This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam says he won’t be able to give state employees and teachers a pay increase next year mainly because of reductions due to an ongoing decline in revenue collections. The Republican governor discussed his budget proposal with reporters on Monday. State finance officials are scheduled to present the measure to legislative finance committees on Tuesday. Haslam said poor revenue collections are forcing him to make $150 million in reductions for the remainder of this budget year, and $160 million for next year. Financial officials said sales tax collections have fallen short by $33 million, and franchise and excise taxes – also known as business tax collections – are down $215 million.
Earlier this month, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush was in Nashville and joined Senator Lamar Alexander and me for a great discussion about education and workforce readiness. As I said to the audience of business leaders during the event, I don’t know of a more critical issue facing states than making sure citizens have the necessary skills and training for high quality, good-paying jobs. You can click here to see some highlights of that conversation. Let me turn to the budget. Later this week I will file an amendment to the fiscal year 2014-15 budget that identifies $160 million in reductions due to an ongoing decline in revenue collections and an additional $150 million to close the funding gap in the current budget for fiscal year 2013-14.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he won’t be able to give state employees and teachers a pay increase next year mainly because of reductions due to an ongoing decline in revenue collections, which state officials are looking into. The Republican governor discussed his budget proposal with reporters Monday. The state finance commissioner was to present the measure to legislative finance committees Tuesday. Haslam said poor revenue collections are forcing him to make $150 million in reductions for the remainder of this budget year that ends June 30th, and $160 million for next year. Sales tax collections have fallen short by $33 million, and franchise and excise taxes — also known as business tax collections — are down $215 million.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to boost pay for teachers will be put on hold for at least a year, the governor announced Monday, as he works to close a $160 million gap in the state budget. Haslam said Monday that he will put off a proposal to give raises to teachers and other state workers, blaming poor sales and business tax collections. A one-year delay will save the state about $72 million in next year’s budget. The Republican governor said last fall that he wanted to give Tennessee teachers the biggest raises in the country over the next five years, and his initial $30 billion budget proposal released in February included a 2 percent across-the-board increase. The governor said he had not abandoned that goal.
Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday canceled proposed pay raises for state employees and teachers for the coming year as part of an administration plan for dealing with a revenue shortfall largely due to shrinking business tax collections. Overall, the governor’s $32.6 billion budget plan for the coming year would be reduced by $160 million from what he outlined to the General Assembly on Feb. 3. He also proposes to reduce state spending by $150 million in the current fiscal year, which runs through June 30 by raiding various reserve funds and making cuts in several departments.
Planned state worker and teacher pay raises in July disappeared Monday into a revenue sinkhole with Gov. Bill Haslam announcing he will disrupt his own plans on salaries and make other cuts to address shortfalls largely in business tax collections. The Republican governor told reporters he also is eliminating $12.9 million in proposed improvements in higher education. That means students attending Tennessee’s public colleges and universities likely will see higher-than-expected tuition jumps. State finance officials are expected this morning to outline cuts in the current budget year and Haslam’s proposed 2014-2015 spending plan to House and Senate finance committees.
Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he is eliminating the 1 percent pay raise for state employees, 2 percent raise for teachers and the $12.9 million increase for higher education, all of which he originally proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1. The cutbacks from his original budget plan are to deal with state revenue that has dropped far below projections. Despite the lack of a higher ed funding increase, University of Memphis President Brad Martin reaffirmed the school’s intent to hold tuition rates at current levels this fall. Most other students face higher tuition increases, but officials say it’s too early to say by how much.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam said he not giving state employees and teachers a pay increase. Haslam said he is making several cuts from his original budget proposal because of continued declining tax collections. The Republican governor discussed his budget proposal with reporters on Monday. The leadership in the Tennessee House and Senate met with Governor Haslam’s Finance Commissioner Larry Martin Monday afternoon to hear the bad news. He said revenues are off this year $150 million and next year, the projected short fall is $160 million. It means millions of dollars in cuts, including a $72 million dollar cut eliminating raises next year for teachers and state employees.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced a proposed amendment to his budget for next fiscal year, which eliminates pay increases for state employees and teachers. Haslam said Monday an ongoing decline in revenue collections means the state must reduce its budget by $160 million, including $72 million that had been allocated for state employee and teacher pay raises. One consolation for state employees and teachers in the governor’s amendment would eliminate a proposed increase in their health insurance premiums. Other cuts would keep higher education funding at current levels and reduce the money the state was going to pay into the school budget growth fund.
A late-day announcement from the governor’s office came as an unwelcome surprise for those talking about the Knox County School budget Monday night. Governor Bill Haslam said, thanks to a decline in state revenue collections, he will not be giving pay raises to state employees and teachers. The announcement came as the Board of Education work session about the district’s next budget was already underway. Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre’s proposal includes two priorities, including teacher pay increases. It’s a plan that may now require some reworking.
Two University of Memphis programs have been ranked among the top graduate programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. The Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology programs in the University of Memphis’ School of Communication Sciences and Disorders ranked 12th and 15th, respectively, according to the 2015 ranking. U.S. News & World Report analyzes more than 1,300 graduate programs. The School of Communication Sciences and Disorders has been ranked nationally since 1997. According to Maurice Mendel, dean of the School of Communication Sciences and Disorders, the programs have more than $4 million in external funding for research projects.
The Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth is recommending the state expand its pre-K and home visitation programs to help youth be more successful in school and life. The commission is basing its recommendations on a policy report released Tuesday by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count project. The report identifies opportunity disparities between racial and ethnic groups and recommends ways to address them. Besides pre-K and home visitation, the commission says programs like family resource centers also provide foundational opportunities for children to be successful.
As Jones Lang LaSalle’s point man for the controversial Project T3 program to reduce overall office space the state leases by a million square feet, Kevin McDowell has overseen a $72.5 million budget that includes design, construction, furniture and technology costs. With that portion of JLL’s work for the state winding down, McDowell recently chatted with Tennessean reporter Getahn Ward about the program. How big was this program for the state of Tennessee? The scope of the program was to implement the governor’s vision to consolidate 1 million square feet of third-party leased space into state-owned buildings with a goal of saving $100 million over 10 years.
Tennessee’s incentive offer to Volkswagen was made contingent on the labor situation at the German automaker’s plant in Chattanooga developing to the “satisfaction” of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration, according to documents obtained by WTVF-TV in Nashville. Haslam, who has been a vocal critic of the United Auto Workers’ efforts to represent workers at Volkswagen’s lone U.S. plant, has long denied suggestions that tax credits, grants and other incentives were tied to the union being rejected at the factory.
Were hundreds of millions of your tax dollars offered to Volkswagen — and then pulled back — to try to keep the United Auto Workers out of Chattanooga? For months, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has denied any connection. But documents leaked to NewsChannel 5 Investigates offer conclusive proof that the Haslam administration wanted a say in the automaker’s deal with organized labor — in exchange for $300 million in economic incentives to help VW expand its Chattanooga operations. Volkswagen opened the Hamilton County facility in May 2011 with great fanfare. Initially producing the midsize Passat, there were hints of more to come. It was located on a 1,400-acre site with plenty of room for expansion.
State lawmakers gave final legislative approval Monday to a bill allowing revocation of a public charter school’s charter starting next year if it lands on the state’s list of low-performing “priority schools.” Priority schools are subject to state takeover. The revocation would be effective at the end of the school year, except for fraud or misappropriation of funds when the revocation could occur immediately. The bill gives charter schools already operating under the state’s “Achievement School District” — they have already been taken over by the state — two years to move off the list of priority schools before their charters are revoked.
The state House has voted to allow Lake City to change its name to Rocky Top despite ongoing legal efforts by the rights owners of the bluegrass standard to block the move. The chamber on Monday voted 89-0 in favor of the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, who said the state would not be liable if the Gatlinburg-based House of Bryant wins its lawsuit. If the Senate goes along with bill, Lake City could vote to make the name change official. “Rocky Top” is the fight song of the University of Tennessee and is one of several state songs.
State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh has announced he will run for re-election to his House seat this year rather than making a bid for governor. The Ripley Democrat had publicly mulled a gubernatorial bid last year, but had backed off in recent months. But filing to run for re-election to the House would formally rule out an entry into the governor’s race because candidates can’t run for that office and the Legislature at the same time. Fitzhugh is the current House minority leader and a former House finance chairman.
Whiskey maker George Dickel is suing to overturn a Tennessee law that requires liquor to be stored in or around the county where it is distilled. Dickel, which is owned by global liquor giant Diageo PLC, said it stores all of its Tennessee Whisky at its distillery near Tullahoma, about 60 miles south of Nashville. But other products made there are stored at a company-owned distillery in Louisville, Ky. The lawsuit filed in federal court in Nashville on Friday claims that state law violates interstate commerce rights under the U.S. Constitution. “Tennessee has never before sought to enforce the geographic limitations of the storage statute,” Dickel said in the lawsuit.
Liquor giant Diageo Americas, the owner of Tullahoma, Tenn.-based George Dickel whiskey, has sued the state of Tennessee over a nearly 80-year-old law requiring distillers to store their alcohol within the state’s borders. Diageo says the state law is unconstitutional and argues that the state’s enforcement of the law could eventually take jobs and some of the company’s operations outside of the state. The dispute began earlier this month when the state notified Diageo in a letter that it was in violation of the law because it was storing some of its George Dickel-branded whiskey at the company’s storage facilities in Louisville, Ky.
Diageo Americas Supply Inc., owner of the George Dickel whiskey brand, has filed suit against Tennessee over a decades-old law governing the storage of spirits. Since 1937, Tennessee has required distillers to store their spirits in the county in which they were produced. In 2013, the law was amended to allow distillers to also store their spirits in adjoining counties. The George Dickel Distillery in Tullahoma has been in operation for more than 130 years. Though the company stores most of its liquor on site, it has transported some of its spirits to a distillery in Louisville, according to the company’s filing. On March 20, Keith Bell, director of the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, wrote to the company advising them that keeping the spirits in Louisville is a violation of state law.
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., says he will introduce a bill today to eliminate illegal, abusive training practices for Tennessee walking horses — and he hopes to bridge a divide between a widely supported set of existing House and Senate bills and the $3.2 billion industry. Alexander’s bill would be a companion to a House bill introduced in February by U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn. Alexander hopes to expand on that bill, add a new layer of protection for horses and increase accountability for horse inspectors.
Tennessee health care volunteers and insurers were flooded Monday with a last-minute surge of consumers hoping to sign up for health coverage by deadline. For some, it was a day of waiting and frustration because the federal government’s website for choosing a health plan ground to a halt under the demand of people seeking coverage by the deadline. For others who had been locked out of insurance because of the high cost or a pre-existing condition, the delay was not so bad. The state’s largest health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, reported a surge of phone calls to its call center.
Uninsured Nashvillians waited impatiently inside the Main Library to sign up for health insurance Monday, trying to get on a problem-plagued healthcare.gov website that was locked up again as people across the nation rushed to meet the open enrollment deadline. But that doesn’t mean they missed their opportunity. The deadline is a bit blurry. A screen is supposed to appear on the website today that allows users to attest that they tried to use the website but could not get through or had tried in some other manner to sign up before the deadline, said Sandy Dimick with Family & Children’s Service. She shared that information with frustrated people at the library — information she learned in a conference call with federal officials on Friday.
This past weekend, Knoxville-area volunteers and certified assisters signed up more than 250 people for health insurance at three Affordable Care Act enrollment events, as the countdown for the deadline to enroll for 2014 coverage drew closer. The federal government’s HealthCare.gov website, famous for glitches, was operating fairly smoothly, and Derrick Folsom, community outreach liaison for Cherokee Health Systems, said that for most people they saw the process was “a breeze.” It was the calm before the storm. On Monday, volunteers and the computer system were overwhelmed with people trying to beat the April 1 deadline.
On trial: California’s rules on teacher tenure and dismissal. The issue: Do the rules keep bad teachers in classrooms and doom some students to an inadequate education? The lawsuit, filed by the nonprofit advocacy group Students Matter on behalf of nine public school students, followed unsuccessful attempts in contract negotiations and the legislature to give school districts more freedom to hire and fire teachers. The plaintiffs in Vergara v. California argued that the state’s employment rules leave so many ineffective teachers on the job that some students – many of them low-income and minority – fail to receive the education guaranteed by the state constitution. The two-month trial ended last Thursday in Los Angeles Superior Court.
After being fined $70,000 last year for failing to verify equipment reliability, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said Monday that the Tennessee Valley Authority is now meeting all regulatory standards for construction of its newest nuclear reactor. Joel Munday, director of construction projects at the NRC, said TVA corrected the three violations identified last spring that resulted in a civil penalty against TVA for not ensuring that equipment being installed at Watts Bar Unit 2 met nuclear standards. Munday said TVA’s performance “is satisfactory” toward completing the new Watts Bar unit for power generation by late 2015.
Boat access to the East Embayment of the Emory River, in the Swan Pond area of Roane County, will be closed for more than a month as TVA builds a pedestrian bridge as part of its effort to restore the area hit by the 2008 Kingston Fossil Plant coal ash spill. Boat access to the embayment was suspended Monday, and that will last about 45 days as the 300-foot bridge is constructed, according to TVA. Bank fishing will still be available on the East Embayment, with access available through walking trails at Lakeshore Park.
Teachers in the 33 schools that will be run by municipal school districts next fall have until June 30 to find a job in Shelby County Schools or be without a contract. They will still be eligible for jobs in SCS, but they will have to reapply. Unless they are tenured teachers, they will be on the same footing as any other applicant, according to an e-mail Friday from Sheila Redick, SCS head of teacher staffing. Tenured teachers, by state law, must get preferential treatment for openings. By law, teacher pay and benefits may not be reduced. SCS could not say how many teachers in the municipal schools do not have tenure.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has made a big push to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a college education. It is one thing to say that, but another to actually make it happen when obstacles are placed in the way. One of the biggest obstacles is the consistent funding hits higher education takes when it comes to balancing the state’s budget. The latest example is Haslam’s proposal to eliminate the entire $13 million increase for higher education, which he originally proposed for the fiscal year starting July 1, to help relieve a tax revenue shortfall. Higher education officials had planned a tuition increase of 2 to 4 percent this fall if their budget request for a $29 million increase in state funding had been approved.
By the time this session of the Tennessee General Assembly comes to an end, Tennesseans understandably should feel a little like the animals used in laboratory experiments — at least the ones that survive. Our state, thanks to the dominance of a single political party, has been selected for a series of not-so-scientific experiments. The objective? Whatever Charles and David Koch want it to be. The billionaire Kochs do not live in Tennessee and never have. That is not important, as they, through their group Americans For Prosperity (AFP), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also not Tennessee-based, are increasingly deciding what laws the General Assembly should impose on the people of our state.