This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is making his annual case for Tennessee to keep its strong bond rating. The Republican governor traveled to New York on Wednesday to meet with the three main bond rating agencies, Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Inc. Haslam told reporters this week that he’s been asked to address the impact on the state of the partial shutdown of the federal government along with the effects of previous federal spending cuts. Federal dollars account for about half of the state’s annual $32.8 billion budget.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has named October 17th as Lights On Afterschool Day in Tennessee to recognize the state’s afterschool programs’ role in enhancing learning and keeping children safe and less likely to engage in risky behavior. The proclamation, which was requested by the Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth (TCCY), marks the 14th annual national Lights On Afterschool Day. Afterschool programs across the state are participating in the national event organized by the Afterschool Alliance this month.
There was at least one beneficiary of the federal government shutdown that forced the Great Smoky Mountains National Park to close — the bears. “The bears have enjoyed the break because there are more (undisturbed) acorns on the ground in the campground,” park spokeswoman Dana Soehn said tongue-in-cheek Wednesday morning, as visitors streamed through the just-opened gates to Cades Cove. But people hurt by the closure — business owners and residents in municipalities like Townsend — were glad to see the park open. “We couldn’t be happier. Everyone is ecstatic,” Townsend Mayor Michael Talley said.
As a new $80 million Discovery Park of America nears opening day, officials in western Tennessee hope the attraction helps put the area on the tourism map. Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Susan Whitaker told The Paducah Sun that adding the park will allow the area on the Kentucky-Tennessee state line to become a tourism destination. Whitaker says the area combines history, education and entertainment in one experience. “It’s really a stunning, man-made achievement … we want people who are handing you their money to be smiling and to know they had a great experience,” Whitaker said.
Job fairs are being held in 13 sites across Tennessee Thursday specifically targeting veterans. The job prospects for service members have vastly improved since the first such hiring events last year. The unemployment rate for veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has now dropped below 8-percent. Last year, the jobless rate for the country’s youngest veterans was closer to 10 percent. More companies have agreed to bring vets on their payroll. Tennessee Labor Department spokesman Jeff Hentschel says the number of employers participating in the hiring fairs have swelled by 40 percent.
Some of the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency’s management practices open the department up to risks of fraud and spending abuses, a recent audit released by the state comptroller’s office said. The most egregious example of a lack of oversight is with state payment cards, which allow TWRA employees to buy goods and services for the agency. According to the audit, between July 1, 2009 and Jan. 24, 2013, TWRA employees made more than 57,000 purchases, totaling nearly $13.3 million.
A Nashville moving company has filed a formal complaint alleging that state officials and an outside adviser steered work toward an out-of-state mover. Ted R. Sanders Moving and Warehouse Inc. has asked for $300,000 after repeatedly losing contracts — to relocate state workers — to Flood Brothers Commercial Relocation Services, a larger firm based in Atlanta. The company says the Department of General Services and a project manager with the real estate advisory firm Jones Lang LaSalle set bid requirements that favored Flood Brothers and overlooked factors that should have kept it from winning work.
Steve Boyce trumpeted the long-awaited reopening of the Henley Bridge just after midnight, leading a small caravan of drivers who were the first to cross the span from South Knoxville. Actually, it was a euphonium horn he brought to celebrate the occasion. “We could have brought a trumpet, but I don’t play one of those,” said Boyce, owner of Rush’s Music, which sits barely a block south of the bridge on Chapman Highway. “I cannot tell you how many cars we have missed,” said Boyce, one of many South Knoxville business owners who say they’ve suffered since the iconic bridge closed for extensive renovations in January 2011.
The Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport received support totaling $5.1 million last month to put toward the construction of a $9.7 million hangar complex. The hangar complex is part of the Smyrna/Rutherford County Airport Authority’s 20-year development plan, said John Black, executive director of the airport. Additional site preparation was also factored into the hangar’s design overlay, he said “By having the infrastructure on the ground, you have the ability to attract new clients,” Black said. Approximately $3.5 million in various grants was supplied by the Federal Aviation Administration through the Aeronautics Division of the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Black said.
After 16 days of the government shutdown, students attending Middle Tennessee State University on GI Bill benefits were left wondering if they could make November’s rent. However, MTSU was willing to bend a few rules. Employees in federally funded programs for military students, such as Veterans Affairs departments, were furloughed and the offices closed Oct. 1 when the partial government shutdown began. That cut off the monthly stipend of up to $1,500 designated for students who are veterans, active-duty military or family members.
If anyone at City Hall has any illusions that the state of Tennessee is no longer concerned about city government’s unfunded pension liability, Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson cleared up that point with a letter sent to Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. this month and released Tuesday, Oct. 15. It came at the end of a four-paragraph letter that began with Wilson saying the city had met the requirements he set out in a May letter critical of city finances. The May letter brought to the surface concerns state officials had since at least April regarding a wide range of city financial practices.
When a third-grade student who had been stung by a wasp developed welts on his neck and had trouble breathing, school nurse Amanda Williams had the necessary dose of epinephrine to counter the allergic reaction. A law Tennessee enacted this year makes it easier for schools to stock the life-saving drug. Williams said the emergency room doctor told the boy’s parents that he probably wouldn’t have survived without the injection at Tellico Plains Elementary because it’s a 30-minute drive to the nearest hospital.
Regional transportation planners on Wednesday tossed the last spade of dirt on the grave of the proposed $104 million James White Parkway extension that would have slashed through South Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness. The executive board of the Knoxville Regional Transportation Planning Organization voted 10-3 to keep the extension off the long-range plan. The Tennessee Department of Transportation representative abstained. Voting to restore the parkway extension to the 2014-17 Transportation Improvement Program were Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters, Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knox County Commissioner Brad Anders.
Tea party conservatives on Wednesday persuaded the state House Republican Caucus to call Tennessee’s two U.S. senators and nine congressmen before the House early next year to discuss issues like states’ rights, health care, immigration and personal liberty. Whether they can make it stick is another question. “The federal government is out of control,” the plan’s chief proponent, state Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, told colleagues. “Look what the Internal Revenue Service is doing to people’s rights. Look at what the Department of Justice is doing to our rights and liberty.”
Tennessee Republican U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander voted Wednesday night to end the 16-day partial shutdown of the federal government and to temporarily extend its borrowing authority, averting a threatened first-ever default on the nation’s debts. A majority of Senate Republicans joined with Democrats to approve the measure, 81-18. The measure was headed for a late-night vote in the House, where it was expected to pass by a much narrower margin. Several Tennessee representatives said they likely would oppose the measure.
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, announced tonight that he voted against the deal that both houses of Congress passed Wednesday to end the government shutdown and avoid debt default. The former Johnson City mayor and local physician released the following statement: “I am very disappointed the Senate was unable to reach an acceptable agreement. Our crippling national debt is one of the largest threats to American prosperity, and we missed an opportunity to further reduce the size of government and get out-of-control spending in check. I strongly believe that deficit reduction, either through entitlement reform or discretionary spending reductions, must be a part of any measure to raise the debt ceiling.”
Wednesday the government shutdown was in its 16th day making the debate resonate far past Washington D.C. while the country is on the brink of defaulting on its national debt. That back-and-forth is evident here in Middle Tennessee, where the shutdown has caused some impacts. The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development is nearly 80% federally funded. Since last week they’ve had to furlough 369 people until the federal government restarts. A few thousand federal employees in Tennessee who have been furloughed are causing a spike in the unemployment claims call volume, a spokesman said.
A new analysis warns that 161,650 low-income, adult Tennesseans risk disappearing into a health “coverage gap” when the federal Affordable Care Act largely takes effect on Jan. 1. The Kaiser Family Foundation’s report says two factors are at play: • Tennessee has yet to agree to expand its Medicaid program under Obamacare, which the law originally mandated for states but now makes voluntary under a U.S. Supreme Court ruling. • Meanwhile, these poor men and women don’t qualify for financial assistance to buy private health insurance in the new online marketplaces known as exchanges. It was expected that the expanded Medicaid programs would help these poorest of the poor.
Four workers at Volkswagen’s Chattanooga auto plant have filed a federal charge with the National Labor Relations Board alleging that statements by German VW officials are illegally coercing fellow workers into representation by the United Auto Workers, according to the National Right to Work Foundation. Filed with legal assistance from foundation staff attorneys, the charge comes after senior VW management in Germany stated, according to recent media reports, that for any expanded production to be considered in Chattanooga, the plant must adopt a works council that would force workers to accept the representation by the UAW.
A Shelby County Schools official said the financial impact if up to six suburban municipal school districts open as expected in 2014 could be as much as $52.6 million. Interim Chief Financial Officer Alicia Lindsey said Wednesday during a Shelby County Board of Education retreat that the figure came from factoring in an array of revenue and savings tied to the departure of suburban students, which is expected to be as many as 30,218. The system’s general operating fund budget is $1.2 billion. The board will dive more deeply into the details of the budget if members approve a charter for a proposed new finance committee.
In all the hyperpolitical madness surrounding the federal government shutdown, North Carolinians can find some comfort in a voice of reason emerging from the offices of neighboring governors. North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced plans for the neighboring states to pitch in with regional money to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The beautiful canopy of fall colors flourishing all over North Carolina’s mountains belies the ugliness of what has been going on in Washington during the partial shutdown. And lawmakers, at last, seemed headed toward a resolution, albeit temporary, before the debt ceiling was scheduled to expire today, throwing the United States into a possible default of its financial obligations.
County residents of all ages should have had a moment of inspiration last week as Velera Jones celebrated her birthday — her 78th birthday — after she finished the Murfreesboro Half Marathon course. Although we all may tire of hearing this, exercise along with a nutritious diet is fundamental to maintaining our health and enjoying our life to the fullest. We congratulate Jones for finishing the course and setting this example for all of us. Every person who is 78 — or 28 for that matter — may not be able to or even want to complete a half marathon, but other numbers are rather sobering.
Prekindergarten is one of the biggest educational disappointments ever to be experienced by the citizens of Tennessee. The taxpayers were promised for every dollar spent on this program, we would save $16; that graduation rates would increase and educational attainment would soar. Advocates even predicted that there would be 80 fewer murders and 6,400 fewer assaults in Tennessee if taxpayers would only spend the close to a half-billion dollars per year a universal pre-K program would cost. The results are in and the promises have turned out to be just words.
Universal pre-kindergarten schooling, every progressive’s fondest dream, is back in the news. Bill de Blasio, the overwhelming favorite in the New York mayoral race and the likely future head of the nation’s largest school system, is pushing universal pre-K as his No. 1 policy proposal. President Obama offered a national version of this idea in his February State of the Union address and has since pushed hard in other settings. Two problems: Such programs would have negligible educational value, and they would be massively expensive. Mr. de Blasio wants to raise taxes on the city’s rich to collect $530 million annually mostly to fund full-day pre-K.
Let’s not do that again. Let’s not put 2 million Americans out of work for the sake of pride and political gamesmanship. And let’s not invite the world to turn its back on our creditworthiness and what is still (amazingly) the global reserve currency — the U.S. dollar. We know there’s a good chance that in just three short months, federal workers could face furloughs again and that just a month after that, our heads will bump up against the debt ceiling again. But that doesn’t have to happen. Wednesday’s federal budget deal has a lot of moving parts; one of the best of those is this: House and Senate negotiators must, by Dec. 13 of this year, issue recommendations for longer-term spending levels and deficit reduction.