February 5 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

TN Governor Urges 2 Free Years of Community College and Technical School (NYT)

Public colleges have sharply raised their prices since the 1990s in the face of declining state support, but a plan by Tennessee’s governor to make two years of community college and technical school free for all students represents a striking reversal of that trend. Tennessee would be the only state in the country to charge no tuition or fees to incoming students under the proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican, which policy analysts called a big step toward a better-educated work force.

Tennessee governor wants to make community college free (Washington Post)

Any graduating high school senior could attend a two-year community college for free under a new proposal laid out by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R), a massive expansion in higher education that would increase the percentage of residents with advanced certificates or degrees. In his state of the state address Monday, Haslam proposed setting aside $300 million from Tennessee’s lottery fund to pay for the expansion through an endowment. “We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee,” Haslam said Monday, according to the Tennessean newspaper.

Tennessee Governor Proposes Free Community College (Chronicle of Higher Ed)

Tennessee’s governor said on Monday night that by using lottery money the state should pay for two years of community or technical college for all high-school graduates. Gov. William E. Haslam, a Republican, included the proposal in his State of the State address as a key part of his higher-education agenda and a means of increasing the percentage of state residents with a college degree. The governor’s plan, which he called the Tennessee Promise, would be paid for entirely with an endowment, seeded by reserves from the state’s lottery, according to a news release from the governor’s office.

Tenn. Governor Seeks Free Community College Tuition (Inside Higher Ed)

Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee burnished his credentials as a higher education governor Monday night by promising in his State of the State speech to make two years of a community or technical college education free to graduating high school seniors in the state. Haslam, whose state has aggressively overhauled its postsecondary system under both him and his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, proposed using lottery reserve funds to create an endowment to cover the tuition and fees of high school graduates who attend a community college or one of the state’s colleges of applied technology.

Editorial: ‘Promise’ a bold plan to educate state’s workforce (News-Sentinel)

Gov. Bill Haslam delivered a State of the State address on Monday that contained a review of accomplishments, a recognition of challenges and a reiteration of fiscal priorities – and one bold initiative. Speaking to a joint session of the Legislature, Haslam outlined his $32.6 billion spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1. The highlight of the speech was an ambitious plan to guarantee tuition and fees to public community colleges and trade schools to every high school graduate in the state. On the down side, revenue shortfalls will require cuts in most state departments.

Editorial: Free college tuition plan a bold idea we support (Jackson Sun)

During Monday evening’s State of the State address, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed one of the most progressive ideas to come out of state government in more than two decades, a tuition-free community college and technology center system — but only if he can get the proposal passed by the General Assembly. We add that caveat because his predecessor Gov. Phil Bredesen proposed a similar plan in 2007 that was rejected by a Republican-controlled state Senate. Haslam’s “Tennessee Promise” would provide any Tennessee high school graduate a two-year community college or Tennessee Technology Center education tuition free.

Haslam: Remove Higher Education Barriers (Memphis Daily News)

When Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam outlined an endowment from Tennessee lottery reserve funds to offer two years of community college free to all Tennesseans graduating high school – a plan he presented during his State of the State address Monday, Feb. 3 – it was a concept that had been years in the making. One of Haslam’s goals – as well as a goal of his predecessor, Gov. Phil Bredesen, and some legislators of both parties – has been a greater role for the state’s community colleges and other two-year institutions. This past September, state Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis called on Haslam to use the operational reserve lottery fund of more than $400 million to pay for Tennesseans to resume and complete college.

Haslam proposes ‘bold’ new education plan (Murfreesboro Post)

Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his annual State of the State address Monday before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly. The speech was titled “Tennessee – America at its best,” which is also the official state slogan. But those words ring truer than a mere marketing catchphrase, Haslam asserted, “We think we are a model to the nation in so many ways.” In a time of national uncertainty, Tennessee is a national leader in areas that matter, like education, job creation, low taxes and low debt, he said. “As I travel through the state and have the opportunity to meet with so many people, there is a lot of optimism out there and a lot of pride in Tennessee,” he said.

Haslam calls his free community college initiative a Tennessee game-changer (JCP)

Gov. Bill Haslam said his new education initiative to provide two free years of tuition and fees to graduating seniors at Tennessee’s community colleges and technical schools would be “a game-changer for the state.” Announced Monday during his State of the State Address, Haslam said the free education offer, which he called the Tennessee Promise, would play a major part in the goal he set last year to have 55 percent of the state’s residents earn a professional certificate or degree beyond high school by the year 2025.

Haslam touts his ‘Tennessee Promise’ initiative (Times-News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam insisted his “Tennessee Promise” — a proposal to give graduating high school seniors two years of free tuition at a community college or a college of applied technology (TCAT) — will “move the needle” in his initiative to generate more higher education degrees in the state. Haslam, a Republican, introduced the proposal to lawmakers during his fourth “State of the State” address Monday night. On Tuesday, he began selling the idea to Tri-Cities newspaper editorial boards as part of his “Drive to 55” plan aimed at increasing the number of Tennesseans with a certificate or degree beyond high school.

Gov. Bill Haslam Speaks At Greeneville Luncheon (Greeneville Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam commended Greene County educational and workforce development efforts today when he spoke at a luncheon hosted by the Greene County Partnership Manufacturers’ Council. Haslam, who addressed the crowd at the General Morgan Inn less than 24 hours after delivering his fourth State of the State address in Nashville, complimented Greene County’s “pathways” initiative. The project was developed earlier this year by a committee made up of local educational and manufacturing professionals and is designed to provide a structured means for a student to decide on a career direction — and then to gain the necessary education to reach the specific job and earning level the student desires.

Haslam makes stop in Greeneville to tout education initiative (WATE-TV Knoxville)

Governor Bill Haslam made a stop in Greene County Tuesday to tout his initiative to give students two free years of community or technical college education. The plan, called “Tennessee Promise” was announced during the State of the State address on Monday evening. Haslam is proposing paying for the plan by setting aside $300 million from the Tennessee Education Lottery reserves to fund an endowment that would cover all tuition and fees. Haslam said he hopes the plan will entice more Tennesseans to continue their education, creating a more prepared workforce.

Community college students, staff welcome ‘Tennessee Promise’ proposal (WATE)

Community college students and staff said they welcome Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offer two years of free tuition and fees for high school graduates attending community college or tech schools. It was part of Haslam’s budget proposal outlined during Monday night’s State of the State address and was dubbed the “Tennessee Promise.” “Through the Tennessee promise, we are fighting the rising cost of higher education and we are raising our expectations as a state,” Haslam said. “We are committed to making a clear statement to families that education beyond high school is a priority in the state of Tennessee.”

Community College Looking More Attractive Than Universities (WPLN-Radio)

Alexis Frierson got a call from her grandmother the morning after Governor Bill Haslam’s State of the State address. Tennessee’s chief executive had unveiled plans to pay for any graduate to go to community college. And that may tip the scales for Frierson – from going to the University of Memphis to staying close to home. “That’s just not what my mind is set on, going to a two-year school and then transferring,” Frierson says. Governor Haslam’s proposal – called “Tennessee Promise” – would spend more lottery money on community college scholarships.

Reaction to Gov. Haslam’s ‘Promise’ varies (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

Area community college presidents responded enthusiastically Tuesday to Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to offer free tuition and fees to recent high school graduates at the state’s two-year colleges and technical schools. “There’s just incredible potential behind what we’re hearing,” said Roane State President Chris Whaley. “We don’t have all the details yet, but since the community college’s mission centers around access and getting the door open for higher education for citizens, any success behind that is potentially a real game-changer.”

UT system reacts to Haslam’s Tennessee Promise (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

The University of Tennessee system is reacting to governor Haslam’s plan to provide Tennessee high school graduates with two years of free tuition to a state community college or technical school. Governor Bill Haslam unveiled the Tennessee Promise Monday night at his fourth annual State of the State address. Dr. Katie High, vice-president for Academic Affairs and Student Success with the UT system, said if the plan is approved, its impact could vary from campus to campus. She said smaller schools like UT-Martin and UT-Chattanooga could end up being affected the most.

UT’s DiPietro feels ‘positive’ about governor’s budget proposal (N-S/Boehnke)

University of Tennessee President Joe DiPietro said he was satisfied with Gov. Bill Haslam’s budget proposal during a year when revenue has fallen short of projections. The $32.6 billion state budget proposal, which is about $600 million less than last year’s budget, includes no funding for new capital projects and held operating funds even over last year. The plan, unveiled during Haslam’s State of the State address Monday night, also includes about $40 million in capital maintenance funds for projects at UT and $13 million to fund the Complete College Act funding formula that is intended reward outcomes like graduation and retention rates.

Governor Haslam discusses budget challenges (Johnson City Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed $32.6 billion 2015 fiscal budget is balanced, but general fund collections are projected to come in below the current year by $126 million at a time when every dollar counts in his push for education and health care reforms. Haslam said Tuesday during a visit with the Johnson City Press Editorial Board that a nearly $133 million “adjustment” would be necessary to fund the new initiatives and address inflationary growth in TennCare, the Basic Education Program formula for K-12 education, and the state’s cost of employee retirement and health insurance.

Haslam proposes $4.25 million for new Regional Forensic Center (N-S/Coleman)

Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday proposed allocating $4.25 million in the fiscal 2014 budget to underwrite the cost of a new home for the Knox County Regional Forensic Center. The budget proposal came after Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett and Knox County Commission Chairman Brad Anders met with Haslam last year to ask for help in paying for a new home for the facility, estimated to cost more than $5 million. Burchett said he appreciates Haslam’s support for the regional facility. The mayor said that when the facility is finished it will serve several Knox County and 20 surrounding counties by providing access to forensic pathology resources and Knox County Medical Examiner Dr. Darinka Mileusnic-Polchan’s expertise.

Lower state revenues hit ETSU fine arts, stadium funding this year (J. City Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that an expected decline in state revenues will mean East Tennessee State University’s fine and performing arts center and football stadium projects will not be funded this year. The governor unveiled his fiscal year 2014-15 budget proposal Monday during his State of the State Address, which notably left out the $38 million arts center and the $18 million stadium identified as major goals by university President Brian Noland more than two years ago.

Haslam addresses health care system in visit to Bristol (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that he wants a different kind of health care system in the state, but larger realities are hampering that effort. When Congress passed the Affordable Care Act, states were required to expand Medicaid with the federal government picking up 100 percent of the cost for three years and then 90 percent of the costs. That changed when a Supreme Court ruling gave states the option of opting out of expanding their Medicaid programs. Both Tennessee and Virginia chose not to expand Medicaid, which means that providers in those states won’t receive federal reimbursement for caring for those patients.

Haslam: Medicaid deal still possible if sides can satisfy conditions (N-S/Collins)

Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he still believes it’s possible for the state to cut a deal with the federal government that would give Tennessee more flexibility to expand Medicaid coverage, but he can’t say how soon such an agreement might be worked out. “I still think it’s possible, or we’d just say forget it,” he said. “But I don’t know a timetable.” Haslam, speaking to a group of state and local officials in Washington, said the state has had frequent conversations with the federal Department of Health and Human Services about expanding Medicaid, which is operated as TennCare in Tennessee.

State seeks input on future of services for intellectually disabled (N-S/Nelson)

When it comes to providing personal assistant and nursing services to intellectually disabled people so they can stay in their homes, only five states in the nation spend more than Tennessee. Despite this, the state has 7,180 people on the waiting list for home- and community-based services — more than 5,700 of them classified as “active,” “urgent” or “crisis” — who right now receive no such state services at all. The state Department of Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities has been sponsoring a series of forums to get feedback on how to save money while still providing the most important services.

U of M reports surge in enrollment applications (Commercial Appeal)

Applications for enrollment in the University of Memphis have surged 68 percent, a college official said Tuesday. One reason: Joining the American Athletic Conference spurred interest in U of M among out-of-state high school students, interim U of M president R. Brad Martin said. The university is actively trying to boost sagging enrollment and attract more students from outside metropolitan Memphis. Both goals are part of a campaign to make more college graduates available for the Memphis labor force.

New bridge to make traffic flow safer: Clinton mayor (News-Sentinel/Fowler)

A nearly 75-year-old span over Clinch River — the connector between South Clinton and downtown — is about to be retired. The Lewallen Bridge, designed in 1938 and built in 1940, doesn’t meet current safety, load capacity and seismic guidelines, Tennessee Department of Transportation spokesman Mark Nagi said. But, he added, “It’s fine for folks to drive on. We wouldn’t allow it to be open if it posed a risk.” TDOT employees now inspect the bridge annually rather than the normal every-other-year timetable, Nagi said.

TDOT: No shortage of salt for road ice (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation says the state has not experienced a shortage of salt used to keep roads and highways from becoming icy and dangerous. Storms have dropped freezing rain, sleet and snow in many parts of Tennessee this winter. Department spokeswoman B.J. Doughty says the state ordered 235,000 tons of salt ahead of this winter season. In the period from Dec. 1 to Jan. 28, about 57,000 tons of salt was used in the state. Doughty said the department has salt bins in all 95 counties and has two companies on standby to replenish the stock if necessary.

TDEC warns of wastewater in creek (WSMV-TV Nashville)

People should avoid the water in a Robertson County creek after untreated wastewater leaked from a nearby facility, state officials said Tuesday. The Department of Environment and Conservation has issued a “temporary water contact advisory” for Millers Creek in Coopertown, the agency said in a media release. A reported 7 million gallons of wastewater seeped through sinkholes that were discovered in the Maple Green treatment lagoon. The wastewater came from municipal sources and is also known as “sanitary” wastewater, said Kelly Brockman with TDEC.

Bill would require Haslam to get approval to expand TennCare (TN/Smith)

Republican state lawmakers are working on a bill that would force Gov. Bill Haslam to get their permission before expanding Tennessee’s health insurance program for the poor. A House committee voted Tuesday to approve a bill that would bar the governor from unilaterally expanding TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program. The measure’s sponsor, state Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin, said it would ensure the expansion gets the same “scrutiny” as other bills. “We have bills to fix commas,” Durham said. “I think Medicaid is important enough that we go through the regular process.”

Vouchers still a question for House Republicans (Nashville Post)

The House last year was iffy on the thought of using school vouchers to send public school children to private schools, and Speaker Beth Harwell sees much the same this session. “I’m getting a lot of mixed signals from the caucus on this whole idea of vouchers,” she told the 71-member caucus before her staff began handing out secret surveys about the issue Monday night. “I just have to know where you want me to start proceeding on working out some sort of compromise.” When Gov. Bill Haslam’s voucher proposal failed last year on the Senate side, many House members let out a sigh of relief.

A rule in wine in grocery stores bill could keep some shoppers waiting (WATE-TV)

How much longer will we wait to see Merlot or Riesling in stores like Food City? Last week, the Senate approved an amended bill which would allow wine to be sold in grocery stores. Though, even if it finally passes some people will have to wait. There’s a rule in this amended bill and it all breaks down to distance: how far away is a liquor store from a grocery store? It calls for compromise but if neither one agrees, shoppers will keep waiting. Hundreds of bottles of wine are stocked at Corks in Farragut with selections from Tennessee to Tasmania.

TN bill may make cities boost pension payments (Tennessean/Sisk)

Metro Nashville and many other communities across Tennessee may be asked to increase payments to their public pension funds under a bill backed by the state treasurer and several Republican lawmakers. Cities, counties and local authorities whose workers do not take part in the state’s pension program could be required to boost annual contributions meant to ensure that the retirement plans remain solvent. Those that don’t meet a state minimum could see the treasurer make their payments for them by withholding their shares of tax revenue. The legislation comes amid concerns about the solvency of pension funds in Chattanooga and Memphis.

Would It Really Cost $6.5 Billion To Keep TN Out Of Healthcare Overhaul? (WPLN)

Six billion dollars. That’s the estimated cost of a proposal from Tennessee lawmakers to bar the state from having anything to do with the federal healthcare overhaul. A vote on the bill was postponed in a committee meeting Tuesday. Neither Sen. Mae Beavers (R-Mt. Juliet) nor Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) seemed to know quite what to say about the astronomical cost projection, known as a “fiscal note.” Johnson: “$6.5… billion?” Beavers: “Billion.” Johnson: “That’s the largest fiscal note I’ve ever seen…” Beavers: “Surely there’s some kind of an award for this one.” Beavers says she’ll talk with state officials to find out why the cost is so high.

Teachers union reverses stance on tying gains to evaluations (Tenn/Garrison)

Tennessee’s largest teachers union has turned against the policy of including student learning gains in the evaluation of teachers, a flip that shows its growing discomfort with a major Race to the Top reform. When Tennessee applied for $501 million in federal Race to the Top funds in 2010, a critical part in landing the coveted grant was that competing stakeholders reach accord on major education policy overhauls. That especially meant the Tennessee Education Association, which agreed to sign on to a new teacher evaluation system that based 35 percent of scores on academic growth of students.

Steve Cohen blasts Haslam’s community college plan (Tennessean/Sisk)

The Tennessee lawmaker who led the creation of the state lottery and Hope scholarship program blasted Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to use proceeds to foot the cost of community college. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said Tuesday that Haslam’s proposal to make community college free of charge for all rising high school seniors would “raid funds from the Tennessee Education Lottery Scholarship surplus” to create a program that would discourage enrollment at the state’s top universities. As a state senator, Cohen sponsored the 2002 constitutional amendment that repealed the state’s ban on lotteries.

Cohen says Haslam’s free-tuition plan a ‘serious mistake’ (C. Appeal/Locker)

The father of Tennessee’s lottery scholarship program said Gov. Bill Haslam’s free-tuition plan at community colleges and technical schools is a “serious mistake” because it reduces incentives for students to do well in high school and undermines Hope Scholarships. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, said the governor’s plan to finance the free-tuition plan with $302 million from the lottery-scholarship reserve fund, nearly three-fourths of the reserve’s $412 million, will eventually weaken the Hope Scholarship program. Cohen’s remarks came as more details of the governor’s plan surfaced Tuesday.

Army Corps to refurbish generators at dams, keep bills low (Tennessean/Brown)

In a bid to keep costs low for energy consumers in Middle Tennessee, the Nashville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is moving forward on a 20-year, $1 billion project to renovate aging hydroelectric generators across the region. Work could begin within the year at the Army Corps’ Center Hill Dam near Smithville, which has three generators scheduled to be refurbished. Next up: Old Hickory Dam near Nashville. While it’s hard to put a dollar figure on how the project will impact the average consumer’s bill, the refurbished generators will increase the amount of low-cost energy on the market, said Jamie James, a program manager for the district.

Health Care Law Projected to Cut the Labor Force (New York Times)

A Congressional Budget Office analysis released Tuesday predicted that the Affordable Care Act would shrink the work force by the equivalent of more than two million full-time positions and recharged the political debate over the health care law, providing Republican opponents fresh lines of attack and putting Democrats on the defensive. The nonpartisan budget office’s analysis, part of a regular update to its budget projections, was far more complicated than the Republican attack lines it generated. Congressional Republican leaders called the findings “devastating,” “terrible” and proof that the health care law was a job killer.

TVA sticks with stable power outlook despite record Jan. power use (TFP/Flessner)

The Arctic polar vortex that put the chill in the Tennessee Valley last month pushed daily power demand to an all-time high for the Tennessee Valley Authority, requiring the federal utility to temporarily limit power to customers with interruptible contracts for the first time in years. While temperatures plunged into single digits on Jan. 7, nearly 40 percent of the buildings in Murray State University in Kentucky lost power under its contract with TVA and suffered damages from frozen pipes. The college saves $1.3 million a year by being among more than 1,200 customers with interruptible TVA contracts.

Cold Winter Drove Up Demand, But TVA Still Shuttering Some Coal Plants (WPLN)

The Tennessee Valley Authority says it will likely press on with its plans to shut down several power generators, even though freezing temperatures in January led to record demand. As temperatures dropped in Tennessee and surrounding states, homes and businesses turned up their thermostats, which led TVA breaking two records for electricity use. The agency has said long-term demand is on the decline, and it’s shutting down eight coal-fired generators as a result. CEO Bill Johnson says TVA will take another look at its long-range forecast, but it’s unlikely to change.

Top official visits Y-12; but all’s quiet on post-incident plans (N-S/Munger)

The head of the National Nuclear Security Administration came to Oak Ridge on Tuesday to address a recent incident involving the mishandling of enriched uranium at the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant. But details of Bruce Held’s visit were treated hush-hush, and officials declined to comment on what actions may be underway at Y-12 to ensure that similar incidents don’t happen in the future. Oak Ridge officials referred all questions to NNSA headquarters in Washington, D.C., and federal spokeswoman Keri Fulton had no comment on the day’s activities or future plans. “It’s an ongoing investigation,” Fulton said.

‘Nashville’ show is ‘motivating factor’ for 1 in 5 Music City visitors (Tenn/McGee)

Tourism officials touting the economic benefits of the “Nashville” television show now have some numbers to back up their claims. Nearly 1 in 5 Nashville tourists who had seen the ABC show said it was the “motivating factor” in their decision to visit, according to a new survey. Also, tourists who had seen the show spent 23 percent more on their trip, stayed longer and brought more people with them on average than those who had not seen the show, according to a survey conducted by the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

Nash. Pre-K expansion plan leaves some students in limbo (TN/Garrison)

Parents who packed a school gym and cafeteria this week to learn about Metro Schools’ prekindergarten expansion plan had mostly positive things to say about the push to serve more 4-year-olds. But those whose children’s elementary schools would be transformed into new pre-K centers had one complaint: Why weren’t they told months ago? Under Director of Schools Jesse Register’s proposal to turn Nashville’s Ross and Bordeaux elementary schools into hubs exclusively for pre-K, the school board will consider a plan next week to reassign those students to other area schools.



Editorial: One way or another, cigarette tax hike a help (Tennessean)

We’ve heard the complaints that “sin” taxes are counterproductive, even self-defeating. We’ve also heard that to accept Medicaid expansion from the federal government would be something Tennesseans later would regret, when the cost shifted to the state. Could this be a case where two “wrongs” actually make a right? State Rep. Gary Odom’s proposal in the General Assembly is to increase Tennessee’s tax on cigarettes from the current 62 cents per pack to $1.06. The 44-cent difference would go into a trust fund that the state would begin to tap in 2017, after the federal government’s contribution to Medicaid expansion drops from 100 percent to 90 percent.

Editorial: Haslam’s college plan needs work (Leaf Chronicle)

In his state of the state address Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam outlined a complex shift of higher education resources that deserves a broad and thoughtful debate. The governor outlined a bold plan to waive all tuition and fees at state community colleges and technology centers for graduates of Tennessee high schools. Under this plan, Tennessee would be the only state in the nation offering free higher education to every high school graduate. The program, which the Republican governor called “Tennessee Promise,” would cost the state about $34 million a year, an expense that the governor said could be covered by moving about $300 million from the Lottery’s $400 million-plus reserve fund to a dedicated endowment.

Columnist: Haslam and hope: Is free college plan boon or boondoggle? (TFP)

Gov. Bill Haslam is reinventing the Tennessee college scholarship playing field. In his final State of the State address before seeking re-election this fall, Haslam unveiled a plan to provide two years of free college classes to any high school graduate willing to attend community colleges and technology centers. The governor says the state can pay for this with no new money: His plan is to re-parcel $300 million in Hope Scholarship money raised by the Tennessee Lottery. The lottery currently has about $410 million in a reserve fund, but only $110 is needed in reserve to pay out Hope scholarships in the future.

Editorial: Memphis does not need interference as it strives fund its pension (CA)

A bill in the General Assembly that would require Tennessee cities to adequately fund their pension systems could mean big trouble for Memphis, which has a pension indebtedness of $682 million that could grow to $740 million by July 1. Although sponsors say the bill is not aimed at Memphis, it emphasizes the urgency of the administration of Mayor A C Wharton and the City Council to find ways to close the pension-funding gap without the state interloping in city affairs. The proposed law, whose primary backers are state Treasurer David Lillard and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, would require cities to pay their Annual Required Contribution.