This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
Bill Haslam: New Tennessee Promise offers opportunity (Daily News Journal)
Tennessee high school seniors now have an opportunity to change the future — both for themselves and their families — but also for our state. Earlier this year, working with the General Assembly, we passed the Tennessee Promise, a new scholarship program that provides two years of community or technical college to graduating high school seniors absolutely free of tuition and fees. The Class of 2015 will be the first to take advantage of this program. Starting this month through Nov. 1, we are encouraging high school seniors to go online at www.TNPromise.gov to sign up. For many families, cost has been one the biggest hurdles to higher education.
Tennessee approves $28 million in improvements grants (TFP/Anderson)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty have announced more than $28 million in Community Development Block Grants to communities in the state for infrastructure, health and safety projects, and downtown improvements. Haslam, in a news release, said these grants “play an important role in helping communities … prepare for future economic development opportunities and continued growth.” The allocation of these funds is based on priorities set at local levels where community needs are best known, according to a release from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.
Haslam Not Looking to Repeal Hall Income Tax in 2015 (TN Report)
In light of Tennessee’s not-so-glowing revenue picture, Gov. Bill Haslam doesn’t think now is really the right time to be talking about phasing out the state’s tax on investment income. “The administration will not be proposing doing away with the Hall Income Tax, because we don’t see this year where we have the flexibility to do that,” Haslam told reporters Wednesday during a press conference at the state Capitol Wednesday. The tax, currently set at six percent of taxable income from investments and dividends over $1250 per person per year, was first established in 1929, six months before the stock market crash. The tax, named after state Sen. Frank S. Hall, is projected to raise $260 million for state and local governments for the 2014-15 fiscal year.
Top community-college students to be guaranteed UT spots (N-S/Boehnke)
Students who leave one of the state’s community colleges with an associate degree and a B-average will now earn guaranteed admission to the University of Tennessee. The new policy, approved by the system’s Board of Trustees on Friday, comes on the heels of the state’s new Tennessee Promise scholarship program. The Promise award guarantees two free years of community college to all of the state’s graduating seniors — something Knoxville and other campuses expect to drive up the enrollment of transfer students. “It provides them with clarity, because we are selective,” said UT Provost Susan Martin. “I think it’s a big mystery to these students: What does it take to get into UT? What do I need to do?”
UT to lawmakers: Pass a law if you don’t like Sex Week (News-Sentinel/Boehnke)
If lawmakers irked by Sex Week at the University of Tennessee want to pass a law to limit it, university officials won’t stand in their way. Anthony Haynes, UT’s vice president for government relations,told trustees Friday the school doesn’t have the time or resources to fight the now two-year battle surrounding the sometimes racy campus sex education program. Instead, UT will let First Amendment advocates fight any new laws in the court system. “My message and the president’s message is going to be, look, enough is enough,” Haynes said after the meeting. “You have the power of the pen to change the law. Just pass a law to make it illegal and fight it out in the courts.
Alexander ad ignores Ball, fires at Obama (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)
Republican U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s first political ad for the Nov. 4 general election doesn’t bother to mention Democratic rival Gordon Ball by name but has plenty to say about President Barack Obama. The 30-second spot, which begins airing statewide on Monday, features the two-term senator making the case that the choice this fall is between “one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda” and a new Republican Senate majority. “Obamacare’s a failure, border security’s a mess, terrorists run rampant and America’s drowning in debt,” Alexander says directly into the camera and thus viewers. “If that’s OK with you then vote for my opponent — he’ll be just one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda. “But America’s better than that,” Alexander says as an upbeat strain of music begins swelling in the background.
New Alexander ad ties opponent to Obama (News-Sentinel/Locker)
U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander’s campaign for re-election will start airing a new statewide television ad Monday that attempts to nationalize the Tennessee election by saying the choice for voters is either a new Republican-majority Senate or “one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda.” The 39-second spot shows the two-term senator and former governor speaking directly to the camera but never mentioning his Democratic challenger, Knoxville lawyer Gordon Ball, by name. In the ad, Alexander says: “Obamacare’s a failure, border security’s a mess, terrorists run rampant and America’s drowning in debt. If that’s OK with you, then vote for my opponent — he’ll be just one more vote for Barack Obama’s agenda. “But America’s better than that. Your vote can mean a new Senate majority where I can work to fix our broken system and get the right things done.” Ball’s campaign spokeswoman, Trace Sharp, said the Alexander ad is “interesting in that he never mentioned Tennessee.” She said the Ball camp expects to be airing its first TV ad of the general election campaign soon, probably next week.
Blackburn considers travel ban to stop Ebola (Tennessean/Troyan)
Federal officials shouldn’t rule out banning travel from certain Ebola-affected West African countries, Rep. Marsha Blackburn said Friday after visiting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. The Brentwood Republican said CDC officials are confident the current system of screening people before they leave West Africa is adequate to prevent an Ebola outbreak in other countries. “But I would like to see us keep all options on the table until we feel we’ve got a handle on this,” Blackburn said in a phone interview from Atlanta. U.S. health officials have resisted calls for a travel ban, saying it would impede efforts to halt the epidemic at its source.
Medicare fines Tennessee hospitals for readmission rates (Tennessean)
A majority of the hospitals in Tennessee are having to pay fines to Medicare for having readmissions rates that are too high, according to a report issued by Kaiser Health News. Among Middle Tennessee hospitals, Sumner Regional Medical Center got hit the hardest. The hospital had a 2.09 percent penalty for 2015, beginning this month. Saint Thomas Rutherford had the second highest penalty of 1.54 percent. TriStar Horizon had the third highest penalty at 0.91 percent. A listing of the data for all hospitals is available at the Kaiser website. The federal government’s penalties, which begin their third year this month, are intended to jolt hospitals to pay attention to what happens to their patients after they leave.
Volkswagen Chattanooga workers vote in UAW local election (TFP/Pare)
Volkswagen workers in Chattanooga who are members of United Auto Workers Local 42 voted Friday for a president and other officers for the first time, saying they’re making history. But VW plant employees who are UAW opponents said they’re still working toward the company recognizing their union as the employees’ bargaining agent, and they maintain that Local 42’s election of officers doesn’t lend it any further credibility. The local’s election in Chattanooga comes as the UAW on Friday stepped up its organizing efforts at the Mercedes plant in Vance, Ala., with the formation of a similar non-dues-paying unit there.
Clinton company opposes releasing details about incentives (N-S/Fowler)
Compared to the more than $300 million in incentives given German automaker Volkswagen for a huge expansion in Chattanooga, the variety of enticements awarded SL Tennessee for the promise of 1,000 more jobs and a massive new factory building in Clinton could be viewed as a bargain. The South Korean auto parts maker received a $5 million state grant; 53 acres, the last big tract of property in a Clinton industrial park; and $300,000 for repaving the industrial park’s main roadway after the new SL Tennessee building is completed. But there’s one incentive — from TVA — that hasn’t been made public and may not be released A News Sentinel Freedom of Information Act — or FOIA — request made Aug. 15 remains in limbo and is subject to denial because SL Tennessee has filed an objection to the release of that information.
Editorial: Great news on the jobless front, but… (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
The September jobless rate fell from the previous month’s 6.1 percent to 5.9 percent, the lowest in over six years — since July 2008 — when the recession was beginning to kick into high gear. The number broke the politically significant 6 percent barrier, delighting Wall Street and Main Street alike; GOP political strategists perhaps not so much. As a matter of practical politics, the 5.9 percent and the 248,000 jobs added that drove the rate to that level are likely to play little role in the November congressional elections. The lawmakers will have a hard time taking credit for the improvement since they were in Washington so seldom and accomplished little when they were. But if the rate holds, and even dips to the 5.5 percent level that gladdens the heart of the Federal Reserve, it could play a major role in the 2016 presidential elections. A thriving economy could make it harder for Democratic candidates to distance themselves from President Barack Obama and the new, very likely all-Republican Congress would have to build a record of solid economic legislation.