This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Tennessee sales-tax growth largest in more than 2 years (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Tax collections are off to a good start as Tennessee begins a new fiscal year. Overall revenues were $31 million more than those collected from the same period a year ago. August revenues of $870 million registered a 3.7 percent increase. They also came in $24.4 million above the budgeted estimate. “While we are encouraged by the August numbers, we continue to be concerned about the relatively slow economic recovery in Tennessee,” said Finance and Administration Commissioner Larry Martin. “It is important for us to maintain our close controls on state spending and to carefully monitor revenue trends.”
TSU, community college agree on transfers (Associated Press)
Tennessee State University and Southwest Tennessee Community College have signed an agreement that will allow students who complete two years at Southwest to transfer to TSU to complete their baccalaureate degree. The agreement between the two institutions calls for the awarding of 10 two-year full Tennessee State scholarships with preference to STEM majors, beginning fall 2015. The partnership also includes a dual-admission component that builds on the Tennessee Transfer Pathway, which is designed to help community college students plan for transferring to a Tennessee public university to complete their baccalaureate degree.
Enrollment in University of Memphis ed. graduate programs down (CA/Roberts)
The University of Memphis has more graduate students than Ole Miss, Middle Tennessee State and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and is pumping the message hard these days as it works to promote itself as a great urban research university. But since 2008, the university has lost hundreds of graduate students to alternative teacher certification programs, including Teach for America and Memphis Teacher Residency, which have been eating the university’s lunch since 2010 with tuition-free master’s programs. And in the spring of 2013, when Shelby County Schools decided it was no longer going to pay teachers for advanced degrees, the university lost even more graduate students. Between fall of 2010 and fall 2013, enrollment in university graduate programs in education fell from 1,072 to 642, more than a 40 percent decline.
Tenn. Supreme Court to name next attorney general (Associated Press)
The Tennessee Supreme Court plans to announce its selection for the next eight-year term as attorney general on Monday. Tennessee is the only state in the country where the high court names the attorney general. The candidates include incumbent Bob Cooper; Gov. Bill Haslam’s top legal adviser Herbert Slattery; state Sen. Doug Overbey; and private attorneys Gino Bulso of Nashville and Mark Fulks of Johnson City. Chief Justice Sharon Lee in a release touted what she called a “commitment of a transparent process” for selecting the attorney general, though only the initial interviews were conducted in public.
Tennessee’s attorney general to be named today (Times Free-Press/Sher)
In making his case for reappointment to a new term, Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper told Supreme Court justices last week that the skills and experience he first cited in 2006 to get the job “have only been enhanced” by eight years in the office. “[The] results speak for themselves,” the 57-year-old Democrat and Chattanooga native told the five justices, who make the eight-year appointment. Today, Cooper will learn whether his argument worked with the three Democratic and two Republican justices. Justices say they will make the announcement this morning. Cooper is among six remaining applicants, at least three of whom are Republican, for the eight-year term.
Tennessee voters to decide ban on income tax (Associated Press/Schelzig)
Tennesseans are just weeks away from voting on a constitutional amendment to bar lawmakers from ever imposing a state income tax. The November vote approaches as a new study from ratings agency Standard & Poor’s suggests that rising income inequality has a stronger negative effect on the states most reliant on sales tax revenues compared with those with those more dependent on income taxes. The S&P report that the affluent tend to save a greater share of their income and spend it on untaxed services, meaning that states are unlikely to see much of an increase in sales tax collections based on the gains among this group.
Third parties still fighting for ballot access (Associated Press/Loller)
Four years after the Libertarian Party of Tennessee filed its first lawsuit to get on the ballot, the group is still fighting for access in a state that has some of the most restrictive rules in the country for smaller political parties. Since 2010, the Libertarians, the Green Party of Tennessee and the Constitution Party of Tennessee have been in near-constant litigation with the state. They have won several victories, and the legislature has changed the law slightly. But the parties say the hurdles for them to get their names on the ballot are still unreasonably high. A 2010 federal court ruling in one of the cases stated that Tennessee was one of only two states where no third parties had qualified for the ballot over the previous decade.
Grants help Tennessee health clinics expand staffing (Tennessean/Wilemon)
Community health centers in Tennessee will receive $5.5 million in federal grants to add staff, stay open longer and expand services. The money comes from funds appropriated through the Affordable Care Act. Throughout the state, a total of 23 organizations that operate federally qualified community health centers were awarded grants. The Tennessee Department of Health received $503,752 for clinics it operates. Other recipients include Hope Family Health Services in Westmoreland, $195,392; Maury Regional Hospital in Columbia, $187,000; Rutherford County Primary Care Clinic in Murfreesboro, $213,896; United Neighborhood Health Services in Nashville, 294,764 and University Community Health Services in Nashville, $229,224.
Vanderbilt funding for kids’ emergency care to continue (Tennessean/Williams)
Tennessee health care institutions, including Vanderbilt University’s School of Medicine, will continue to benefit from legislation supporting research for better emergency care for children in hospitals. Late last week, the U.S. Senate passed the Emergency Medical Services for Children Reauthorization Act, which will allot $20.2 million per year from 2015 to 2019 to institutions researching improvements in children’s care. However, the amount of annual funding actually will decrease from the current authorized amount for EMSC programs, which is $30 million. The Emergency Medical Services for Children program originally was established in 1984. In 2014, Vanderbilt received about $130,000 to investigate best practices for children’s emergency care.
Hurdles for Obama health law in 2nd sign-up season (Associated Press)
Potential complications await consumers as President Barack Obama’s health care law approaches its second open enrollment season, just two months away. Don’t expect a repeat of last year’s website meltdown, but the new sign-up period could expose underlying problems with the law itself that are less easily fixed than a computer system. Getting those who signed up this year enrolled again for 2015 won’t be as easy as it might seem. And the law’s interaction between insurance and taxes looks like a sure-fire formula for confusion. For example: • For the roughly 8 million people who signed up this year, the administration has set up automatic renewal.
Editorial: Better News on Insurance Premiums (New York Times)
The rate of growth on premiums for employer-based health coverage in the first five months of this year was one of the lowest in 16 years. Despite longstanding concerns that employer-sponsored coverage might become too costly to sustain, that market seems to have stabilized for now. That was one of several encouraging points in the latest survey of more than 2,000 small and large employers conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Health Research and Educational Trust. While the political debate about health care reform has focused on premiums in the new exchanges where people who buy their own policies can shop for private plans, the Kaiser survey focuses on the far larger market where some 150 million Americans are covered through their employers.