This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) at America’s New Manufacturing. “In a business, the most important thing that you do is you decide how you’re going to allocate capital. We can do the same thing in state government. We’re looking and saying: What is the market telling us they need? Well, they’re telling us they need more engineers, more welders and more truck drivers, among other things. Are we putting the physical capacity in place to train enough? VIDEO HERE.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has appointed Holly M. Kirby of Memphis to the Tennessee Supreme Court. Kirby will succeed Janice M. Holder, who announced her retirement from the bench on June 28th, upon expiration of her term. Kirby, a lifelong Tennessean, has served as a member of the Tennessee Court of Appeals, Western Section, since 1995. She was the first woman to serve on that court and has authored more than 1,000 opinions on appeals from trial courts across the state. “We are fortunate to have someone with Judge Kirby’s depth of experience to serve on the Tennessee Supreme Court,” Haslam said.
Final state revenue projections approved Tuesday for the remainder of this fiscal year as well as the upcoming 2014-2015 budget will bring pressure on Gov. Haslam to make spending cuts, officials said. The State Funding Board settled on growth estimates of between 2.85 percent and 3.25 percent for the state’s general fund, which bankrolls most functions of Tennessee government in areas ranging from education to TennCare. While that’s going to bring in additional revenue of up to $323 million next year, new demands in areas ranging from the state’s school funding formula to its TennCare health program for the poor are expected to swallow much of the increase. The state is running about $126 million behind estimates so far in the current fiscal year.
The same kind of technology that recommends movies on Netflix or purchases on Amazon is now helping students on several Tennessee campuses choose college courses. A new program developed at Austin Peay State University uses predictive analytics to suggest classes. And now the technology is spreading across the country, seen as a way to make higher education more efficient. It’s the lunch hour at Nashville State Community College. Students snack on chips as they cram for finals. But many may be wasting their time. On average, graduates take nearly a years-worth of classes they could have done without, or they drop courses before making a bad grade. For student Jonathan Hudspeth, it was anatomy and physiology.
Hundreds of faculty at the University of Memphis got good news Wednesday that their jobs are safe in the coming year, despite impending changes due to a $20 million budget gap. In an e-mail to staff, Provost M. David Rudd said he was “now confident that we will be able to resolve our immediate budget challenge without tenured faculty or tenure-line faculty layoffs,” adding that this was “something I wanted to communicate quickly and clearly.” Instead, Rudd proposes to shore up finances through faculty and staff attrition and increased efficiencies over the next two years. He shared the proposal Tuesday with the provost’s budget committee, which includes two members of the faculty senate.
Close to 30 Tennessee cities and counties are receiving grants to help encourage proper collection of used motor oil. The Used Motor Oil Collection grants total more than $444,000. According to the state Department of Environment and Conservation, Tennesseans who change their own motor oil generate more than 1 million gallons of used oil each year. Officials say that can pollute soil and water and interfere with the operation of sewer systems if not properly disposed. The Tennessee General Assembly authorized the Used Oil Collection Act of 1993 to assist local communities in collecting used oil and reducing its negative effects on the environment.
The Tennessee Department of Transportation is looking to make difficulties commuting to work and being stuck in traffic a thing of the past. New updates to its 25-Year Long Range Transportation Plan address growing needs and changing demands with the input of the public. B.J. Doughty, TDOT community relations director, said it is time to re-examine the long range plan now. “The previous plan was not physically restrained and gave no thought to if there was money,” Doughty said. “We know that the investments we’re making are reflecting the needs of our customers.”
House Republicans won’t be looking to expand access to prekindergarten across the state in the upcoming legislative session, Speaker Beth Harwell said Wednesday. But Harwell said she does expect to see a compromise that would allow grocery stores to sell wine while also protecting liquor store owners’ interests. Tennessee became eligible in June for $64.3 million in federal funds to provide pre-K to an additional 7,861 children. But the Preschool for All program, launched by President Barack Obama, would require a $6.4 million state funding match. Sitting alongside her top lieutenants as they spoke to reporters for about 15 minutes, Harwell said she expects the General Assembly to “continue to fund the pre-K we already have in place, but no additional expansion.”
Among the items on Tennessee lawmakers’ list for 2014: wine and cold medicine. Top officials in both the state House and Senate expect renewed efforts to allow wine to be sold in grocery stores, instead of strictly liquor stores, and also to require a prescription for pseudoephedrine, a cold drug used to make methamphetamine. Last week Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said he expects both to come up, and that sentiment was echoed on the House side Wednesday when top officials took their turn with reporters. Wine Both Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell had expected a wine bill to pass this spring, but it was killed by a surprise committee vote.
State Sen. Jim Tracy faces a formal complaint over a constituent breakfast held last December. Shelbyville resident James R. Moore has told the state’s Registry of Election Finance that he believes Tracy may have broken Tennessee campaign laws and reporting procedures by holding a pancake breakfast in Murfreesboro shortly before he launched his bid for Congress nearly a year ago. The complaint was filed with the registry Nov. 27 and will be taken up at a meeting in January. “I am requesting that the Registry of Election Finance investigate the facts, as I see them, to determine if campaign finance violations have occurred,” Moore writes.
Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank hired a $30-an-hour part-time fiscal analyst even though County Commission twice denied funding for the post, and that $22,740 expenditure resulted in a critical state audit finding for the fiscal year that ended June 30. County Commissioner Myron Iwanski, said Frank “decided to knowingly and intentionally violate the law.” Budget amendments to fund the salary were rejected in December 2012 and May 2013 by County Commission, according to the audit, scheduled for official release Friday. Tom Shope was hired in November 2012 by Frank.
Nineteen state legislators from across Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District are backing U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn., as the Chattanooga congressman gears up for a 2014 race that could include a new challenge from Weston Wamp, son of former Congressman Zach Wamp. A news release from the Fleischmann campaign says state legislators in 11 counties amounts to a strong show of support as the Chattanooga congressman seeks a third term. “Times are certainly tough in Washington, and I am very fortunate to have such a wonderful group of state legislators to work with on issues impacting Tennesseans,” Fleischmann said.
A federal audit report is recommending that the state of Tennessee be required to refund more than $1.6 million from a $2 million U.S. Environmental Protection Agency stimulus grant that helped finance an electrification project at a Pilot Flying J truck stop. The report from the EPA’s Office of Inspector General charges that Tennessee overestimated the benefits of the truck stop projects and failed to fully comply with a requirement that materials used were manufactured in the United States. The grant money was used to install electric heating and cooling units at four truck stops so that truckers would not leave their engines idling and generating pollution.
Americans who lack medical coverage disapprove of President Obama’s health care law at roughly the same rate as the insured, even though most say they struggle to pay for basic care, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll. Fifty-three percent of the uninsured disapprove of the law, the poll found, compared with 51 percent of those who have health coverage. A third of the uninsured say the law will help them personally, but about the same number think it will hurt them, with cost a leading concern.
The winter weather should have a bit less chill this year in the pocketbooks of most Chattanooga households. Electric rates for the typical EPB customer are projected to be 2.1 percent less in January than they were a year ago. The average household in Chattanooga that heats with an electric furnace should pay about $3.06 less than it did last January, if weather conditions match what they were a year ago. Although the fuel cost portion of the monthly power bill will increase from December to January as temperatures decline and usage rises, the increase is projected to be less this year, EPB spokesman John Pless said.
Noranda Aluminum Holding plans to cut up to 190 employees and contract workers in the coming days as part of a three-year, $225 million cost-cutting plan. The cuts will come across Noranda’s business, executives said. About 75 people in the company’s primary aluminum business will lose their jobs while up to 40 employees each will go from its alumina, bauxite and flat-rolled products businesses. Another 10 workers will be laid off from the company’s headquarters in Cool Springs. The cuts amount to more than 7 percent of Noranda’s workforce, which totals roughly 2,500.
The Bradley County Board of Education intends to pursue $720,000 in previously collected liquor tax revenues by Cleveland. According to a recent study performed by the County Technical Assistance Service on behalf of Bradley County and the school system, that is the amount of money that the city should have distributed to Bradley County Schools over the last 30 years. In a special called meeting Wednesday, the Bradley County Board of Education voted 5-1 to seek the liquor tax funds in question, with board member Chris Turner voting against the measure. Board member Nicholas Lillios was absent. Prior to the vote, Turner expressed frustration that the board could not see the amended final draft of the resolution before the vote.
America’s large urban school districts are making faster progress on federal elementary math and reading tests than the nation as a whole, but they are still underperforming national averages, according to data released Wednesday. The results of the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress show students in big cities made slight gains on the exams since they were last given in 2011. But several districts, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington, have made significant gains since 2003 and are narrowing the gap between their performance and the national average. Since 2003, fourth-graders in large cities, for example, posted an eight-point gain in reading, on a 0-500 scale, compared with four points nationally.
If Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker ever runs for president, expect him to talk about his “third way” for Medicaid—a plan that rejects part of President Barack Obama’s health law while extending coverage to more poor in the state. It is a fine line to walk for Mr. Walker, who could face a tough re-election fight next year. But his stance shows how one battle-tested Republican is trying to appeal to voters and respect conservatives’ distaste for the Affordable Care Act. The issue of whether to expand Medicaid as part of the health overhaul, which became optional under a 2012 Supreme Court ruling, has sharply divided Republican governors.
The two-year budget agreement approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week and the U.S. Senate on Wednesday should prevent another disastrous government shutdown during the course of its life. There remains some unfinished business from the recent partial shutdown, however. The federal government owes state and local governments money put up to reopen national parks that had been shuttered. Bills authorizing reimbursement have been filed in both houses, but there will not be any resolution until Congress reconvenes after the holidays. Both houses should make state and local governments whole by passing the legislation upon their return to Washington in January.