This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee is a strong in manufacturing, but production growth is limited by Tennesseans’ relatively low level of educational achievement, says a new report from Ball State University. The 2013 Manufacturing and Logistics Report Card, an analysis from Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), grades all 50 states on factors that lead to success. Tennessee received these other grades: Logistics, B+; Human Capital, D-; Worker Benefit Costs, B+; Tax Climate , C; Expected Liability Gap, B; Global Reach, B; Sector Diversification, B; and Productivity and Innovation, C-.
Manufacturing in the state of Tennessee is strong, but is limited by area workers’ educational achievement who could fill jobs here, according to a new report compiled by the Ball State Center for Business and Economic Research. The 2013 Manufacturing & Logistics National Report was compiled by Conexus Indiana, an initiative that researches the manufacturing and logistics sectors in the state and across the U.S. It measures different areas of the economy that have an impact on the manufacturing and logistics industries.
Manufacturing is doing well in Tennessee, but growth is being held back by “the relatively low level of educational achievement of its adults,” according to a report released today by Ball State University. Tennessee received a B for manufacturing and a B+ for logistics in the 2013 Manufacturing and Logistics Report Card prepared by Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research. In stark contrast, the report gave Tennessee a D- in Human Capital, a category that includes the level of high school and collegiate achievement, the number of associates degrees awarded annually per capita and other educational measures.
Tennessee is ranked in a new report as among the top states nationally in the number of “megadeals” in which it has provided companies with large subsidies for economic development projects. Michigan ranked first with 29 megadeals of $75 million or more while Texas was the top Southern state with 12 over the past 37 years. Tennessee followed with 11 while Alabama had 10, according to the report by Washington, D.C.-based Good Jobs First. Georgia recorded five megadeals, the report said.
Tennessee’s state and local governments have made more “megadeals” with companies seeking economic development incentives than almost every other state, with Nashville and Middle Tennessee leading the charge through the years, according to a new national report. While elected officials often say governments have to invest tax dollars to attract significant private investment, the study by Good Jobs First says some of the biggest deals haven’t created many new jobs. “One in ten of the deals involves the mere relocation of an existing facility, often within the same state and sometimes within the same metropolitan area,” the report says.
A proposal before Tennessee’s Board of Education Friday to rework statewide teacher pay levels is drawing ire from Democrats, as well as the state teachers’ union. The move aims to add extra pay for certain teachers. But critics argue it’s an administrative approach to a change lawmakers would not support. Under the proposal, teachers with advanced degrees wouldn’t necessarily get the same size raises they do now. And it would get rid of scheduled raises after a teachers’ first decade. Jim Wrye with the Tennessee Education Association says in other words, salaries for some long-timers would essentially flatten.
A teacher pay plan coming before the Tennessee Board of Education today drew fire Thursday from legislative Democrats and the state’s largest group of educators. House Democrats and the Tennessee Education Association blasted Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman’s proposal to change the minimum salary schedule, which now rewards experience and advanced degrees. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, told reporters the plan will mean fewer pay increases over time and could drive educators from the field.
State lawmakers are speaking out against a proposal by the state Department of Education they believe would eventually hurt teacher salaries in Tennessee. Democratic leaders held a press conference on Thursday to oppose the measure that seeks to change the minimum teacher salary schedule. They note the proposal would reduce steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminate incentives for doctorate degrees and post-master’s training. House Minority Leader Crag Fitzhugh said the proposal could deter individuals looking to teach in Tennessee.
Tennessee teachers marshaled their forces and House Democrats hurled insults at Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman on Thursday over concerns that teachers will lose money if the state adopts a controversial plan today to require merit pay. The pay plan, part of a drive to boost student test scores, would eliminate traditional salary increases for teachers based solely on years of experience and advanced degrees. The state Board of Education is expected to approve it today. Members already gave the proposal a nod of approval in April when Huffman presented it.
The State Board of Education on Friday will consider a proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam’s education commissioner to sharply reduce the value of advanced degrees and years of experience in the state’s long-standing minimum salary schedule for teachers. The Tennessee Education Association and Democratic legislative leaders said Thursday the plan quietly advanced by Commissioner Kevin Huffman would “gut” the schedule, cost teachers thousands of dollars over their careers and make it harder to recruit quality teachers.
The Tennessee Board of Regents is scheduled to vote today on a recommendation to increase tuition and maintenance fees at the 19 community colleges and universities it oversees. The board’s Committee on Finance and Business Operations has recommended 3 percent increases for each of the 13 community colleges across the state, while the six TBR universities may see rates go up from 1.4 to 6 percent. The board is holding its quarterly meeting at Walters State Community College in Morristown. For the 2012-13 academic year, MTSU charged $234 per credit hour, in addition to a $67 per hour maintenance fee.
The Tennessee Board of Regents will vote today on a recommendation to increase tuition/maintenance fees at the 19 community colleges and universities it oversees, including Middle Tennessee State University. The board’s Committee on Finance and Business Operationsrecommended the increases on June 5. Three percent increases were suggested for each of the 13 community colleges across the state, while the six TBR universities may see rates go up from 1.4 to 6 percent.
The University of Tennessee System Board of Trustees approved a budget Thursday that includes a 6 percent tuition hike. For an in-state student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, tuition will increase $343 — from $5,722 last fall to $6,065 this fall. The board approved the same tuition hike for UT Knoxville and UT Martin. The money will support a 1.5 percent pay raise for faculty and staff, plus scholarships, academic promotions, student support services and Knoxville’s Top 25 implementation plan.
The University of Tennessee board of trustees ended its two-day summer meeting by approving the system’s nearly $2 billion budget that includes a 6 percent tuition increase, some new student fees, and pay raises for faculty and staff. But not without a lot of discussion and even some debate — especially about the proposed tuition increase. Trustee Crawford Gallimore said he hopes the system is able to demonstrate to taxpayers that “raising tuition is the last resort … and not as just a matter of course that we do every year.”
The University of Tennessee Board of Trustees on Thursday approved student tuition increases averaging 6 percent at its Knoxville, Chattanooga and Martin campuses, and 5 percent at the Health Science Center in Memphis. The board also approved increases in mandatory fees that will push most students’ bills even higher. Trustee Doug Horne of Knoxville argued for a lower, 3 percent increase in tuition and said the universities can cut about $10 million from its overall budget of more than $1 billion to make up the difference.
A six-state study will attempt to pinpoint the causes of the decline in the Southeastern U.S. dairy industry. The University of Tennessee Institute of Agriculture is the lead institution for the study, funded by a $3 million grant from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture. Steve Oliver, assistant dean of UT AgResearch, said the Southeastern dairy industry is in serious trouble. “Although the nation is experiencing a surge in milk and dairy demand, the Southeast has experienced a greater than 37 percent decline in total milk production,” Oliver said.
While he didn’t literally address the University of Tennessee board of trustees, student David Hayes made sure his voice was heard on Thursday. As members of the board entered the Hollingsworth Auditorium on the university’s agriculture campus, Hayes handed them a letter asking each to demand the university “halt its plans to frack for natural gas on our public lands.” In December, the university told the News Sentinel it plans to lease land in its Cumberland Research Forest in Morgan and Scott counties to an oil and gas company.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development reported today the state’s unemployment rate for May was 8.3 percent, an increase from the April revised rate of 8 percent. By comparison, the national unemployment rate for May was 7.6 percent, an increase of .10 compared to the April mark. The state’s 2.76 million non-farm employed is a record.
The unemployment rate in Tennessee increased from 8.0 in April to 8.3 percent in May, according to Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Burns Phillips. Economic Summary: Tennessee’s labor force hit a record high in May, mostly from new entrants, reentrants, and dislocated workers returning to the labor force as unemployed persons. Total nonfarm employment increased 5,700 from April to May. The largest increases occurred in accommodation/food services, administrative/support/waste services, and retail trade.
Mt. Pleasant residents say state is attempting to silence its critics A Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation deputy director warned a group of Maury County residents that unfounded complaints about water quality could be considered an “act of terrorism.” “We take water quality very seriously. Very, very seriously,” said Sherwin Smith, deputy director of TDEC’s Division of Water Resources, according to audio recorded by attendees. “But you need to make sure that when you make water quality complaints you have a basis, because federally, if there’s no water quality issues, that can be considered under Homeland Security an act of terrorism.”
State investigators are looking into whether two Rhea County sheriff’s deputies struck Walter Gann in the face, kicked him in the ribs and groin and slammed him into a patrol car after a pursuit. The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation announcement comes two days after Rhea County Sheriff Mike Neal said he wouldn’t look into Gann’s complaint unless he heard it from Gann’s lips or saw a written complaint. Mike Taylor, district attorney in the 12th Judicial District, initiated the probe after he saw an investigation conducted by the arresting agency — the Graysville Police Department.
One of the skeptics of the project to widen Alcoa Highway from Pellissippi Parkway in Blount County to Cherokee Trail in South Knoxville was a man whose mother died in a crash crossing the roadway at rush hour years ago. Chris Kerr told the group of Tennessee Department of Transportation officials he had been hearing talk about improving the route for years, but nothing has ever happened. “To be honest, I don’t really believe you all,” he said during a public meeting Thursday at Sevier Heights Baptist Church in South Knox County.
Tennessee Secretary of state Tre Hargett says a scam is targeting corporations. Companies are receiving letters that mimic official state correspondence, but it is from “Corporate Records Service.” Corporations are required to file annual reports with the secretary of state’s office and the letter asks for a $125 filing fee. The state fee is only $20. Hargett said Corporate Records Service is not on file with the secretary of state’s office and he warns corporations to provide no confidential information, including credit card numbers.
After hearing examples from parents, several state legislators say they believe political bias and vulgarity have crept into Tennessee school textbooks because those involved in the book review process are “overwhelmed” with their approval tasks. The cited examples ranged from passages in a social studies book seen as anti-Semitic to a history text’s use of a vulgar word for manure in a reported 1959 confrontational conversation between President Richard Nixon and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.
Restaurant and bar owners throughout Tennessee are seeing red. A 2006 law that bans them from infusing alcohol with food products, even non-alcoholic beverages, will soon be enforced. The ban covers flavored liquor, such as infused whiskey, and pre-made mixed drinks, like margaritas. In less than two weeks, each drink will have to be made to order when the ban by the Tennessee Alcohol and Beverage Commission (TABC) becomes effective. The new head of the TABC, Keith Bell, plans to enforce the 2006 law. Only licensed distilleries will be able to perform the practice.
With the subject of urban annexations of adjacent territory earmarked as a special focus of the Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR), state Senator Mark Norris (R-Collierville) has been re-elected chairman of that body. Norris serves as Majority Leader of the state Senate and has been at the forefront of legislative efforts to secure the ultimate independence of the Shelby County suburbs from city/county school merger. He also had a brush with the annexation controversy in 2012, when he co-sponsored two abortive bills on the subject.
Restaurants may have to take certain kinds of flavored cocktail off the menu under an old law the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission plans to start enforcing next month. Some lawyers in the industry argue that’s not how the rule is supposed to work—but if they have to, they’ll ask lawmakers to change it. The issue centers on who’s allowed to make infusions—where an ingredient like fruit soaks in alcohol to flavor it, often for several days. Tennessee’s ABC says in looking back at a law from 2006, it found that in some cases, making infusions requires a distiller’s license, which restaurants can’t get.
I recently talked with former U.S Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, now of-counsel at Nashville-based law firm Waller Lansden Dortch & Davis LLP and a professor at Belmont University law school, about the state of health care reform today and where, in his gut, he thinks it’s headed. Here’s what I learned: • Although it’s been a year since the Supreme Court’s ruling, he believes there is still a lot of uncertainty around the Affordable Care Act simply because it’s such a massive undertaking.
In a meeting highlighted by a heated exchange between members, the Blount County Commission approved a budget for the coming year that holds the line on the property tax rate but dips into two of the county’s fund balances to the tune of $4.7 million. The budget totals $165.1 million, with $81 million going to the general purpose school fund, $44.1 million to the county general fund and $16.8 million to debt service. The property tax rate remains $2.15 per $100 of assessed value. The county will use $3.3 million from its general fund balance — also known as the rainy day fund — and $1.4 million from the debt service fund balance.
Senator Bob Corker has found himself at the center of another compromise, this time on immigration. The Tennessee Republican has introduced further border security measures to get members of his party on board. This deal would double the number of armed agents protecting the border and build 700 miles of fence. The bill written by the so-called “Gang of Eight” calls for half that. “Some people have described this as a border surge. And the fact is that we are investing resources in securing our border that have never been invested before.”
Sen. Bob Corker helped fashion a beefed-up border-security proposal Thursday that lawmakers hoped would win strong bipartisan support for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that’s expected to receive a Senate vote next week. Corker and fellow Republican Sen. John Hoeven of North Dakota announced their proposal on the Senate floor, offering it as an amendment to a comprehensive immigration reform bill that has been under consideration in the chamber since last week.
The Senate edged Thursday toward embracing a plan to put thousands more federal agents on the border with Mexico, in a bid to sway more Republicans to back a comprehensive immigration bill. The deal appeared to give the Senate immigration bill its second major shot of momentum this week, following the news that the legislation was expected to significantly reduce the federal budget deficit. It quickly prompted several previously undecided Republicans to say they would support the bill, without alienating any Democrats who had shied away from tougher border measures.
College students across the country are watching anxiously as Congress tangles over competing proposals to keep the interest rate on federal student loans from doubling on July 1. Among those keenly monitoring the debate is Sampson Armstrong III, 18, of Fort Washington, Md., a rising sophomore studying finance at Howard University. To pay for college, he is taking out the maximum amount of subsidized and unsubsidized Stafford loans each semester, while his parents work long hours to help him cover the balance.
The Veterans Affairs Department is chipping away at a massive inventory of disability claims for veterans, reducing the number of claims considered backlogged by about 15 percent in recent weeks. Republican lawmakers are skeptical that the trend will continue, but they’ve been unable to agree on a solution to a problem that has become a major headache for the Obama administration. The VA pays disability benefits to veterans who are injured or become ill as a result of their active service. For years, veterans have complained that it takes too long for their claims to be resolved.
Weeks after his election as Georgia governor in 2010, Nathan Deal was pulled aside by a conservative state lawmaker with urgent business to discuss. Rep. Jay Neal, a small-town pastor, said he had the seeds of a plan to cut Georgia’s swelling prison population, which was costing taxpayers over $1 billion a year. The governor-elect didn’t let Mr. Neal get far. “The minute I mentioned what I wanted to do, he jumped in with what he wanted to do,” Mr. Neal recalled. “And it turns out we were talking about the same thing.”
The mountains of East Tennessee are getting back to being more smoky and less smoggy because the Tennessee Valley Authority has spent a combined $5.3 billion since the 1970s curtailing air pollutants created at its 11 coal-burning power plants, TVA officials say. Two big ozone-producing culprits — sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide — have been reduced by more than 90 percent from peak levels. And with more planned coal plant closures — and another $2.2 billion slated for emission control — those levels are expected to continue to decline, said Duncan Mansfield, a spokesman for TVA.
Additional security measures put in place at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant have created big-time traffic jams and a disgruntled workforce, with some employees reportedly being docked earnings for showing up late due to the morning delays. Tighter badge-checking procedures have been in place since June 6, when a lost or confused driver without any Y-12 credentials was waved into the plant by guards who failed to stop the vehicle or ask for identification. The incident brought a new wave of scrutiny to Y-12 security, which had been roundly criticized ever since the July 28, 2012, break-in by an 82-year-old nun and two fellow protesters who reached the plant’s high-security core without being seen or deterred.
Metro government wants to create a new master plan for redevelopment of Nashville’s old convention center, rather than leasing out or selling off portions of the property. City leaders said this approach offers the best route for maximizing options for the downtown location. “I don’t think doing it piecemeal makes sense,” said Mayor Karl Dean, endorsing the master plan approach after speaking to the Nashville chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties commercial real estate brokers’ group Thursday.
Why build one home on a residential lot when it’s just as easy to squeeze in — and sell — two? Increasingly, Nashville developers are making this calculation as they take advantage of a long-debated Metro code for duplexes that is getting renewed attention as it transforms neighborhoods countywide. It’s the linchpin of a heavily utilized formula: Buy an unwanted older home in a coveted neighborhood, demolish it and build anew to accommodate multiple households under two separate roofs. That approach is nothing new here, but its application is on an upswing.
East Tennessee Children’s Hospital’s announced Wednesday plans for a $75 million expansion of its Fort Sanders facility. The hospital’s board of directors has approved construction of a 245,000 square-foot building, 146 new parking spaces and renovation of “selected areas” in the existing hospital, according to a news release. Groundbreaking is expected within the next 12-14 months and construction will take approximately two years. The proposed site is on White Avenue between 20th and 21st streets. Additional renovations will take another year with completion expected by fall 2017.
Hamilton County Superintendent Rick Smith earned a $25,000 raise on Thursday, a move that prompted continual comparison between the superintendent’s pay and that of teachers. Board members voted 8-3 on a four-year contract worth $190,000 annually — more than five times the county’s starting teacher salary. Greg Martin, Rhonda Thurman and Jeffrey Wilson cast the dissenting votes, though all maintained their support for the superintendent. Some board members were weary of giving Smith such a pay boost when it’s unclear whether they’ll be able to offer a substantial raise for teachers.
Collierville and Germantown intend to hire former county school superintendent John Aitken as a consultant for their potential municipal school systems. Leaders of both cities confirmed Thursday afternoon they will present a consulting contract with Aitken to the respective boards of mayor and aldermen for consideration Monday night. Thursday evening, Arlington Mayor Mike Wissman acknowledged he also had a tentative agreement to hire the former superintendent about a similar role.
$30 million campus to open July 2015 Brian Bell, director of Alcoa City Schools, sounded like he was ready to hop on one of the bulldozers in the large vacant field and get an early start on site preparation for the new Alcoa High School. “The students, the community, the faculty and our staff are chomping at the bit to get started,” said Bell, during Thursday’s groundbreaking ceremonies for the school. Bell’s excitement was contagious as Alcoa schools and city officials planted their ceremonial shovels in the dirt, officially kicking off the construction phase of the new $30 million complex.
The National Council on Teacher Quality made a splash earlier this week with the release of its first Teacher Prep Review, an evaluation of 1,100 colleges and universities that prepare the country’s K-12 teachers for the classroom. It is intended as a consumer tool to show which programs do the best and worst job and as a call for improvement in teacher preparation standards. The study found that seven out of 10 programs did not adequately prepare candidates to teach reading. Nine out of 10 did a poor job preparing them to teach basic subjects such as English and math. Training in classroom management and the use of student data was lacking.
One of Jackson-Madison County school Superintendent Verna Ruffin’s first challenges will be to appoint a new leadership team at Jackson Central-Merry Academy of Medical Technology. This will be a critical move, as JCM has experienced a dramatic turnaround and change of focus under the leadership of departing Principal Eric Jones and his team. There is a feeling in the community that as JCM — located in the heart of our community — goes, so goes the rest of the school system. Continuing the progress at JCM is a must. Jones, two assistant principals and a secretary all are leaving as a team to take on a similar turnaround challenge at J.O. Johnson High School in Huntsville, Ala.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this week that states cannot add on their own additional red-tape requirements before issuing a federal registration form entitling the holder to vote. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the so-called “Motor Voter Act,” allowed applicants to register to vote when they were applying for a driver’s license or certain other benefits. No proof other than the applicant’s word for U.S. citizenship was required. It was a time when government was worried about declining voter participation, and making it easier to register seemed an easy and direct way to increase turnout. But that was before the Great Immigration Panic.