This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he expects to have about $369 million in new revenues for his proposed 2013-14 budget, but expected cost increases in TennCare will swallow most of the money. That will put pressure on him and lawmakers to look at cuts elsewhere to pay for increases in key areas ranging from education to prisons, the Republican governor warned last week. Of the expected new revenue, $350 million — or 95 percent — is going to TennCare — the Republican said.
Scot Newport quips that the Amazon distribution center in Chattanooga this time of year is like “a mini North Pole.” “It’s a very exciting time of the year for Amazon,” he said about the hectic Christmas season at the nation’s No. 1 Internet retailer. Newport, a former U.S. Army colonel who spent 27 years in the military, is now bringing his leadership skills to bear at Amazon for the holidays. The 48-year-old joined the Seattle-based company earlier this year after doing his research and finding what he termed Amazon’s openness to vets.
The technology of gaming has arrived at the Tennessee Technology Center in Shelbyville, with an advanced training device for students in the collision repair program. In August the center purchased a virtual paint spray machine, becoming the first school in the Tennessee system to employ the technology. New students may learn the fundamental techniques of painting via the Sim Spray. By donning an optical helmet, students are transported to the paint spray booth. Virtual painting Visually, the computer projects a 3-D animation of an automobile part, and using a spray-gun controller, a student may apply primer and paint layers.
As the number of motorcyclists killed in crashes continues to climb in Tennessee, an audit shows that federal grants used to increase motorcycle safety is too restrictive. The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/TFU4KL) reports the U.S. Government Accountability Office found that there were too many restrictions on $45.9 million in federal grants given to states. The audit found states would see more benefits with fewer limitations, for instance being able to choose whether to offer driving education courses or more traffic enforcement.
Now that Tennessee Republicans have gained firm control over both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office, a new question confronts them: Can they stick together? The party’s leaders have worked to tamp down talk of division within their caucus, but already splits have appeared — over issues such as guns, school choice and health care reform — that could turn into battle lines once the legislative session begins next month. The disagreements also could force Gov. Bill Haslam and other GOP leaders to seize the initiative on more issues and rally members of the party’s caucus behind bills that bear their stamp.
“It’s not government civics.” That’s how newly-elected state Rep. Roger Kane, a Knoxville Republican, described orientation and GOP caucus sessions that he’s attended in Nashville to get ready for when the General Assembly begins meeting in January. The Legislature will have a large freshman class with 22 new House members and six new senators. Representing the new 89th District in Northwest Knox County, Kane said the GOP caucus session in particular was not something he remembered studying.
Take a little gateway sexual activity, sprinkle it with the most outrageous quote from Sen. Stacey Campfield you can find, and what have you got? National recognition for Tennessee! Mother Jones magazine, the left-of-left publication best known lately for unearthing a videotape of Mitt Romney kissing off 47 percent of the nation’s voters, has published a new list of the nation’s worst legislatures and given Tennessee top honors. Our elected leaders appear to have set themselves apart by actually passing the abstinence-only bill, the one severely restricting discussion of sexual activity in public schools.
A non-scientific poll on the Times-Gazette web site indicates strong support for the idea of selling wine in grocery stores. In a web site poll asking “Should wine be sold in grocery stores?”, 187 users — 76 percent — answered “yes,” while 59 users, or 24 percent, said “no.” The issue has been debated for several years without any changes making their way into law. Recent news reports indicate it may have a better chance of passage in the upcoming state legislative session, due to support from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, both Republicans, who make committee appointments in the Senate and the House respectively.
Nestled along the Elk River just a few miles north of the Alabama border lies a tiny Tennessee town with a big fight on its hands. Elkton, where Main Street is not even a half-mile long and where the post office is attached to city hall, has squared off with its local water utility. The town of about 600 residents pays one of the highest rates in the state for its 42 fire hydrants and spends nearly as much on them as it does for its entire six-member volunteer fire department. Mayor Carolyn Thompson doesn’t think the amount — a monthly $24.50 per hydrant — is fair and is fighting back.
Being a spokesman for the Fix the Debt campaign has put former Gov. Phil Bredesen in the somewhat unusual position of advocating for the end of many tax credits after he pushed for credits when he led the state of Tennessee and as his company, Silicon Ranch, utilizes them for its solar projects. But Bredesen said he did not have a problem with the seemingly contradictory position. Speaking to The Tennessean editorial board Monday, he said he has never been a fan of tax credits, believing that investors should put their money where it makes the most sense without worrying about tax benefits.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander made a show of force on Dec. 1, announcing his 2014 re-election bid with the support of pretty much every Republican who matters in Tennessee, sans embattled U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais. While the display was intended to scare off any potential GOP primary challengers, Democrats seem to be shying away from challenging Alexander, too. Former Gov. Phil Bredesen told The Tennessean on Monday he has no plans to run. “As I’ve told some of the recruiters, I don’t think I’d like it, and I don’t think you’d like me,” Bredesen said.
President Barack Obama’s insistence on raising tax rates on upper-income Americans stands as either political opportunism or realistic fiscal policy, depending on where you stand in the ideological spectrum. But if he succeeds, the impact in Tennessee will be concentrated in a relatively few ZIP codes, Internal Revenue Service data show. As Congress struggles to resolve the “fiscal cliff,” the combination of sharp income tax increases and large federal spending cuts scheduled to take effect automatically on Jan. 1, the issue of tax rates is front and center.
Several roads in the Cherokee National Forest — including two in Sullivan County, Tenn. — will close Dec. 17, the U.S. Forest Service said in a written announcement released Friday. The winter-time closures are designed to help protect wildlife habitat, decrease wildlife disturbance and reduce road maintenance costs in the Cherokee Wildlife Management Area. The closures were announced earlier this year, but take effect Dec. 17. The roads in Sullivan County included in the closure are Little Oak and Big Creek.
Population is shifting to cities, reducing farm-state clout Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has some harsh words for rural America: It’s “becoming less and less relevant.” A month after an election that Democrats won even as rural parts of the country voted overwhelmingly Republican, the former Democratic governor of Iowa told farm-belt leaders this past week that he’s frustrated with their internal squabbles and said they need to be more strategic in picking their political fights.
Distinct pockets throughout city are buzzing with an entrepreneurial spirit that rivals anything seen across the nation From technology startups to artisan shops to social enterprise ventures, Nashville’s entrepreneurial scene is on the rise. And while Music City might be far from reaching Silicon Valley status, the city’s creative ecosystem has been recognized in recent years as one of the nation’s brightest — including being ranked third in Forbes’ 2011 list of boom towns as well as recently being named among CNN’s list of “cities where startups are thriving.”
When Camiqueka Fuller’s oldest daughter was ready for fifth grade, she had two choices: Attend a failing middle school or try out a charter school. “I didn’t know anything about those schools,” Fuller said. “But I know what I didn’t want.” Fuller did what more than one hundred parents were considering Saturday at a fair at Tennessee State University: She enrolled her daughter, Shelby, in a charter school. The fair was the first of its kind, designed to raise awareness about how Davidson County’s 14 public charter schools work and to provide information on how to enroll.
Rhea panel ponders options in dealing with jailed colleague Rhea County school board member Patrick Fisher, still in jail after his second recent arrest on drug and weapons charges, may face an ouster petition if he doesn’t resign. Mike Taylor, district attorney for the 12th Judicial District, said Friday he has communicated with Fisher, school board Chairman B.J. McCoy and Rhea County Attorney Carol Ann Barron about Fisher’s intentions. He said he could file a civil ouster lawsuit on grounds such as malfeasance, official misconduct or moral turpitude. Should he win, Fisher would be removed for the rest of his term, which is up in 2014.
Gov. Bill Haslam has until Friday to decide whether he wants to do the right thing for Tennesseans or the right thing politically. At issue is whether Tennessee lawmakers choose to operate a federally mandated health care exchange, or whether they’ll decline and let Washington run it. Which would be better for the state? If Haslam trusts his administration, he’ll choose to let the state run it. Why? Because, as the governor has said, Tennessee has experience running health care with the TennCare program. The state would have more control to do things like wellness programs. And putting the exchange in the hands of state leaders gives Tennessee a chance to do this cheaper than Washington would.
The ball is in our court. By “our court” we mean the state of Tennessee, and the ball is the Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare, which has been volleyed at the federal level between Congress, the Supreme Court and the presidential election. Now, Gov. Bill Haslam and the General Assembly will decide on two critical questions that will shape healthcare for our state. First, whether Tennessee should develop its own insurance exchange, and second, whether Tennessee should expand Medicaid with federal funding. However, soon insurers will be barred from turning people down due to health conditions and health insurance will become standardized through an exchange.
Many residents are understandably flummoxed by Tennessee’s silly wine laws. While wine is available in grocery stores in Georgia, picking up a bottle of cabernet in Tennessee requires a trip to the liquor store. At the same time, beer, which is generally blamed for more of society’s alcohol-related woes than wine, has been available for decades in grocery stores throughout the Volunteer State to consumers of legal age. So what gives? Why isn’t wine already sold in Tennessee’s grocery stores? Decades ago the state government set up a wine distribution monopoly, allowing a very small number of people to make a very large amount of money – and the greedy distributors benefiting from the system don’t want that system to end.
The Democratic Party, once a dominant force in Tennessee politics, is now mostly adrift and all but irrelevant at the capital and practically everywhere else in the state. None of that is news, of course. The party’s influence statewide started to wane nearly a decade ago. And when former governor Phil Bredesen, a moderate Democrat, left office in January 2011, it marked an emphatic end to any hopes that a Democrat would win statewide election for years to come. In Tennessee’s political war, Democrats continue to be picked off with each election cycle, and their territory keeps shrinking. Republicans have pushed them into seclusion, mostly inside Memphis and Nashville. But as bad as things seem for Democrats, they’re about to get worse.
There is no real will, inside or outside Washington, to compromise on fiscal issues One reason that the current fiscal stalemate in Washington is so maddening is that average Americans cannot be sure even of what they should be most worried about. Is it the congressionally ordered fiscal “cliff,” and the automatic tax increases and spending cuts that may be waiting at the bottom? Is it the crushing national debt itself, around $16 trillion and counting? Maybe it’s fear for the sustainability of Medicare and Social Security benefits for an aging U.S. population. Or maybe it’s the thing that has been foremost in most Americans’ minds for the past four years: jobs, and the lack of them.
There’s a message we Tennessee Volunteers need to take to Washington. During the eight years that I was governor, our state, like most, went through some tough times. In addition to the normal day-in and day-out challenges, we had to deal with agonizing choices in our Medicaid program and, later, the huge revenue shortfalls that grew out of the 2007 financial crisis. Those experiences showed that ordinary Tennesseans, when the chips are down, are more than capable of confronting a big problem, applying common sense and doing what it takes to solve it. There’s an important truth here, and this is the message we need to take to Washington: people are pretty smart, and they’re willing to sacrifice to solve a problem.
Has it been six years already? It sure doesn’t seem like six years have passed since the last time Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., slinked back to Tennessee to launch his bid for re-election. But there he was last Saturday, at press conferences in Nashville and Knoxville, hoping to reinvent history, ignore facts and stretch the truth in his efforts to make Tennesseans forget what a sad excuse for a U.S. Senator he has become. Six years ago, after his first term, he was already being criticized. His votes in support of bloated budget bills, raising the debt ceiling and funding ridiculous green-energy boondoggles with billions of tax dollars befuddled conservative state lawmakers, thought leaders, policy wonks and, ultimately, voters.
The 112th Congress has a lot of unfinished business that likely will remain undone before the current session concludes, yet there remains strong bipartisan support in both chambers to make some vital permanent additions to the nation’s designated wilderness areas before this Congress adjourns. Among these long-sought additions are six outstanding tracts totaling nearly 20,000 acres of gloriously pristine land in East Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. Action by Tennessee’s senators and representatives to provide permanent protection of these tracts in the wilderness bill is crucial, and time is short. The wilderness bill now before Congress is a slimmed down version of the original 2011 package, which included widely supported additions in 25 states.