolidated countywide school system found a way to balance the budget of the school system to come. But it would come at the expense of much of the work the group has done to build an improved and merged school system. The schools consolidation planning commission approved Thursday, May 31, an option list totaling $54 million in cuts it could make to balance the expenses and revenues of the school system that debuts in August 2013.
For members of the Transition Planning Commission, the thrill is gone. Members of the group crafting a plan for the merger of Memphis and Shelby County Schools had no trouble with their first item of business Thursday: approving a set of financial projections that left a $67 million gap between available revenue and proposed spending for the first year of operation. Neither was it hard to approve a set of initiatives that would narrow the gap by $29 million, although they’re dependent on some successful lobbying at City Hall and the state Capitol.
Martavius Jones, who with Tomeka Hart was one of the prime movers in the December 2010 decision by the Memphis City Schools board to surrender its charter, thereby initiating city/county school merger, has consistently been an advocate ever since of maximizing the contours and possibilities of the Unified School District that will become reality in August 2013.
With a $1.2 million budget shortfall, Greene County school leaders are looking for ways to cut costs without eliminating an elementary school. In a school board meeting this afternoon, Director of Schools, Dr. Vicki Kirk said members discussed cutting two driver’s education positions, a music teacher position, and extracurricular positions, along with suggesting that employees may have to pay more for insurance benefits. Closing Glenwood Elementary is an option, but Dr. Kirk says, it’s a last resort.
Many states, driven by budget woes, a desire to boost tourism or a determination help low-performing schools, are contemplating changes in the amount of time their students spend in class. Some California school districts may be forced to trim the school calendar to save money. In Alabama and Virginia, the issue is whether a longer summer vacation will bolster the tourism industry. Meanwhile, Michigan wants to add days to the school calendar to help its lowest-performing schools.
As a Nashville native, homeowner, parent and a public schools product and advocate, it’s difficult to understand why anyone would say “no” to any investment in Nashville’s future. I was raised to believe that we all hold a stake in our community and that an investment in education is never an investment lost. So it’s particularly difficult to understand when that “no” comes at the expense of our public schools, which stand to benefit enormously from Mayor Karl Dean’s budget proposal.
As budget discussions between Jackson-Madison County school system officials and Madison County commissioners continue, it is important to keep priorities in line with funding decisions. Chief among these decisions is how much to spend on technology. We remind everyone involved that the school board’s No. 1 priority is improving school technology. For many years, the school system has spent about 1 percent of its annual budget on technology, and often less.
Economists and real estate officials no doubt wish the April numbers were higher, but the 2.2 percent increase in Hamilton County and North Georgia and the 3.4 percent national rise in home sales compared with a month earlier are positive signs that local and national economies on the rebound. The across-the-board increases add to already growing evidence that home sales, an important indicator of consumer confidence, continue to accelerate, though not at an equal pace in all areas of the country.
The city of Knoxville’s work to find a solution for its ever-increasing pension plan obligations may have been exhausting, but it was far from exhaustive. In fact, the “Hybrid Max Plan” promoted by Mayor Madeline Rogero, which she claims combines a defined benefit plan with a defined contribution element, falls short of real change. To review, under a defined benefit plan like the one currently in place, city employees and retirees — like 80 percent of public employees nationwide — are guaranteed a payment in retirement based on salary and length of service.
Rutherford County government leaders should be commended for proposing spending plans for fiscal 2013 that won’t require a property tax. Initially, the Rutherford County School Board was backing a budget proposal that would force a 6.2-cent increase in county taxes. And one schools official suggested the system needed an 11-cent increase. That latter figure would tack about $41 onto the average annual property tax bill of $924.
Here’s a bad idea that keeps recurring: Turn control of the Internet over to the United Nations. A group of nations, led by the usual suspects — China and Russia — and joined shamefully by Brazil and India, are planning to try to amend the U.N.’s International Telecommunication Union treaty, to bring the Internet under a U.N. agency. Backers of the plan say the agency would impose controls, ostensibly for privacy and cybersecurity purposes; allow governments and national telephone companies to tax Internet traffic; and take over the functions now handled — and handled rather well — by a loose confederation of private agencies, including engineering standards and assignment of addresses, names and domains.