This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam said meetings with three credit agencies this week went well and he is optimistic about the outcomes. Tennessee currently has triple-A credit ratings from Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Inc. and a double-A-plus rating from Standard and Poor’s. Haslam said in a conference call Tuesday from New York City that credit agency officials were impressed by the state’s low per-capita debt and revenue that has exceeded expectations. He said officials wanted to know how threatened federal cuts would affect the state.
Fresh off annual meetings with Moody’s, Standard & Poor’s and Fitch rating agencies, Gov. Bill Haslam said he was “encouraged” that Tennessee would be able to maintain its top-tier bond and credit ratings. The governor’s trip to New York came one year after the state faced a possible downgrade of the ratings, which influence borrowing costs for the state, along with the value of its bonds. Along with Haslam, Finance and Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes, Secretary of State Tre Hargett and House Speaker Beth Harwell attended the meetings.
Tennessee officials expect to see reductions in federal education funding, a factor they are trying to convince the nation’s leading bond rating agencies the state is poised to deal with. On a trip to New York to defend the state’s high credit ratings this week, the state tried to prove above-expected tax collections and increases in per capita income make the state worthy of the highest credit ratings despite fears the federal government will hand the state fewer dollars in coming years, Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday.
The nation’s bond rating agencies want to know how well Tennessee can ride out changes to the federal budget. The potential Congressional cuts knows as “sequestration” loomed over meetings with the agencies this week. Every year, a delegation of top state officials makes the trip to New York to convince financial experts that Tennessee deserves a high credit rating. This time, Governor Bill Haslam went in armed with figures he says show the state has a growing economy and strong tax revenues.
Tennessee has opened up a two-week comment period for its INCITE co-investment fund. Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration developed the fund as a use for $30 million in federal money the state already was receiving. The program offers public money to those who can bring private funding to bear, both from state-approved investors and others who join in on the deals. As we wrote in Friday’s Nashville Business Journal, state leaders are weighing changes that could make the fund — yet to disburse $20 million in federal money — available to more investors and companies.
A study by a conservative research organization reports that Tennesseans carry the third-lowest burden of state and local taxes. The study by the Tax Foundation said Tennesseans pay an average of 7.7 percent in per capita income in taxes. The national average is 9.9. percent. The Commercial Appeal (http://bit.ly/TROUa3) reports that Tennessee gained one position, going from 47th to 48th lowest tax burden, between fiscal year 2009 and fiscal year 2010. Only Alaska and South Dakota had lighter tax burdens in the study.
The overall tax burden people face in Tennessee — including at the state and local level — is among the lowest in the nation as a percent of income. So says a new study by the Tax Foundation, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank that researches tax and budget issues. The group’s conclusions offer a helpful gaze into the debate over what amount of taxation strikes the right economic balance. The group released a study today calculating the total tax burden residents pay to state and local governments, with Tennessee ranking third lowest, behind only Alaska and South Dakota.
Tennesseans shoulder the third lowest burden of state and local taxes among the states, paying an average of 7.7 percent of the state’s per capita income, according to the Tax Foundation. Tennessee moved from 47th highest to 48th highest — or third lowest — from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010, the latest year that complete figures are available, according to the foundation’s “Annual State-Local Tax Burden Ranking” released Tuesday. The Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan, conservative-leaning tax and fiscal policy research organization, was established in 1937 and has been issuing the annual ranking of state and local tax burdens for nearly two decades.
Tennessee health officials say the number of people sickened by fungal meningitis and other diseases after receiving steroid injections has risen to 70. Also on Tuesday the pharmacist who co-founded the Massachusetts specialty pharmacy linked to the meningitis outbreak voluntarily surrendered his license in Tennessee. The state pharmacy board accepted the agreement by Barry Cadden, the co-founder of New England Compounding Center, to give up his license to practice pharmacy in Tennessee.
A state panel is chomping at the bit to punish the compounding pharmacy responsible for an outbreak of fungal meningitis that has killed nine Tennesseans. But the Board of Pharmacy was barred from assessing penalties at a special-called meeting Tuesday. Barry Cadden – co-founder of the New England Compounding Center – voluntarily surrendered his state license in a negotiated agreement. The deal does permit the state to fine Cadden, but the board of pharmacy’s attorney says that will have to wait.
State awaits results to see if meningitis outbreak is affected State and federal officials are awaiting the results of critical tests on three drugs from a Massachusetts compounding lab that could indicate whether the ongoing meningitis crisis could multiply. Tennessee has found evidence of contamination in three new drugs from the New England Compounding Center, but the contamination may have occurred in the testing process rather than at the Massachusetts facility, Dr. David Reagan, medical director for the state health department, said Tuesday.
The drug-mixing pharmacy in Massachusetts linked to a deadly meningitis outbreak failed to sterilize its products the minimum required time, didn’t keep its manufacturing equipment sanitary and operated a leaky boiler near the “clean room” where drugs were packaged, state officials said Monday. On 13 occasions, New England Compounding Center shipped products from two now-recalled batches of the steroid linked to the outbreak before receiving a report from an outside lab that tested them for safety, violating industry-backed guidelines the company said it followed, Massachusetts health officials said.
The Tennessee Department of Labor has joined with Dollar General and several major employers in Tennessee to connect veterans with jobs. The Paychecks for Patriots initiative will include hiring fairs to be held on Thursday, Oct. 25 in 13 Tennessee Career Centers throughout the state, and will feature local employers interested in putting veterans to work. The Paychecks for Patriots hiring fair in Tullahoma will be held from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at 111 East Lincoln St. Gov. Haslam signed a proclamation announcing Oct. 25 as Paychecks for Patriots Day.
Hundreds of thousands of veterans will be coming home in the near future, as the U.S. downsizes its presence in the Middle East. Many of those veterans will need jobs. And employers across Tennessee, with help from state government, are going on a major hiring push to put them to work. The Tennessee Department of Labor has joined employers including Dollar General and others around the state to connect veterans with jobs in an initiative called “Paychecks for Patriots.”
State officials say church-sponsored child-care programs such as parents’ day out, must either obtain licenses or limit their programs to no more than two days a week. The Tennessean reports (http://tnne.ws/X7Hft8 ) the programs have been given until next summer to comply with the rules after Department of Human Services attorneys scrutinized the child-care center law and determined it had been misinterpreted. Parents’ day out programs fill a niche for people who don’t need full-time child-care, such as parents who work part-time or stay at home but need a break.
Allyson Chick knows she could have her third-graders at Richland Elementary learn about tornadoes by reading about them and memorizing vocabulary words. She chooses to connect them to survivors in Kansas on Skype. For her wit, creativity and outright zeal in the classroom, she was named Tennessee’s Teacher of the Year late Tuesday. The award, the first for an MCS teacher since 1983, was given at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville by State Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman. It comes with a $5,000 prize from the Niswonger Foundation.
A Tennessee state trooper found a missing child during a traffic stop in Haywood County on Tuesday, authorities said. Trooper Phillip Long was using stationary radar on Interstate 40 eastbound when he saw a 2001 Mitsubishi Eclipse with a missing brake light. He stopped the Oklahoma-registered car at the 43 mile marker at about 1:20 a.m. A male driver and two female passengers were in the car, according to a news release. Long smelled marijuana after speaking with the driver, who told the trooper the three were on their way to visit family in Connecticut.
Jury selection in the federal trial of a disgraced former Knox County Criminal Court judge on Tuesday offered a glimpse at a possible defense strategy: the lies he told weren’t intended to cover up a drug conspiracy but to protect his source for sex. Richard Baumgartner is standing trial in U.S. District Court on seven counts of misprision of a felony. Federal prosecutors David Lewen and Zachary Bolitho allege Baumgartner lied to various state officials and private citizens to cover up a drug conspiracy involving his pill-supplying mistress.
Great Hearts Academies, whose application for a charter school was denied by the Metro Nashville Public Schools board, is in Nashville for the long haul, a spokesman told TNReport this week. And lobbyists for the Arizona-based nonprofit will by no means be playing hookey from the Tennessee Legislature during the 2013 legislative session. “The Nashville board’s disregard of the truth and repeated defiance of state law illustrates why an impartial Tennessee charter school authority is needed,” Great Hearts attorney Ross Booher said.
Green Party candidate Bryan Moneyhun is not given to illusions. He says he has no real chance to unseat 16th District State Rep. Bill Dunn, Republican. But Moneyhun, 56, feels he has already achieved a political goal by just being on the ballot, because of the exposure that will give to his party and its environment-driven ideas. “I’m not here to bad-mouth Mr. Dunn, he is a fine man and the folks in the 16th would love to see him go back in,” Moneyhun said. “But I often hear people say, ‘Everything is in the hands of the two major parties, and I wish another party would come along with someone else to vote for.’ Well — here we are. My No. 1 issue is simply that the political process should not be monopolized by the two majority parties.”
The board that enforces Tennessee’s campaign finance law voted Tuesday against imposing any penalties in two cases where political action committees were accused of illegally sidestepping limits on how much money can be given to candidates for the state Legislature. In one case, Andrew Miller Jr., a Nashville businessman, set up Truth Matters PAC in July and gave it $71,000. The PAC then contributed to 10 legislative campaigns, including eight that had already received the maximum allowable donation from Miller as an individual.
State panel decides no action needed Members of Tennessee’s Registry of Election Finance on Tuesday unanimously agreed to take no action against Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett, ending its inquiry into a series of irregularities in his campaign disclosure forms. The decision, members said, comes in the wake of 11 amendments the mayor filed last week with local election officials and a 24-page affidavit he submitted to the state that accuses his now ex-wife of engaging “in a pattern of deception” by transferring thousands of dollars to various accounts for her own personal benefit and without his knowledge.
Leaders of Shelby County’s six suburbs worked hard to drum up passion and support for a local sales tax increase in August. Now, they are stuck on the sidelines as voters in Memphis and unincorporated Shelby County go to the polls Nov. 6 to consider a countywide referendum that would supersede the suburban sales tax. And while they technically don’t have a direct involvement in this round of the fight, some are telling those who ask that they oppose the countywide referendum.
Republican U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann on Tuesday confirmed he won’t debate Dr. Mary Headrick again in Tennessee’s 3rd District race. Fleischmann campaign spokesman Tyler Threadgill cited his boss’s “full schedule” before Election Day and said the congressman met a single-debate promise when he squared off against Headrick at a lightly attended forum in Bradley County. But that’s not enough for the Democratic challenger in a district that includes 10 other counties and 692,000 residents.
Tennessee Democrats said Monday they sent a letter to Gov. Bill Haslam and “every elected Republican” in the General Assembly “rebuking” them for the GOP’s “continued support” of U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn. Party Chairman Chip Forrester also challenged elected Republicans “to take action” in the wake of revelations that DesJarlais, a physician, had an affair a dozen years ago with a woman who had been his patient. Calling the relationship “illicit” and a “crystal clear violation of his own medical code of ethics and Tennessee state law,” Forrester said in the letter to Republicans that “you have yet to speak publicly against Rep. DesJarlais’ embarrassing and shameful revelations, and not a single member of your party has denounced Rep. DesJarlais for breaking the law and violating his patient’s trust.”
There’s not much free government surplus food at the Second Harvest Food Bank warehouse in Nashville these days. A few pallets of potatoes. Some apple sauce, apple juice, and some tomato sauce. Then there are the 1,902 cases of frozen peaches. All of it is good food. But it’s not enough to make a balanced diet for folks in need. “You can’t feed a family with a food box of frozen peaches,” said Kimberly P. Molnar, vice president for program services at Second Harvest. Two years ago, Second Harvest would have also had government surplus peanut butter, spaghetti noodles and other staples from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Food Assistance program.
A week after it received a 15-year tax abatements for a $301 million expansion, Nike Inc. officially announced its plans for the facility, which is expected to be completed in 2014. In a statement, Nike called the facility a “centralized, multi-product engine for wholesale and retail distribution, supporting Nike’s long-term business growth in North America.” The expansion, which will be located on Shelby Drive in North Memphis, is expected to add 250 local jobs. As first reported in Memphis Business Journal, the expansion will add 1.1 million square feet to its Memphis operation.
Metro Nashville school board member Amy Frogge is ready to sue the state to force the return of $3.4 million the district didn’t receive last month, and she said parent groups stand ready to take up the legal fight if the board decides against it. The board made no decision during a Tuesday meeting on whether it will move forward and forget the money the state withheld or sue to get the funding restored. But many board members made public statements on their positions after discussing the options for about an hour in a private session with an attorney.
Countywide school board members debated Tuesday, Oct. 23, the idea of backing a half cent countywide sales tax hike. Half of the estimated $60 million in revenue from the tax hike on the November ballot would got to local education by state law. But the resolution backing the ballot item stopped short of saying the $30 million in revenue would absolutely go to fund universal access to pre-kindergarten programs. The pre-k committment has been a key part of the campaign by backers of the sales tax hike to win political support as early voting in advance of election day hits the one week mark Wednesday.
Cleveland leaders agree that a new elementary school will be needed soon At a recent City Council meeting, Cleveland School officials reported enrollment has surpassed the capacity of many of its elementary schools, especially those in North Cleveland. The solution, they said, is a new 75,000-square-foot elementary capable of holding 500 students. The estimated cost, not including land, is $13 million. “Rezoning doesn’t help, because all our schools are full,” said Dr. Martin Ringstaff, director of Cleveland City Schools. City schools already are 300 students over capacity systemwide, with Mayfield Elementary taking the brunt of the overcrowding.
Murfreesboro police had to decontaminate a local elementary school after a meth lab was found there Tuesday. Police spokesman Kyle Evans said no children were exposed to the lab, which was found on the playground at Mitchell-Neilson Elementary School, 711 West Clark Blvd. “The materials were discovered by staff before the children would have come on the playground,” Evans said. Evans said an officer from the Gang Resistance Education and Training program recognized the materials as methamphetamine and rendered the chemicals safe.
Recess was cut short for a group of first-grade students Tuesday after components of a mobile meth lab were found on their school’s playground. Mitchell-Neilson Primary students were on the playground shortly after noon when a teacher noticed a bag containing a plastic soda bottle with tubing lying on the school’s playground closest to West Clark Boulevard, Murfreesboro Police Sgt. Kyle Evans said. “A teacher picked it up and took it into the assistant principal’s office. The G.R.E.A.T. (Gang Resistance Education and Training) Officer Tim Jensen immediately knew what it was and called the Tennessee Meth Task Force, since he’s a member,” Evans said.
Autumn brings passels of leaf-peepers to Sevier County, drawn by Mother Nature’s spectacular pointillism painted across the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. But this time of year also causes a fiscally conscious columnist a couple of gray days. The Tennessee Department of Revenue, in late September, sends Sevierville and Pigeon Forge their tax take from their Tourism Development Zones. These special districts were created years ago to boost tourism by allowing the cities to borrow money to build events centers and infrastructure. By statute, the cities get the state’s portion of any incremental sales tax increase in the zones to service their debt. Pigeon Forge in fiscal 2011-2012 received $1,758,119.26, up from $703,558.48 the previous year, a 63 percent increase.
U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais by his own acknowledgement has violated the code of ethics for physicians and exposed himself as a hypocrite in his political stance on abortion. Voters in the 4th District, which stretches from Cleveland to Murfreesboro, deserve better, and this election looks as though it will end up being a referendum on the first-term Republican from Jasper, Tenn. As virtually everyone in America knows by now, a transcript of a taped telephone call depicts a conversation in 2000 between DesJarlais, a physician, and a female patient who claimed to be pregnant with his child. According to the transcript, which first surfaced in a report on the Huffington Post website, DesJarlais insisted that she obtain an abortion.
The 4th District congressional race has become a litmus test. Will pro-family, anti-abortion Republicans stick to their guns and support only candidates who adhere to their definition of morality? Or will they re-elect a physician who claims an agreement with his spouse permitted infidelity, had an affair with a patient, and then got caught trying to talk her into an abortion when she told him she was pregnant? Voters so far are splitting into clear camps on whether to re-elect one-term Rep. Scott DesJarlais, who represents a district that runs from part of Rutherford County to Chattanooga. The stand-by-their-views voters say they oppose abortion, period, and will not vote for a man who says he does, too — but then gets caught trying to orchestrate one. Agree with abortion or not, you’ve got to respect people who think a moral issue applies the same to everyone.