This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
The federal shutdown and debt ceiling compromise should not affect Tennessee’s bond rating and credit worthiness, Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday. Haslam traveled to New York Wednesday to meet with representatives from the three major bond rating agencies – Standard and Poor’s, Moody’s Investors Service and Fitch Inc. The governor had expressed concern earlier this week that the ratings agencies would ask about the impact of the partial federal shutdown in Tennessee and the effects of federal funding cuts on state government. Almost half of Tennessee’s annual $32.8 billion budget comes from the federal government.
Tennessee may hold onto its top-notch credit rating even if the federal government gets a downgrade, state officials said Friday after meeting with Wall Street rating agencies Comptroller Justin Wilson said the firms that rate government debt this week told state officials specifically that Tennessee would not see its creditworthiness reduced automatically if the United States government’s were taken down, a shift from past conversations. That means Tennessee could maintain its AAA rating from Fitch Ratings and Moody’s Investors Services and AA+ from Standard & Poor’s.
This week state leaders announced that Hankook Tire Co. will open its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Clarksville, Tenn., and that move has local benefits. The $800 million investment will create 1,800 new jobs in Clarksville, and the company is also a Volkswagen supplier. “This is a win for the state of Tennessee and a win for Volkswagen as well,” Volkswagen spokesman Scott Wilson said via email. “Getting our supplier partners as close as possible to the plant is an on-going priority for Volkswagen Chattanooga.” Clarksville is about three hours away and is north of Nashville, near the Tennessee/Kentucky border.
Tennessee and Blount and Sevier Counties will get back almost all of the $300,500 they committed to reopen Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Gov. Bill Haslam’s office said today. The state’s agreement with the National Park Service calls for returning four of the five days’ worth of funding that Tennessee, Blount County and Sevier County ponied up to reopen the Smokies on Wednesday, Haslam spokesman David Smith said. The refund is due after Congress voted late Wednesday to end the partial government shutdown.
Following last week’s state attorney general opinion offering him some legal cover to continue appointing judges if he chooses, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has issued an executive order establishing a commission to do just that. The governor on Thursday essentially raised from the dead the Judicial Nominating Commission that ceased operations earlier this year when the state Legislature failed to re-authorize it. The new panel is called the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments. In his order, Haslam lays out the guidelines for the commission. Basically, they’re the same as the old guidelines that governed the now-defunct commission, which sunset June 30.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Thursday issued an executive order setting up a successor to the Judicial Nominating Commission, saying it was necessary to keep in place a process for selecting judges until a vote on a constitutional amendment next year. Haslam’s move to create the Governor’s Commission for Judicial Appointments came a week after the Attorney General’s Office said the governor has the authority to continue making judicial appointments following the winding down in June of the Judicial Nominating Commission.
Gary Blume, a veteran agent with RE/MAX Real Estate Experts, has been appointed by Gov. Bill Haslam to a five-year term on the Tennessee Real Estate Commission. Blume is a past president of the Memphis Area Association of Realtors and has served twice as president of the Tennessee Real Estate Educational Foundation. In his new role on the state commission, Blume will help review and draft rules and regulations governing all activities of Tennessee real estate agents, and will oversee conduct of agents’ activities that might affect the public interest.
Although UT system administrators say 2014 is going to be a brutally challenging fiscal year, the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga earned some welcome praise Friday. As system leaders discussed the state’s economic future at Knoxville’s biannual board of trustees meeting, UT President Joe DiPietro gave a tip of the hat to the Chattanooga campus for its successes in affordability within its peer group and retention rate improvement. “Chattanooga has demonstrated that if you meet with your adviser four times, you’re 40 percent more likely to be retained that first year,” DiPietro said.
University of Tennessee president Joe DiPietro told trustees Friday he hopes to keep next year’s tuition increase at “middle to low single digit” percentage change. DiPietro was reluctant to talk about the details of a deal that’s still in the works, adding that negotiations will have to take place with the governor and the Legislature. “It’s very hopeful, I can tell you that,” DiPietro said following Friday’s UT Board of Trustees meeting on the agriculture campus in Knoxville. “We wouldn’t be thinking about it if we didn’t think we might be successful, but it’s really early.”
Maryville College personnel are proud that a part of their campus known as The Woods was recertified on Thursday. They understand, however, that the honor comes with a challenge. The recertification designates The Woods as a “Stewardship Forest,” by the Forestry Division of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture. With the designation, the college can get assistance in promoting long-term forest management. As part of the certifying process, the division divided The Woods, which covers 140 acres on the campus, into sites and instructed college personnel what needs to be done on each site.
A new performance evaluation of the Tennessee Department of Agriculture found that the agency’s inspections of food stores, food manufacturers and pest-control operators are not always conducted as often or quickly as regulations require. The performance audit by the state comptroller’s office found that about 18 percent of food manufacturing businesses and 3 percent of retail food stores were not inspected at least twice a year as required by law, “potentially increasing the risk of contaminated food products bought and consumed by the public,” the report says. The Agriculture Department does not inspect restaurants, a responsibility of state and local health departments.
One by one this year, they’ve turned to dust as the drumbeat of a booming city collides with vintage Nashville buildings that are in the way. It began in Hillsboro Village on 21st Avenue when an entire block of the popular enclave came down this spring to make way for the latest venture from H.G. Hill Realty Co. A stretch of buildings erected between 1910 and 1940, and its row of shops, is now gone, and a contemporary 47-unit apartment complex is sprouting in its place. It continued when demolition crews showed up last month at 2305 Elliston Place, tearing down red-brick apartments that dated back to 1910.
More than 500 state workers have returned to work after President Obama and the U.S. Congress reached an agreement to end the partial federal shutdown. Jeff Hentschel, spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Labor, said all furloughed workers are back on the job, but the state is still waiting for word about back pay. “We are waiting for guidance from the (U.S. Department of Labor) whether these employees will get back pay,” Hentschel said. The Department of Labor gets 79 percent of its funding from the federal government and the partial federal shutdown delayed federal monies from funding the department.
Melissa Knight is not worried the Affordable Care Act is going to put her out of a job. The director of InterFaith Health Clinic said that even with the health insurance exchanges that are now enrolling and take effect Jan. 1, a “huge chunk” of people who seek care at InterFaith will remain uninsured. That’s because their income is too high to qualify for TennCare and too low to qualify for the exchanges — the segment of the population that would have been covered by Medicaid had Tennessee chosen to expand Medicaid.
Will Washington be the Grinch who stole Christmas? After weeks of bickering between Congress and the White House, President Barack Obama early Thursday signed into law a plan that ended a 16-day partial government shutdown and suspended the nation’s debt limit until early next year. But the measure, which came a couple weeks ahead of the holiday shopping season, only temporarily averts a potential default on U.S. debt that could send the nation into a recession. Retailers hope that short-term uncertainty won’t stop Americans from spending during the busiest shopping period of the year.
The government shutdown that ended this week will cost the United States economy several billion dollars, according to estimates by economic research firms. But the affiliated damage — like the undermining of consumer and business confidence — will be far greater, economists said, especially combined with the financial effects of the near-breach of the country’s statutory debt ceiling. When the federal government shut down on Oct. 1, permit offices across the country stopped accepting fees, contractors stopped receiving checks and research projects became stalled.
Kathleen Sebelius keeps running into trouble, whether on the road, where she is out promoting the new health-care law, or back home, where she is struggling to resolve the technical woes that have hobbled its debut. Mrs. Sebelius, the nation’s top health official, was in Tampa the other day to promote the “online shopping experience” of the federal website where uninsured Americans can now select coverage. Christopher Dawson, who sat to her left at the staged event, had tried for a week to enroll. Like others, he was foiled by “error” messages. “I felt like she was trying to make it seem better than it is,” the 20-year-old University of South Florida senior said afterward.
The federal government is again open for business, and Republicans in Washington are licking their wounds from the failed Tea Party attempt to derail President Obama’s health care overhaul. But here in Virginia’s capital, conservative activists are pursuing a hardball campaign as they chart an alternative path to undoing “Obamacare” — through the states. One leading target is Emmett W. Hanger Jr., a Republican state senator from the deeply conservative Shenandoah Valley, who prides himself on “going against the grain.” As chairman of a commission weighing one of the thorniest issues in Virginia politics, whether to expand Medicaid under Mr. Obama’s Affordable Care Act, he is feeling heat from the Republican right.
Leaders with the TVA solar initiative, which is a plan to encourage solar installations in the region, are looking for participation from Chattanooga residents. “We have had good initial interest for this innovative community solar model from various market segments,” Neil Placer, TVA’s project leader for the SAVE initiative, said in a prepared statement. “Now we want to remind our Valley customers, regional businesses and local residents about the approaching deadline so that no one misses this unique opportunity.” The Solar Aggregated Value and Education initiative is seeking to add clean, no-carbon solar generation to communities.
Some $6 billion a year is spent in Tennessee on preventable diseases. Rick Johnson, CEO of the Governor’s Foundation for Health and Wellness, earlier this week asked The Commercial Appeal’s editorial board to think about what other uses that money could be put to if people lived a healthier lifestyle. Tennessee shows up near the bottom of a number of lists ranking health outcomes because of the high percentage of citizens who suffer chronic, preventable maladies, such as Type 2 diabetes, heart and respiratory disease, and some cancers. These chronic diseases emerge from lifestyles and risky behaviors, such as unhealthy diets and smoking, along with a lack of exercise. The foundation is heavily geared toward public outreach and convincing people to change their behavior.