This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said last week that ending the state’s inheritance and gift tax will generate more money for Tennessee than what it will cost the state’s tax coffers. The Tennessee Legislature this year voted to phase out the state’s inheritance and gift taxes. The Volunteer State was one of 19 states that taxed estates. Connecticut is the only other state to impose a state tax on gifts. “Ending the inheritance tax will leave more capital in the state, and the more capital we can get to come or stay in our state the better it will be for Tennessee,” Haslam told reporters and editors at the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is putting together an app for Android and Apple phones that would give real-time traffic information, Gov. Bill Haslam said at a tech conference Tuesday.Haslam and an aide said TDOT hopes to release an app by the fall that would pull data from the department’s network of traffic cameras. Haslam told information technology specialists at the Digital Government Summit in Nashville that the department currently has all the data on hand (traffic info is already fed into the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency’s Ready TN disaster-preparedness app), but the trick is getting it to drivers immediately.
A third Friend of Bill has been identified in the person of state Rep. Debra Maggart, the House Republican Caucus chairman. Haslam confirmed to reporters Tuesday that he will appear at a fundraiser next week for Maggart, who faces tea party activist and former Bridgestone communications executive Courtney Rogers in the August Republican primary. Gun rights advocates and some tea party groups are backing Rogers after Maggart, who has represented Hendersonville since 2005, backed a decision not to hold a floor vote on legislation that would let gun owners take their weapons into workplace parking lots.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he doesn’t plan to endorse any candidate in the contested Republican primary in the 3rd Congressional District. The Republican governor told the Chattanooga Times Free Press he has decided to support certain incumbents in the Legislature because he has worked closely with them. But Haslam said he will stay out of the 3rd District race where freshman Rep. Chuck Fleischman faces dairy executive Scottie Mayfield and Weston Wamp, the son a former longtime congressman.
MTSU graduate Trey Schruff is proof it’s possible to earn a college degree in 3 1/2 years. “It’s tough, but it’s doable,” said Schruff, who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied sciences with a major in music business from the recording industry department during May’s commencement. Schruff, though, is the exception in higher education. At MTSU, for example, only 52.9 percent of its students who began in fall 2004 graduated by 2010, according to the Tennessee Higher Education Commission.
A bear who had been the subject of numerous sightings around the University of Tennessee campus has been treed by officers from the Knoxville Police Department and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. The bear had climbed a tree in front of the Panhellenic Building on 16th Street at the edge of the UT campus, and officers were planning to bring the bear down with a tranquilizer gun according to officers at the scene at 12:25 this morning.
Absentees often cast vote, state finds A longtime practice in the Tennessee legislature of lawmakers voting for colleagues who are momentarily away from their desks is coming under new scrutiny after some were discovered not to be even at the statehouse. One veteran Memphis member, Rep. Lois DeBerry, a Democrat, turned back the $174 daily expense payment for a day in which she was absent but listed as voting “present” on the House floor. DeBerry said colleagues erroneously assumed she was running late because her office failed to file an absence letter that would have shown her as “excused” on the chamber’s roll-call board.
Horse slaughter, deer farming and raw milk sales might be ignored in most political campaigns, but not in this summer’s four-candidate, six-county Republican primary race that will decide who succeeds retiring state Sen. Mike Faulk. “The horse is a very intelligent animal. In my personal opinion and the opinion of humane societies I’ve talked with, we don’t need to be killing them for human consumption,” said candidate Jeff Brantley of Sharp’s Chapel. “What’s next? Dogs and cats?”
Each boasts up-close view of lawmaking Vanderbilt Brabson, who previously worked for the state Legislature, and Gary Loe, who previously watched lawmakers as part of working, are this summer competing against each other to become a member of the General Assembly. Both of the Republican candidates for House District 13 say their past encounters with the lawmaking process were an inspiration and a learning experience, providing a key item on the resume they are submitting to voters in seeking to represent a diverse slice of the Knox County landscape.
Democratic primary voters across a broad swath of Memphis must choose between two of the party’s Memphis leaders — State Sens. Jim Kyle and Beverly Marrero — as a result of this year’s redistricting of the state legislature. Shelby County is losing one of the six Senate seats it has held since the 1960s because of slower population growth than other areas, placing Kyle and Marrero together in a newly configured Senate District 30.
A handful of Metro Council members met Saturday to discuss possible changes to Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed budget. Organized by Councilman Steve Glover of Hermitage, the two-hour meeting focused on how to cut about $92 million from the $1.7 billion operating budget, which has already passed on two readings in the council and includes a property tax increase of 53 cents. “I tried to lift every rock there was and only got up to $62 million,” Glover said.
The Beacon Center of Tennessee, a libertarian-leaning Nashville think tank, says that a survey it sponsored shows that Tennesseans support school vouchers. The survey, which likely will kick off a push for vouchers in the state legislature next year, put support for vouchers at 59 percent, with 31 percent of Tennesseans opposed. The Beacon Center joined with the Friedman Foundation for Education Choice to underwrite the telephone survey of 606 likely voters, which carries a margin of error of 4 percentage points.
A scholarship program that’s helped about 2,500 local high school graduates go on to college hasn’t yet been declared off limits from potential government cuts as Sullivan County officials scramble to cover a multimillion-dollar budget gap they’ve allowed to build up for several years. “Educate and Grow” is funded by local governments to give local high school graduates the opportunity to further their education at Northeast State Community College.
The Tennessee Consolidated Retirement System bills itself as “one of the best-funded pension plans in the nation,” but some local governments have been pulling their new hires out of the plan. The city of Kingsport did. So did Johnson City and Tri-Cities Regional Airport. The reason: These cash-strapped political entities have found their contributions into TCRS to be too costly. “Fifty-four (governmental entities) were at or above 15 percent of payroll (with TCRS employer contributions). … Speaking as a former county commissioner, that tells me they are under a bit of funding pressure,” said Tennessee Treasurer David Lillard Jr., who oversees TCRS.
Clarksville City Council passed the proposed 2012-13 budget on the first reading Thursday night. The public hearing and second reading of the budget will be at 5 p.m. June 18 in the City Council Chambers. “As I have said before, my goal is to make the budget process as open, transparent and informational as possible,” Mayor Kim McMillan said in a press release. “We have made the budget information available in several ways so that members of the public can access it.”
U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper, D-Nashville, earned some of the positive notice he was craving when he sponsored the “No Budget, No Pay” Act earlier this year — a bid to tie congressional salaries to their ability to pass a federal budget.Cooper was named on a website, policymic.com, as one of a half-dozen politicians “busting gridlock in Washington.”
State Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, will be hosting a “Coffee with Andy” at 8 a.m. Monday at Greyfriar’s Coffee and Tea, 406 Broad St. Berke announced his candidacy for Chattanooga mayor last month. He’s holding the coffee to ask city residents their opinions on the most important issues facing Chattanooga, a news release states. “As I have throughout my Senate career, I look forward to listening to Chattanoogans dedicated to the future of our city,” Berke said in the release.
Erlanger and Memorial health systems claim similar shares of the Chattanooga market, and both operate as tax-exempt hospitals. However, their bottom lines couldn’t be more different. Over the past six years, nonprofit Memorial experienced steady growth, bringing in $190 million in profits. Meanwhile, Erlanger, the area’s only Level 1 trauma center and the public safety-net hospital for indigent patients, saw steadily declining profits. Last year alone, Memorial raked in a record $42.9 million — more than the $40.7 million Erlanger made over the last six years.
Carolyn Davison had stents placed in arteries near her heart twice within about three months last year, once at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and again at Regional Hospital of Jackson. She was furious when she compared the bills. Jackson General charged her $25,487 to insert two stents, and Regional Hospital charged her $95,503 to insert one stent, a difference of more than $70,000 for the same outpatient procedure performed by the same doctor. There is no excuse, I don’t think, for there to be that much difference in the two bills,” Davison said.
It may be summer and the kids may be enjoying a well-deserved break from school, but you would be wrong to assume that all teachers are doing the same. In the first full week since school let out approximately 15 teachers and administrators went right back to work at Dyersburg Primary School, preparing the fall curriculum. According to Principal Linda DeBerry, four lead teachers from each grade (kindergarten, first and second) and two from pre-kindergarten are reviewing the curriculum to ensure that the school’s curriculum is in line with Tennessee’s common core standards.
Nearly $12,000 in additional costs were for board salaries at meetings Rutherford County Board of Education’s recent search for a new director of schools cost nearly $12,000 beyond the $10,000 paid to the Tennessee School Boards Association to assist in finding someone to replace Harry Gill Jr. Jeff Sandvig, the district’s assistant superintendent of budget and finance, said while the price tag more than doubled along the way, all of the spending was within the board’s allotted fiscal budget.
The ceremonial signing season, which is currently under way, may in some ways be the antithesis of efficiency in government that our governor and all legislators proclaim as a goal. But it enjoys great bipartisan popularity. Our state constitution requires the governor to sign or veto a bill passed by the state Legislature within 10 days after it reaches his desk or it becomes law without his signature. But the real signature merely marks the beginning of the ceremonial signing season, which can stretch for months after the Legislature has adjourned and the duly signed bills are already in effect as laws.
Ex-judge Richard Baumgartner’s secret life as an addict cost him his seat on the bench and his reputation. The jurist who replaced him as trial judge for the Christian/Newsom murder cases now is showing a disturbing propensity for secrecy in dispensing justice. Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood has removed motions from the court files and ordered prosecutors not to refer to them in public. He has used email correspondence instead of issuing orders that would go into the court record. He has held meetings with lawyers in chambers instead of holding public hearings.
While there are undoubtedly a few residents of Davidson County that happily support Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed 13 percent property tax increase, I have not met them. I have talked to many who support the increase, and many who are opposed to it — the nays are much more pointed in their comments. But both camps talk more on philosophy than on specifics. On balance, the mayor’s budget represents an investment in our future that we should make, and I hope the Metro Council passes it when it votes for the third time later this month.
The Jackson-Madison County Board of Education recently approved open enrollment, a change in school system policy that will allow students to attend any school, not just the schools they are zoned for. The change has been welcomed by many, but it can be a two-edged sword. We believe there should be more community discussion about the change before it goes into effect for the 2013-14 school year. During more than four decades, the school system operated under a federal court school desegregation order in which school zones and school populations were established with the goal of achieving racial balance.
The haters are on the move again in Rutherford County. Chancellor Robert Corlew III’s ruling that the county did not provide adequate notice of a planning commission meeting during which it approved a new mosque has set off comments like those made by Lou Ann Zelenik, who is running for Congress. She said the ruling shows the Muslims building the mosque have been guilty of “Islamic lying.”Good grief. Please, please, Rutherford Countians, do not elect someone who would spew such ignorance.And for Pete’s sake, county officials. Put this thing to bed once and for all. You’ve let the haters run their mouths for two years. Follow the judge’s orders.
The proposed three-way land swap of properties owned — and unwanted — by city government, the county school board and the Chattanooga Housing Authority shouldn’t be controversial. Even as amended, it’s still mutually beneficial for each party. Regrettably, however, it’s been played by political and racial concerns that have threatened to unwind it.
Why are people getting fatter? The so-called obesity epidemic is getting a lot of attention these days. According to a study published in the journal Obesity, it is estimated that by 2030, over half of American adults will be obese. We should care about this because along with obesity come medical problems such as diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, stroke and a host of other medical conditions that require treatment, and treatment costs money. That surely will add to health care costs in America, costs that already are strangling budgets from employers to individuals to government health care services.
Tell the truth: If you owned an enterprise that once was the envy of the world, but that enterprise was now limping along, growing far below potential, was running unimaginable deficits year after year, was staggering under enormous and ever-increasing debt and faced fierce competition from every corner of the globe, would you hire a social worker to turn things around? Or, concerned about the interests of the other owners of the outfit while worrying about the workers who will be harmed if hard choices are not made to keep the enterprise afloat, would you go for a guy who has experience in turning around not one, not two nor three, but multiple organizations that were on the doorstep of doom?