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 requested assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help individuals and businesses in Sullivan County and its contiguous counties recover from the severe storms and flash flooding that occurred on July 20-21, 2013. The additional Tennessee counties that would be eligible for SBA loans are Carter, Hawkins, Johnson and Washington as damage to homes and businesses occurred in multiple locations.
Sullivan and several other Northeast Tennessee counties that suffered damage from severe storms in July could be eligible for federal assistance. On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam announced that he has requested assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration. If approved, business and home owners could receive low-interest loans. “Tennesseans continue to recover from this storm, and SBA assistance would help these communities restore their homes and businesses,” Haslam said in a released statement.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has requested assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) to help people and businesses in Sullivan County and its contiguous counties recover from the severe storms and flash flooding that occurred July 20-21. The additional Tennessee counties that would be eligible for SBA loans are Carter, Hawkins, Johnson and Washington after damage to homes and businesses occurred in multiple locations. A joint Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and SBA damage survey shows more than 88 homes and 65 businesses in Sullivan County sustained minor/major damage and loss of inventory.
Shoppers are gearing up for a statewide “tax holiday” this weekend, just in time for the new school year. “Tax-free weekends,” as they have become known, were scheduled in 17 states this year. Tennessee’s will take place this weekend from 12:01 a.m. Friday until 11:59 p.m. Sunday. “I want to encourage Tennessee families to take advantage of the sales tax holiday because it was created with them in mind,” said Gov. Bill Haslam. “The weekend provides savings for families, especially as students are starting the new school year, and the holiday can provide relief on clothing, school and art supplies and computer purchases.”
Tax-free weekend will happen this weekend from Friday through Sunday. Items like clothing, school supplies and computers will be tax exempt. For a full list of what’s exempt, go to this website: http://tn.gov/revenue/salestaxholiday/ Those savings can be appealing, but saving a few extra dollars may not be worth fighting the crowds, especially for parents and students who are not buying a lot. There’s a 7 percent sales tax in Tennessee and an extra 2.25 percent is added to that for shoppers in Knoxville. That brings the total sales tax to 9.25 percent. That means for a bill totaling $100, the savings would only be $9.25 for Knoxville shoppers.
As the one-year countdown to Common Core state education standards begins today with the first day of school for many systems, Tennessee educators are fending off pleas to stop the clock for a timeout. A group of Democratic legislators is forming an unlikely coalition with Tea Party Republicans to slow down or derail the launch of the Common Core, a multistate initiative that’s expected to put top-notch test scores even further out of the reach of Tennessee students by setting higher goals. But the appointed officials who make the state’s education decisions are standing firm in their commitment to Common Core and the accompanying tests that some other states are dropping.
School supplies are just the tip of the iceberg during this weekend’s tax holiday There is a big misconception that you have to have school-age kids to take advantage of Tennessee’s tax-free weekend Friday through Sunday. But that is just not true. This is a tax-free-for-all, when almost anybody can come out ahead by buying some of the things that enjoy the exemption. Let’s say you are in the market for a small backpack for an upcoming trip or that you want to stock up on art supplies. Or maybe you are expecting a baby and would like to avoid paying that 9.75 percent tax on the mounds of diapers that your baby will need.
The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has granted Cleveland an extension in which to improve soil erosion controls associated with the Harriman Road project in southern Bradley County. On July 17, the agency issued a notice of violation to the city that cited problems listed in a June 6 inspection that had not been resolved by a July 8 inspection. Cleveland was given until July 26 to replace or repair “any existing sediment or erosion controls that have become inadequate due to lack of maintenance and/or proper maintenance,” the notice states.
The Tennessee Highway Patrol has opened applications for a new trooper training class. Applications will be accepted online through Tuesday, and the new cadet class is scheduled to begin Feb. 1. All applicants must apply online at http://agency.governmentjobs.com/tennessee. The requirements include a minimum age of 21, U.S. citizenship and a high school diploma or equivalent. Two years of college or previous law enforcement experience is preferred. The patrol will not consider applicants who have felony convictions.
Two Tennessee State University professors have generated more than $7 million in grants for the College of Engineering over the past four years. According to the school, college Dean S. Keith Hargrove and Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering Sachin Shetty have secured grants from the National Science Foundation, Boeing and the U.S. Navy. Among others. Hargrove says the grants support research that broadens students’ knowledge and competence, making them more marketable once they graduate.
When Pellissippi State set out to purchase its new campus at the Strawberry Plains Pike exit on Interstate 40, they found a billboard on the property. They included the potential revenue in the cost projections to the State Building Commission in a preliminary request to purchase the property. But a state audit in the wake of the purchase says that, in the final negotiations, the seller—an investment group headed by Sam Furrow—retained an easement to keep the billboard. The audit notes that there is an agreement in place to prevent an advertisement that wouldn’t be appropriate on the campus.
Faced with state allegations of ethical misconduct, longtime Circuit Court Judge Kay Robilio said she will retire Sept. 1. In a settlement with the Board of Judicial Conduct, the formal ethics complaint filed in May will be dismissed and any other complaints that “are or may be submitted” to the board will not be considered as long as Robilio does not become a judicial candidate or serve as special judge. “Judge Robilio assents to the provisions of this order since she has no intention to run for judicial office or accept any judicial appointment at any time after Sept. 1, 2013,” according to the order signed by Board Chair Chris Craft, who is a Shelby County Criminal Court judge.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation is gearing up for another push to require prescriptions for cold medicine used to make methamphetamine. One lawmaker is asking the TBI if this is a fight worth having. The pharmaceutical companies that make drugs like Sudafed are already lobbying legislators to keep the medicine available without a trip to the doctor. Mississippi and Oregon have started requiring prescriptions. Tennessee only mandates the medicine to be kept behind the counter. State Sen. Jim Kyle – the Democratic Leader – told the TBI director at an oversight hearing it would take a lot of work to overcome the drug companies, who argue cold medicine should remain convenient.
State Sen. Lowe Finney, who chairs the Democratic caucus in the Tennessee Senate, announced Wednesday that he won’t seek a third term. The Jackson attorney ruled out a run for governor next year, but wouldn’t say whether he will make a bid for Jackson mayor. “My focus again is on my district and what folks in West Tennessee need me to work on for the next several months,” Finney told reporters in a phone interview. “And that’s what I’m going to be doing.” Finney in 2006 defeated incumbent Sen. Don McLeary, who had earlier switched parties to become a Republican, by about 500 votes.
State Sen. Lowe Finney, the second-ranking Democrat in the state Senate, announced Wednesday that he will not seek a third term. Finney, D-Jackson, announced his decision to leave the state legislature after the 2014 session in an email to supporters. Finney said he announced the decision to give Democrats time to recruit a candidate. “Part of why I’m making my announcement this early is so Democrats can begin their efforts,” he said. “My wife and I have been doing this two terms, and I’m looking forward to being at home.”
The Tennessee state Senate’s No. 2 Democrat is calling it quits and won’t run for a third term in 2014, thereby handing majority Republicans a prime opportunity to seize an open seat. Senate Democratic Caucus Chairman Lowe Finney, of Jackson, said he “just wanted to leave when I was ready to leave” after serving two terms and thinks he still could have won the district, which saw changes in GOP-controlled redistricting last year. The 37-year-old attorney, first elected in 2006, said he was “proud to have worked to improve health care for senior citizens, cut the sales tax on food and provide great opportunities for young students and veterans to attend college.”
State Sen. Lowe Finney’s decision to not seek re-election next year leaves beleaguered Democrats vulnerable to more losses in the Tennessee legislature in the 2014 elections. Finney, 37, a Jackson lawyer and rising Democratic star, announced Wednesday he won’t run for a third term. As chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, he’s the second-ranking Democrat of only seven in the chamber, behind Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis. Finney represents the Jackson-to-Dyersburg area — his District 27 covers Dyer, Crockett, Lake, Lauderdale and Madison counties.
Coming to terms with the idea that it’s time to step aside in the state Senate, Lowe Finney announced Wednesday he will not seek a third term in the November 2014 election. “I gave this (decision) a lot of thought and consideration,” Finney, D-Jackson, said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve accomplished in those seven years (in the Senate.) We have one more session remaining, and I’m working on legislation for my constituents.” Finney ruled out a run for governor next year, but wouldn’t say whether he will make a bid for Jackson mayor in 2015.
The Tennessee senate’s number two Democrat says he won’t run for re-election. Lowe Finney of Jackson says, “change is good.” Finney is serving his second term in the state legislature, and he says that will be it. The 37-year-old attorney praises those who end up staying in office for decades. “I think we’re just sort of accustomed to seeing that at times, but for some of us, there are other things in life to consider at this point.” Finney says he’d like to see his family more. The Tennessee Republican Party pounced on the announcement, suggesting Finney is bowing out ahead of what could be a real contest to stay a third term.
Islamic Center of Murfreesboro members long have contended that legal objections to the way their new building earned county approval were smokescreens to disguise a bigger issue — the fear of what’s happening inside. If there ever was a smokescreen, this week’s salvo lifted it. By the fifth sheet of a 49-page document asking the Tennessee Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit over the mosque’s construction, the plaintiffs accuse the mosque of ties to terrorist groups. It calls media reports of religious discrimination in Murfreesboro false, but then devotes later pages to arguing why two expert witnesses should be allowed to testify about risks associated with teaching Shariah law — the Muslim code of conduct.
The challenge in balancing the city budget is that every headline-grabbing service or new investment must be matched with a cut somewhere else. Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke’s proposed budget makes a number of nips, tucks and outright amputations to keep the money going out equal to the money coming in. For instance, while the city will increase its contribution to the Allied Arts Council Fund 21 percent to $275,000, it’s slashing aid to the Homeless Health Care Center by half, to just $13,300, documents show.
The Anderson County Board of Equalization has issued a warning over current property values, particularly in Oak Ridge: They’ve dropped by double digits. Several types of property in Oak Ridge are selling at “much less” than their value in the last reappraisal in 2010, according to a letter the five-member board sent to Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank. Property values in most cases have decreased to less than about 85 percent of the appraisals now on the books, the letter states.
The old adage “When it rains, it pours” wasn’t coined with U.S. Representative Steve Cohen in mind, but it might as well have been. Maybe those actual storm clouds that have been gathering over Memphis the last few days are something more than coincidence. The 9th District congressman has been eminently Google-worthy for much of 2013 and has been almost nonstop in the national media of late. The latest cloud on his horizon may not blip on the D.C. radar — not yet, anyhow — but it is likely to have a lasting effect on the local political weather. This concerns the newest development in the falling-out of Cohen with his former district director, Randy Wade.
President Barack Obama used the phrase “middle class” 17 times during his speech Tuesday in Chattanooga. But just what does middle class mean? Is it an income level? A lifestyle? A state of mind? “It’s really hard to find an exact answer of what the middle class is,” said Amanda Carmichael, executive director of the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies. “It is a really hard question to answer.” Numbers aren’t hard to find — the tricky part is interpreting them. If you list every Hamilton County household’s income and pick the number smack dab in the middle, that’s the median — or middle — income.
More than two years ago, city officials rolled off some pretty big numbers for what the city’s largest-ever public works project was expected to generate for minority businesses, when it comes to jobs. They initially predicted the Music City Center would eventually give about $100 million worth of work to minority or women-owned businesses, and small businesses. Now the final numbers are in, and it turns out the impact is even better than predicted. The newest figures show $135 million worth of contracts have gone to small businesses, or companies owned by minorities or women.
The Memphis office of Teach for America has received $2.5 million from the Walton Family Foundation as part of a $20 million investment in Teach for America across the country. Founded in 1990, Teach For America began placing teachers in Memphis in 2006. The organization recruits college students who aren’t majoring in education to commit to two years of teaching in inner-city or rural areas. Memphis is one of three Teach for America locations receiving support from the Walton Family Foundation for the first time. The other two are Detroit and Indianapolis.
When the Tennessee Legislature returns to session in January, the consolidated school district will ask legislators to pass a law compelling the city of Memphis to pay a court judgment it owes the school system or lose state funding. Countywide school board members voted Tuesday, July 30, to seek the law from a legislature that has approved defining the schools merger and establishing suburban school systems separate from the merged school system. “We seem to have the ability to go to the state to solve local issues,” said school board member Kevin Woods.
Members of the Shelby County Election Commission on Wednesday unanimously certified the results of July 16 municipal school system referendums in the six suburbs, clearing the way for the cities to pursue school board elections in November. The certification for each city was approved individually. Voters in all six suburbs — Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown, Lakeland and Millington — overwhelmingly approved the referendums. In other action, the commission also set the early voting dates for the Sept. 19 Arlington and Lakeland municipal elections.
A consistently cited attraction of moving to Tennessee is the general freedom from personal income taxes; moving here from most states is an automatic raise — unless you play for the Nashville Predators or the Memphis Grizzlies. Then you get the privilege of paying the state $2,500 per game played in our arenas (the tax is capped at $7,500 a year, to limit home team player costs). The tax was put in place in 2009 as a way to help reduce public subsidies for Bridgestone Arena here and FedEx Arena in Memphis, and is passed through to the team owners for that purpose. It is an important source of revenue for the teams, as Grizzlies Chief Operating Officer Jason Wexler told the state legislature during a hearing last week.
They will come from Knox and Jefferson and Blount and beyond. They will drive from Loudon and Roane and Hamblen and who knows where else. Shoppers with cash or plastic with a promise to repay will descend on Sevier County this weekend. In search of savings, consumers will drive many miles, wait in many lines, endure potential family malfunctions on Tennessee’s tax-free weekend (TFW, for short) hunting for a deal. They will find it. First, because on any qualifying item in our high sales-tax state, they’ll lop almost 10 percent off the sticker price. Second, Sevier County has any and everything for sale, from soft goods in Sevierville to school clothes in Pigeon Forge to handy-crafty stuff in Gatlinburg.
How About Discussing What We Teach Rather Than How to Privatize Schools? Mark Twain is supposed to have said “everyone talks about the weather but no one ever does anything about it.” That used to be the case with education. Every candidate for public office gave the obligatory speech and campaign promise to support education and make things better for the children. But they rarely did anything about it. But it’s trendy now. Education is the hot topic among business groups, philanthropists, and chamber types. Should we be nervous that wholesale restructuring of education is now cocktail-party chatter in wealthy enclaves like Germantown and Belle Meade?
That the unified Shelby County Schools board even considered bringing the county’s corporal punishment policy into the merged district means someone deserves a spanking. A good, old-fashioned, pick-your-own-switch, swat-per-word tuneup like this: The (smack) research (smack) is (smack) clear! Corporal (smack) punishment (smack) DOESN’T (smack) WORK! Thankfully, reason prevailed at Tuesday’s board meeting when the board decided to shuck the old Shelby County Schools’ primitive policy. It will instead follow the example set by the former Memphis City Schools, which in 2004 abandoned paddling in favor of effective and more positive disciplinary methods.
President Barack Obama came to East Tennessee on Tuesday to outline his proposal for a “grand bargain” to increase middle-class jobs. At this point, most Americans would settle for modest cooperation. Obama toured the Amazon.com distribution center in Chattanooga and gave a speech on a renewed effort to spur on a stubbornly sluggish recovery. The centerpiece of his plan is to slash federal taxes on corporations while closing loopholes. America’s corporate tax rate is among the highest in the developed world, and policymakers on both sides of the aisle agree it needs to be cut. Obama’s proposal would reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent, with manufacturing concerns getting a further break to 25 percent.
Sometimes politicians, like magicians, use distraction. Take President Obama’s latest pivot to the economy, which began with last week’s speech in Illinois and concluded on Tuesday at an Amazon facility in Tennessee. The pivot isn’t about the economy. It’s a setup for two budget battles with Congress this fall. The first will be about funding the federal government for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. Mr. Obama proposed the sequester, signed the July 2011 budget agreement with its hard caps on discretionary spending, and threatened to veto any attempt to repeal or mitigate it. Nevertheless, last week he attacked the sequester as “a meat clever” that “cost jobs” and later told the New York Times Sunday that he’s worried about “the drop-off in government spending.”