This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Gov. Bill Haslam is learning what every Tennessee governor since 1970 found during their tenures: the state’s tax system fails to keep up with the needs of the state and its people. The phrase “structural deficit” hasn’t been heard much around the state Capitol since the income tax battles of 1999-2002 — before Haslam was mayor of Knoxville and before most current state legislators arrived. But five days before the governor delivered a budget amendment Tuesday that slashed two of his signature initiatives — higher teacher pay and more college graduates — structural deficit was being uttered again, at a College Completion Summit of business and higher-education leaders on how to increase the number of Tennesseans with post-high school educations.
Tourism dollars in Tennessee could take a hit based on Governor Bill Haslam’s new budget for the next fiscal year. The state spends millions on advertising to attract visitors to Tennessee; but Gov. Haslam is proposing that budget be cut in half. For the FY 2013-2014, the Department of Tourist Development’s direct marketing budget was $8 million. Gov. Haslam originally proposed that budget be cut to $6 million. However, he recently reduced it to $4 million. Sevier County Hospitality Alliance President Ken Maples is asking legislators to reconsider. Maples is hoping it can at least go back to $6 million.
Bereft of power to take at will, Tennessee cities will have to sell themselves to grow The last man to be forcibly annexed by Chattanooga is philosophical about his fate. Ken Carey and his neighbors in Laurel Cove and other north Hixson neighborhoods fought the city’s grip for three years, but the end was inevitable. They became Chattanooga citizens Jan. 1. Now, though, even though it’s too late for him, Carey is elated that nobody else can become unwilling prey for Tennessee cities’ growth. He believes a grass-roots struggle by homeowners against a massive annexation push begun in 2009 by then-Mayor Ron Littlefield resonated with state lawmakers, and last week they gave final passage to a bill ending cities’ power to annex by ordinance.
The Senate State & Local Government Committee rejected a bill Tuesday that would have vastly reduced the number of signatures minor parties must collect to appear on the ballot in Tennessee. But the Green Party and the Constitution Party may still get onto the November ballot. Senate Bill 1091 would have slashed the number of signatures minor parties need to be recognized from about 40,000 to just 2,500. Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle filed the bill after a series of lawsuits by minor parties and argued it was time to settle the matter. But Republican members of the committee balked, effectively bottling up the legislation in committee.
After watching anti-gay rights activist Mark Clayton unexpectedly capture the Democratic U.S. Senate nomination in 2012, a state party panel is anxious to avoid a repeat in the governor’s race this year. Members of a Tennessee Democratic Party panel voted Saturday to ask the secretary of state to strike Clayton from the list of Democratic candidates finalized by Thursday’s filing deadline. County party development committee chairwoman Sylvia Woods said members decided that Clayton isn’t a “bona fide” Democrat under party rules. State Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron said he must investigate and decide what to do by Thursday, the last day a party can move to prevent someone from appearing under its banner on the ballot.
Bob Corker was livid. He couldn’t believe what he was hearing. A top State Department official was refusing to answer senators’ questions about possible military options in Syria, arguing military strategy shouldn’t be disclosed during an open committee meeting but in a classified, closed-door briefing. “Major baloney,” Corker snapped, his voice rising. “That would indicate to people that we actually have a military strategy relative to Syria. That could not be further from the truth.’’ When Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson protested that Corker was trying to bully her, Corker shot back, “What is your strategy? I don’t see that we have one other than letting people kill off each other.”
U.S. Rep. Phil Roe isn’t sure whether Democrats or Republicans will gain an edge from a U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning limits on how much individuals can contribute overall to federal candidates, parties and political action committees during a two-year period. “There’s just as many wealthy Democratic donors as there are Republican donors,” Roe, R-Tenn., insisted in a conference call with reporters “For every Koch brothers (who support Republicans) there is (George) Soros (who supports Democrats) and other groups. I don’t know that the decision favors anybody.”
The United Automobile Workers has seized on leaked documents from Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee in its efforts to persuade the National Labor Relations Board to order a new unionization election at the Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga. The union, which lost a vote in February, plans to argue in a hearing later this month that Mr. Haslam and Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, both Republicans, frightened VW workers at the plant with anti-union statements that made a fair vote impossible. The board’s director for the region that includes much of the Southeast has set the hearing for April 21.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s signature piece of legislation this year is his Tennessee Promise plan to make community college free. His proposal has met with widespread support in the General Assembly. But, as with any legislation of this scope, there are questions that still need answers. Nevertheless, it appears the plan will pass and move Tennessee higher education to the cutting edge nationally. The Tennessee Promise is a cornerstone of Haslam’s Drive to 55 project to dramatically increase the percentage of Tennesseans who hold post-secondary education degrees and certifications. That, in turn, is the cornerstone of the state’s economic development strategy. Attracting large, increasingly tech-oriented employers demands a strong workforce.
Why Tennessee is not meeting its revenue projections should receive some study, but state officials apparently cannot blame the Great Recession. Tennessee is one of only four states that do not expect to meet their revenue projections for 2013-2014, according to the most recent report of the National Conference of State Legislatures. The NCSL report, released in October, is positive in its general assessment of the economic situation: “Overall, state budgets appear to be stabilizing and settling into a period of moderate growth.”
This being Sunday, imagine that as you sit in the pew of your favored house of worship a stranger walks in, asks to address the congregation and offers $6.2 million a day to help the church provide health insurance for Tennessee’s neediest citizens. Not only that, the stranger says, she’s willing to let church leaders determine how the program should be managed and who should run it. As long as it looks as if it will work and give hard-up Tennesseans coverage they currently don’t have, the church gets the money. Essentially, that is the deal the state of Tennessee has yet to embrace under the Affordable Care Act.
When I was a child, my family’s church on Nolensville Pike relocated up the road to make way for a large grocery store and shopping complex. It did not take long for the empty fields surrounding the new location of the church to be replaced by retail developments, as well. Now, Nolensville Pike is the backbone of the explosive growth in South Nashville. Over the past few weeks, there has been a great deal of discussion in the legislature over the Amp project and a proposed monorail between Nashville and Murfreesboro. Both are topics worthy of further review and discussion; however, I hope that we don’t lose focus on the other areas of Nashville that are vital to our economic success.
The nationalization of state legislatures probably wasn’t even a concept back in 1975 when the National Conference of State Legislatures was formed by folks who reasonably presented the organization as a means for state-level lawmakers exchanging information and ideas for mutual benefit. But that understandable and innocuous undertaking has been transformed over the years into an increasing submission of state legislative endeavors to the will of nationally-organized entities, recently frustrated by their inability to lobby an incompetent Congress into action and recognizing a popular trend to devolve power from the federal to the state level. That old adage about all politics being local is no longer true. The trend is toward all politics being national.