This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s committed to improving the salaries of the state’s teachers and plans to provide some degree of funding in his proposed budget to start doing so. The Republican governor began his annual budget hearings with agency leaders at the Capitol on Tuesday with the Education Department. Commissioner Kevin Huffman didn’t provide specific numbers on what an increase for teachers might look like, saying he and the governor needed to first see how the overall budget comes together and then explore “what’s doable this year” for teachers.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he expects next year’s state budget will be his toughest yet given increased demands in K-12 education and TennCare coupled with revenues coming in below estimates. “I think this will actually be our hardest budget,” the Republican governor told reporters after he kicked off budget hearings Tuesday with presentations with the Departments of Education and Health. Haslam said his first budget three years ago “was hard because we had some federal [stimulus] dollars coming out, but we sort of knew what the path looked like. “This will be the first time we don’t have our revenues exceeding our forecasts,” the governor added.
Increases for health care and education will dominate next year’s budget, Gov. Bill Haslam predicted on the first day of hearings on Tennessee’s spending plan. Haslam told reporters Tuesday that higher TennCare costs, commitments to help fund local schools and signs that state tax dollars are on the decline will combine to make next year “our hardest budget” since he took office in 2011. The governor indicated he would consider cuts to other programs to close any budget gaps. “It’ll just make our decisions all that much harder,” he said.
Gov. Bill Haslam began the months-long process of preparing his fourth state budget Tuesday, and said this one may be the toughest yet because revenues are declining and costs are rising. As usual, increasing costs of TennCare and to a lesser degree K-12 public education are the biggest drivers of the budget, he said. Both are formula-driven, by increasing enrollment and costs. But TennCare — Tennessee’s version of the federal- and state-funded Medicaid program — will see an extra surge in enrollment as low-income people who were eligible but not enrolled are expected to sign up as a result of the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate for health coverage.
Governor Bill Haslam thinks next year’s Tennessee state budget will be his “hardest” as he nears his fourth year in office. His comments come on the first day of nearly two weeks of annual budget hearings for the dozens of state departments and agencies. The governor indicated he was a “little surprised” that the state’s latest revenues did not meet projections. “This is will be the first time that our revenues don’t exceed our forecasts,” Haslam said Tuesday after the morning session of the budget hearings. “You are going to hear a lot of requests with for increases or for things put out to be cut, that they hope are not, but we won’t be able to meet all those requests.”
Governor Bill Haslam faces one of the biggest tests of his administration, and how he tackles the state budget could affect you. Tax collections are lower than expected. The business of building a state budget begins in a state capitol conference room, but this time around Governor Bill Haslam has a significant challenge. “I think this will actually be our hardest budget,” says Gov. Haslam. The problem starts with money. Tennessee is taking in less of it than expected. In just three months tax collections are off about $100 million less than estimates. Governor Haslam previously enjoyed a surplus of revenue, now there’s a shortfall.
Amid disappointing reports, Governor Bill Haslam began his annual budget hearings Tuesday morning. One of the hot button issues has been what substance abuse is costing the State of Tennessee. The revenue year for the state has been tougher than expected. Tennessee has one of the highest prescription drug abuse rates in the country. In recent years, state officials said Tennessee has ranked within the top three. It’s why they’re hopeful efforts tackling this issue will continue, regardless of the outcome of the budget hearings. It’s a war on drugs, and the state said it is fighting it head on. “When you look at the war on drugs, it’s really a war on the people that we love, our grandchildren, our siblings,” said Department of Mental Health Commissioner, Doug Varney.
Tennessee’s public school teachers have been promised better raises over the next few years. But top officials are holding off on saying just how much that will be. Governor Bill Haslam’s annual budget hearings began with education but left open the biggest question of the year. The governor has guaranteed to improve teacher pay faster than any other state. Tennessee is surrounded by states like Georgia and Kentucky that have substantially higher teacher salaries. But at the moment, state revenues are coming in much lower than expected. So Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman says he will propose a number for the raise in January.
Tennessee’s First Lady, Crissy Haslam, announced the schedule for Tennessee’s Home for the Holidays Governor’s Mansion tours. Tours will take place the first two weeks of December. Over the past two years, almost 10,000 people have visited Tennessee’s executive residence during the holiday open houses. Haslam says they are partnering with the Tennessee State Museum, The Hermitage, the Davy Crockett Birthplace State park, the East Tennessee Historical Museum, and the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in an effort to focus on the state’s history and heritage.
“Education is an infrastructure we can’t afford to ignore,” McPhee said. “When the economy is down, we will still need that infrastructure when the economy becomes healthy.” Local educators, officials and business people gathered at the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce for the forum to discuss the future of higher education in the area. Among many higher-education concerns were government-level funding, how technology affects learning and how socioeconomics play a role in higher education. The discussion was led by Ted Abernathy, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, which is a non-partisan public policy think tank based in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, according to the Southern Growth Policies Board website.
The cost of getting an education at the University of Tennessee has been rising every year recently. There was a 12 percent tuition increase in 2011. Then in 2012, students saw an eight percent increase, and then again in 2013, students saw a six percent increase. Many students want to know where all this additional money is going. Students like UT junior Collin Thompson, who has no financial assistance, feel most of their tuition is going to construction of new buildings on campus. “What I think will make us a top 25 public university is being better professors, better education, not how our campus looks,” said Thompson.
Tennessee’s tax collectors are not adequately documenting that growing businesses getting tax breaks from the state are generating the jobs they promise, a state audit suggests. Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson said the state’s jobs tax credit program may not have been implemented as intended. “The Department of Revenue’s management did not adequately document that tax audits related to the jobs tax credits and ultimately could not provide evidence that companies audited complied with state law,” the Comptroller said in a 48-page audit released Tuesday.
An audit by the state comptroller’s office has revealed that a surprisingly high number of school buses aren’t being inspected as often as they are legally required to be. School buses are supposed to be inspected once a year, but the comptroller’s report found that about three out of every 10 buses in Tennessee don’t meet that standard. “I want to be better. I want our department to make the school bus inspections better,” said Tennessee Highway Patrol Lt. Ray Robinson. Bus accidents aren’t that uncommon, and most of the time it’s driver error – not something wrong with the bus itself – that causes the crash.
A major setback for the proposed multimillion-dollar Cleveland/Bradley State Veterans Home has left local officials shocked and seeking answers in the wake of Monday’s Veterans Day commemorations. The proposed site, a 30-acre tract on Westland Drive in South Cleveland, has been called “unacceptable” by state of Tennessee Real Estate and Asset Management, according to Yvette Martinez, assistant commissioner of outreach and communications for the Tennessee Department of Veterans Affairs. According to a recent evaluation of the site, the property’s slope is too high for the proposed single-story facility, which will not have optimal visibility from the road, Martinez said.
An improved interchange at Interstate 40 in Sevier County, and resurfacing of portions of Interstate 75 in Campbell and Knox counties are among 62 road and highway projects for which the state will accept bids. The Tennessee Department of Transportation announced Tuesday it will accept bids Dec. 6 for a wide variety of projects in 88 counties. The busy interchange of I-40 and state Highway 66 in Sevier County will become a diverging diamond interchange. Sometimes called a “double-crossover diamond,” the interchange design is a relatively new development in traffic engineering.
A bill to close loopholes for compounding pharmacies is expected to reach President Obama’s desk this week, addressing the regulatory environment that allowed fungi-laden medicine to cause a deadly outbreak of meningitis. The U.S. Senate is poised to pass legislation, already approved by the House of Representatives, that defines the authority of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to regulate compounding pharmacies that make drugs in large quantities. The bill came about because of an ongoing outbreak of fungal infections that has sickened 751 people with 64 deaths.
A new study of foreign-born refugees who live in Tennessee has found they contributed almost twice as much in tax revenues as they consumed in state-funded services in the past two decades. But limitations of the study — an unprecedented research effort by the state — left the state lawmakers who asked for it with questions on Tuesday. A committee of House and Senate lawmakers requested the study last summer to try to understand the impact of refugee services on the state budget. They were especially interested in whether there has been a shift in how those costs are covered by state and federal funds.
Conservative Republican lawmakers have been trying to figure out how much refugees are costing Tennessee. And they don’t like what their researchers found. New estimates compiled by the state’s non-partisan Fiscal Review Committee show Tennessee taxpayers spent $40 million last year to educate school-age refugees and $26 million to cover those on the state’s Medicaid program – TennCare. But refugees more than pay their way, remitting more than $103 million in taxes. Researchers say there was some data they couldn’t get a hold of. For instance, the study doesn’t consider how many refugees might be in prison.
Wilson County will restart its tourism department at the end of June — a year after it was suddenly eliminated during a budget debate in 2012. Supporters hope the department can generate a revenue stream bigger than its expense. However, it will be a scaled-down version of the previous department. County commissioners voted to spend $99,000 to operate the department, and that figure includes a salary for a tourism manager. The county’s Convention & Visitors Bureau once had a three-member staff and a budget just under $200,000. “It’s a step forward, but it’s bare bones,” Commissioner Jim Bradshaw said.
Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper is making a stiff argument against U.S. intervention in Syria. Cooper’s remarks are in contrast to Tennessee Senator Bob Corker, who said two weeks ago he’s “embarrassed” at how slowly American trucks and other equipment have reached Syrian rebels. Cooper notes Corker’s role on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, where he’s pressed to help topple the Syrian regime. But Cooper, himself a member of the House Armed Services Committee, issues a challenge: introduce a soldier who feels good about our military budget, and then we’ll discuss Syria.
U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen says calling the Affordable Care Act “Obamacare” is a “trap.” “It is a crying shame that this country, the greatest country on the face of the Earth – we are the last industrialized country to try to give health care to all citizens. It’s about time,” Cohen said Monday, Nov. 11, at a Veterans Day barbecue luncheon he hosted at BRIDGES Downtown for veterans. The Memphis Democrat targeted what he called tea party Republicans as the most unyielding opponents of the Affordable Care Act – or “Obamacare,” a term that even President Barack Obama has used to refer to the act. “Their people really do not like the president at all,” Cohen said of critics of the act.
Another under-the-radar Obamacare malfunction could stymie January health coverage for some of the nation’s poorest people, state Medicaid officials say. And that’s casting a shadow on one of the parts of the Affordable Care Act that’s actually working quite well— sign-ups for Medicaid, which is being expanded under the health law…. “It starts becoming a problem the closer you get to January,” said Darin Gordon, director of Tennessee’s Medicaid program, TennCare, told reporters at a conference in Washington. “When you start getting to December, everybody needs to start thinking about what kind of implications that might cause.
Metro Nashville chipped in $500,000 in filming incentives to keep production of ABC’s “Nashville” here for Season 2, but the show’s executive producer Steve Buchanan said it will be important for the city to step up its financial commitments to keep production local if a Season 3 happens. “The state has been awesome,” he said, “but the city’s participation is important.” More than 90 percent of the show’s filming incentives come from the state, which contributed $12.5 million for the show’s second season. But Tennessee isn’t as aggressive as other states when it comes to film and TV incentives.
Thousands of students in five states will be spending more time at school. More than 9,000 students are attending select, high-poverty schools in Connecticut, Colorado, Massachusetts and New York that have developed expanded school schedules as part of the TIME Collaborative, or Time for Innovation Matters in Education. Some of those schools are already using the extra time for additional instruction and enrichment. A second group of schools in those same four states and Tennessee, being announced Wednesday, are redesigning their schedules for the 2014-15 year to take part in the program. Those schools serve about 13,000 students.
The world of higher education is changing, and nowhere is that change having a greater impact than at Tennessee’s community colleges and technology centers. Parents, students and educators are reassessing what getting a “college degree” means in the 21st century, what is the best way to go about obtaining one, and where will it lead. Achieving a college degree traditionally meant attending a four-year college or university to take a broad range of courses to attain a well-rounded liberal arts education. Even students desiring to enter professions such as medicine, law and work toward advanced degrees in other fields, began their education with four years of general studies along with a major such as business, education or the sciences.
These are exciting and challenging times for higher education. Whether you have noted President Barack Obama’s push for increased transparency and accountability for colleges and universities, or heard Gov. Bill Haslam’s compelling case for his “Drive to 55” initiative, there is no escaping the growing call for innovation to support greater student success. Middle Tennessee State University’s faculty and staff have come together to respond to these challenges. Our efforts are focused on just one question: How can we improve the success rate of our students resulting in more graduates for the workforce? We started by reviewing our recruitment and enrollment strategies, which resulted in a 2 percent increase in this year’s freshman population.
Veterans Day has passed, but still in sharp focus are the questions about how to deal with the physical, mental and quality-of-life issues afflicting vets. In Tennessee, state Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, has drafted a bill that would make the state’s public colleges and universities more veteran-friendly, starting by authorizing in-state tuition for veterans moving to Tennessee. In commemorating Veterans Day on Monday, President Barack Obama pledged to honor the nation’s commitment to its veterans by improving health care, job support and educational opportunities for those who have served in the military.
It seems like Oak Ridge National Laboratory has won just about every important supercomputing competition over the past decade or so, solidifying its place as the U.S. Department of Energy’s leadership computing facility and perhaps the world’s top gathering place for scientific computing. The run of success has been remarkable. Just recall the long reign of the Cray “Jaguar” supercomputer and its successor, “Titan,” currently rated as the world’s second-fastest machine. ORNL’s place in the world of scientific computing has been built upon and certainly enhanced by its partnership with others — ranging from its collaboration on climate change work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to its not-so-well-documented relationship with the National Security Agency.
‘If we had to do it all over again . . . there would have been a whole lot more questions that were asked,” President Obama told NBC last week. In this now-famous TV interview, Mr. Obama was referring to his health-care rollout, but there are plenty of other questions somebody should have asked. Here are a few: During the 2008 primary race, Mr. Obama, you rejected Hillary Clinton’s proposed individual mandate. You said if health insurance were a good deal, nobody would have to be forced to buy it. OK, anybody can change his mind, but why implement the mandate in a way that forces many people to buy insurance at inflated prices (a bad deal) in order to subsidize others?