This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam will participate in President Obama’s second College Opportunity Day of Action Thursday in Washington, along with the President, Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and education and business leaders. The governor’s office said the conference will bring together colleges and universities, business leaders, nonprofits and others who are committed to supporting more college opportunities for students across the country. Haslam is expected to detail his Tennessee Promise initiative, which will provide two years of free community college for high school graduates starting next fall with the high school class of 2015. Dr. Tristan Denley, vice chancellor for academic affairs at the Tennessee Board of Regents, will also participate, discussing approaches to help increase college completion rates among students.
NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam and University of Tennessee Chancellor Jimmy Cheek will participate in President Barack Obama’s second College Opportunity Day of Action on Thursday in Washington, along with the president, Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and education and business leaders. The governor’s office said the conference will bring together colleges and universities, business leaders, nonprofits and others who are committed to supporting more college opportunities for students across the country. Haslam is expected to detail his Tennessee Promise initiative, which will provide two years of free community college for high school graduates starting next fall with the high school class of 2015.
On Thursday, December 4th, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam will join President Obama and the First Lady at the White House College Opportunity Summit. The Summit will bring together colleges and universities, business leaders, nonprofits and others who are committed to supporting more college opportunities for students across the country. This year’s summit will focus on building sustainable collaborations in communities with strong K-12 and higher education partnerships to encourage college attendance, and supporting colleges to work together to dramatically improve persistence and increase college completion, especially for first generation, low-income, and under-represented students.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday he will have a better idea about whether state agencies will need to cut their budgets by 7 percent once he sees what state revenues are like in a couple of months. The Republican governor is holding budget hearings this week and spoke to reporters after his last hearing of the day. In August, Haslam asked state agencies to submit plans detailing how they would cut up to 7 percent of their budgets. Haslam has said the cuts are contingent on state revenues, and he hopes he doesn’t have to make them. He reiterated that sentiment on Tuesday. “To cut to 7 percent we would feel that in some real ways,” he said. “A lot of it depends on the revenue situation, which we’ll know more about in the next couple of months.”
Tennessee’s multi-million dollar corporate subsidies don’t get quite the same public scrutiny that the state budget is getting this week in live-streamed hearings with Governor Bill Haslam. So in an interview with WPLN, we press Haslam to justify his recent spending on economic development incentives, especially since he’s been asking for much of state government to do more with less. “Ultimately, the best thing we can do for the state is bring jobs,” Haslam says. “That will drive more revenue to the state than anything else.”
NASHVILLE – Fewer state troopers and longer wait times at Tennessee driver license services centers could be in store if Gov. Bill Haslam decides to accept a $9 million state Safety and Homeland Security Department plan to slash 7 percent in funding. Safety Commissioner Bill Gibbons outlined in a budget hearing this afternoon with Haslam what steps he would need to take if the department was required to cut the full 7 percent. The list includes abolishing 115 positions, including 73 road enforcement troopers and 30 part-time workers at driver license services centers across the state. “Obviously this would have a significant impact on our response time,” said Gibbons, who earlier pointed to strides the state has made in reducing traffic fatalities and boosting DUI enforcement as well as reducing waiting times at driver centers.
The state department that oversees the Tennessee Highway Patrol could cut 73 trooper positions among other moves in an effort to reduce costs, although none of the reductions or cuts is guaranteed. Bill Gibbons, commissioner for the Tennessee Department of Safety, said cutting the 73 positions and the 68 vehicles those troopers use could save the department almost $6.5 million. The cut would represent about a 12 percent reduction to the roughly 600 troopers employed in Tennessee, and Gibbons said the effects would be noticeable. “Obviously this would have a significant impact on our response time, because you’re having a situation where troopers are having to travel from one county to the next county to respond to a call,” Gibbons said during the department’s budget hearing Tuesday. The department uses a formula to determine where in the state those positions would be cut, Gibbons said.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – State law enforcement officials say the safety of motorists traveling Tennessee’s highways would be jeopardized if the Safety and Homeland Security Department has to cut 7 percent of its budget. The department was one of several Gov. Bill Haslam heard from during budget hearings on Tuesday. In August, the Republican governor asked state agencies to submit plans detailing how they would cut up to 7 percent of their budgets. Haslam has said the cuts are contingent on state revenues, and he hopes he doesn’t have to make them. However, if he does, the Safety Department, which oversees the Tennessee Highway Patrol, would have to cut more than 70 troopers. THP Col. Tracy Trott told reporters following Tuesday’s hearing that a reduction in troopers would have a drastic effect on the ability to reduce fatalities.
NASHVILLE — The state’s largest teachers’ union on Tuesday called on Gov. Bill Haslam to provide educators with a 6 percent pay increase next year to start carrying out his pledge to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state” in the nation on teacher pay. Carolyn Crowder, executive director of the Tennessee Education Association, said in a statement that teachers “are eagerly anticipating” Haslam’s budget hearing on Friday with Education Department officials “to see if he will start living up to that promise.” Haslam’s original fiscal year 2014-2015 budget, unveiled last winter, provided teachers a 2 percent increase. But the governor was forced to renege after tax collections fell $300 million below projections.
While it takes teachers in Nashville and Shelby County decades to reach their top salaries, Tennessee’s low cost of living makes both districts some of the best for teacher pay in the country, according to a new report released Wednesday. The report comes from the National Council on Teacher Quality, a national advocacy organization that says it aims to increase the number of effective teachers nationwide. In its report, it shows it takes teachers in Nashville, Shelby County and dozens of other districts decades to reach the average maximum salary of $75,000 for teachers nationwide. On average it takes teachers in Shelby County and Nashville more than 30 years to reach a salary that’s at least $75,000 a year, according to the report. The organization examined salary schedules for 125 districts across the country for the 2013-14 year
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) – The state’s largest teachers’ union is calling on Gov. Bill Haslam to increase teachers’ pay by 6 percent this year. The Tennessee Education Association issued a news release on Tuesday, three days before the governor is to hear a budget presentation from the state Education Department. Haslam is holding budget hearings with state agencies this week. The TEA said it would ultimately like to see a salary increase of 11.3 percent for teachers; 6 percent this year and the rest phased in over two to three years. The group said the increase could be built into the state’s school funding formula, or BEP. In 2013, Haslam vowed to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay. He told reporters on Tuesday that he’s still committed to that, even though he didn’t say how and or when he’d do it.
The Republican Governors Association has tapped a veteran committee insider, Georgia political hand Paul Bennecke, to serve as the group’s executive director under its newly elected chairman, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam. The influential staff job is among the most coveted positions in Republican politics, placing the occupant in the captain’s chair at a committee that routinely raises and spends hundreds of millions of dollars from one election cycle to the next. Senior advisers to multiple GOP governors sought the post. Bennecke has been a senior RGA strategist on and off for years, serving as the group’s political director from 2007 to 2010.
Two Sunnyview Primary School students and a teacher’s aide were killed Tuesday afternoon when a Knox County school bus unaccountably veered across the median of Asheville Highway and struck a second bus loaded with children from a neighboring school. Authorities continue to investigate what caused the fatal crash, which also sent 27 others, including students from Sunnyview Primary and Chilhowee Intermediate schools, to area hospitals. “This is an unspeakable tragedy,” Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre said. “We lost some members of our Knox County Schools family, some of our youngest children.”
NASHVILLE — Tennessee is banning trucks longer than 30 feet from using a twisty stretch of U.S. Route 129 that is known as The Dragon. The truck ban is welcome news to motorcyclists and sports car enthusiasts who flock to the mountain road famous for its 318 curves in 11 miles running along the western edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Ron Johnson, the owner of the Tail of the Dragon gift store near Robbinsville, North Carolina, called the decision “long overdue” because tractor-trailers pulling through tight turns can block both lanes of traffic and force cars and motorcycles off the road. “I’ve had three close calls on The Dragon, where I’m in the ditch and can’t get any further over,” he said. “And trucks come through and miss me by an inch.”
Flight instructor Nathan Hobbs was more than happy to show off a shiny new flight simulator at the Tennessee Air National Guard base in Memphis Tuesday. “I’m going to shoot you,” he said, summoning missiles from out of nowhere, causing the simulator screen to momentarily go dark. He switched the scenery from Memphis International Airport to Hickam Field, Hawaii. He taxied off the Memphis runway — virtually, of course — and parked in front of the 164th Airlift Wing’s $245 million base at the southeast corner of Memphis International. Later in the day, trainees practiced landing in Jalalabad, Pakistan, because one never knows where the Memphis-based C-17 Globemaster III cargo jets may be needed next. They’ve flown medical evacuation duty this year, ferrying medical teams and wounded soldiers between Afghanistan; Ramstein Air Base, Germany; and Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland.
CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. Military Advanced Education has named Austin Peay State University a top school in its 2015 MAE Guide to Colleges and Universities. The Guide, which measures best practices in military and veteran education, is available online at www.mae-kmi.com. The 2015 Guide features the results of a questionnaire on the military-supportive policies enacted at more than 600 colleges and universities. The purpose of the Guide is to provide students with information about institutions that go out of their way to support veterans and men and women in uniform. “We believe the Guide serves as an invaluable tool for both education services officers and transition officers when advising service members about their educational opportunities,” Kelly Fodel, MAE’s editor, said.
BLOUNTVILLE — Tennessee state Rep. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, says he agrees that Common Core standards need “tweaking,” but he’s not sure about the idea of allowing Virginia students to attend Tennessee schools tuition free. Lundberg said he firmly believes the state needs to adopt and maintain higher academic standards and that the public needs to be educated on exactly what Common Core is — and more importantly what it isn’t. “In this day and age, a lot of people on Facebook see it (a posting on Facebook) as fact,” Lundberg told the school board at its Monday night meeting. He is the first in a planned series of lawmakers to address the Sullivan County Board of Education each month. For the record, Common Core is only for math and English/language arts, not science, social studies or any other subject. However, groups opposed to Common Core have lumped it in with everything from complaints about sex education to social study standards, the later including complaints that Islam is too prominent and in depth in seventh-grade social studies.
The Tea Party candidate for Tennessee House speaker says establishment Republicans, including key advisers to Gov. Bill Haslam, created robocalls and emails attacking House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, in an attempt to undermine his candidacy for speaker. Rep. Rick Womick, R-Rockvale, said neither he nor his supporters created robocalls that are going out to members of the General Assembly. The calls attack Harwell personally, Womick said. He said he’s spoken with other GOP members who received the calls, but Womick said he’s never heard the call. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said his office is receiving “a lot” of the calls. Womick is quoted in the Nashville Scene accusing Haslam Chief of Staff Mark Cate and Haslam political adviser Tom Ingram of orchestrating the robocalls. Womick told The Tennessean he wasn’t “going to name names” but said he thought it was from people trying to “paint me as mean” and the same people who created the Advance Tennessee Political Action Committee.
Roy Herron, chairman of the Tennessee Democratic Party, was treated for a blocked artery to his heart Monday, according to a statement Herron released Tuesday evening. The statement said Herron experienced discomfort in his chest and immediately went to a hospital where medical care providers realized the artery was blocked, he said. Herron said he underwent a heart catheterization, that a stent was inserted into the artery and that now he is pain-free and out of danger. The former state senator also used his health emergency as an opportunity to express his views about healthcare in Tennessee. “By the grace of God, I dodged a bullet,” he said in the statement.
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton again are asking local members of the General Assembly to expand Medicaid coverage in Tennessee, saying Tuesday that Shelby County’s needs should rise above the din of political wrangling over the Affordable Care Act in Nashville. “We realize the political difficulties,” Wharton said at a meeting of the local statehouse delegation at the Pink Palace Museum. “We’re simply here as the children: mom and dad are having a little tussle, that’s fine, but we’re just here saying, ‘Hey, who’s going to take care of the folks over at the Med?’” — a reference to the Regional Medical Center. The mayors’ request was part of a seven-page, 17-item inventory of action they want the General Assembly to take in 2015.
WASHINGTON — Memphis Mayor A C Wharton will speak in Washington on Wednesday during a half-day summit on the future of cities. Wharton will join mayors from a dozen other cities for the summit, which is sponsored by Politico Magazine as part of its yearlong “What Works” reporting project. The project included a series of articles examining innovative ideas cities are trying in a time of urban reinvention. Besides Wharton, speakers are to include U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan; Shaun Donovan, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget; and mayors from Chattanooga, Atlanta, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, Fort Worth, Salt Lake City and Oklahoma City.
A Jackson manufacturing operation has announced plans to expand, creating 35 new jobs. Orchid Orthopedic Solutions Alabama LLC (Orchid Alabama), located at 2715 Bells Highway in Jackson, will invest $2.1 million for the project. The company is a worldwide leader in the contract design and manufacture of implants, instruments and innovative technologies for the orthopedic, dental and cardiovascular markets, according to a news release. “We are pleased that Orchid Alabama chose to grow in Jackson,” Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist said in the release from the Jackson Chamber. “Jackson is a thriving community that nurtures its industries, and we welcome this expansion.” Orchid established operations in Jackson in April of this year.
Launch Tennessee and its Silicon Valley media partner PandoDaily have gone their separate ways after co-producing this year’s Southland technology startup conference. Both organizations will instead hold their own Nashville events days apart from each other in June and at the same venue, Marathon Music Works, where Southland was held earlier this year. Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival will take place between the dates for the two conferences. Launch Tennessee’s rebranded event is called 36/86, representing the latitude and longitude of Nashville. It will be held June 8-10, preceded by regional “pitch fests” planned for key Southern cities. PandoDaily’s event — Pandoland — will be held June 15-17.
Bridgestone Americas took a big step forward Tuesday toward getting $56.3 million in Metro tax incentives and securing its headquarters relocation to downtown Nashville. The Metro Council voted 38-1 on a key second of three readings to give Bridgestone a 100 percent property tax discount over 20 years on a new 30-story tower it plans to move into at Fourth Avenue and Demonbreun Street in the booming SoBro neighborhood. There, the company intends to relocate its 1,100 employees who operate out of its existing Donelson-area headquarters in Nashville as well as 600 new workers who will relocate from office divisions in Illinois and Indiana.
The Volkswagen brand’s U.S. sales rose in November for just the second month this year, and an industry publication says the automaker is looking at bringing new variants of the Passat and planned CrossBlue SUV to the market. The moves are aimed at bolstering sales, which have flagged in the U.S. for the past couple of years, and VW could assemble one or more of the vehicles in Chattanooga, according to Car Magazine. “American car buyers love sedans and SUVs. Guess what VW does not have enough of?” the magazine said. Volkswagen of America reported Tuesday that sales rose 3.2 percent last month over a year ago, though the Chattanooga-made Passat sedan posted a 21.5 percent drop in November. For the year, VW’s overall sales of 332,911 are off 10.9 percent. Passat sales of 88,392 are down 12 percent for 2014.