This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
In a first term packed with historic changes in Tennessee K-12 education, state civil service, lawsuit awards and other areas, Gov. Bill Haslam says it’s another one of his achievements that he sees rising to No. 1. “I’d put Tennessee Promise at the top,” the Republican said of his program offering all state high school graduates free tuition at 27 two-year public community colleges and technical schools. The governor’s comments came in a wide-ranging Christmas week interview with the Times Free Press. In it, he reflected on his first-term successes, lessons he’s learned during his first four years, the challenges he faces in his second term that starts Jan. 17 and what his political future might hold.
Making stormwater design more environmentally friendly means educating local developers and businesses, and several local entities are helping with the process. Later this month, TDEC will issue a guidance manual developed by the University of Tennessee’s Stormwater Assistance Research and Training Center, that will provide information about the new regulations and how to incorporate them into development projects. This Tennessee Runoff Reduction Assessment Tool will also include a software tool to help designers calculate whether a project meets the requirements. “It’s a way to assess a project plan to make sure that a project meets that pollution removal target,” said Andrea Ludwig, assistant professor of biosystems engineering and soil science at UT.
Six influenza-related deaths across the state this year — including three children, one from East Tennessee — have health care officials urging Tennesseans to take every precaution. Dr. Andrew Brown, who works for Mountain States Health Alliance at the First Assist Urgent Care in Johnson City, said this year’s strain of the flu is the worst he’s seen in this area in the past six years. “It’s seems to be more widespread,” Brown said. “We’re seeing volumes I can’t remember seeing in the last six years.” Brown said he’s still seeing a lot of patients who have not received the vaccine this year, but is also seeing many people who have been vaccinated but still come down with the flu. “The virus seemed to have mutated a bit and maybe they’ve guessed wrong,“ Brown said.
Tennessee’s laws are kind to property owners who get behind on their taxes. Now, because of Shelby County’s “huge problem” with vacant and abandoned properties, county Trustee David Lenoir and the city and county mayors are hoping the state Legislature will make those laws a little less generous. Their proposal focuses on the one-year period delinquent taxpayers have to redeem their properties once they go into a tax sale. Lenoir said that long wait discourages sales. Buyers think: “Why do I want to buy the property and be in this limbo period?” Last year, Lenoir, county Mayor Mark Luttrell and Memphis Mayor A C Wharton presented the Shelby County legislative delegation a plan they hope the Legislature will approve to speed up sales of unoccupied and abandoned sites.
President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and the vice president’s wife Dr. Jill Biden are coming to Tennessee Friday to announce a new higher education initiative. The White House announced the visit Saturday as part of a week-long trek across the country to tout presidential policies on housing, economic development and education. Details of the presidential visit are still scarce: the White House announcement did not say where in Tennessee Obama and the Bidens will visit. A White House press announcement reads: “On Friday, the president, vice president and Dr. Biden will travel to Tennessee to discuss new initiatives he will propose to help more Americans go to college and get the skills they need to succeed, and highlight the administration’s efforts to act on his own to create new, good paying manufacturing jobs.”
President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden are coming to East Tennessee on Friday to talk about new initiatives to help more Americans go to college and get the skills they need to succeed, the White House said Saturday. No other details about the event were released. But a White House email obtained by The News Sentinel indicated the event will be held in the Knoxville and Clinton areas. The Tennessee stop is one of several appearances Obama will be making next week to lay out specific policy proposals that will be included in his State of the Union address. Besides Tennessee, Obama will travel to Detroit on Wednesday, where he will highlight workers in the automotive and manufacturing industries.
President Obama plans to spend the weeks leading up to his State of the Union speech traveling across the country to promote different themes from it, a new approach by the commander in chief to the annual address to Congress. In previous years, the administration waited until the day before the speech to disclose what the president planned to talk about, hoping that the element of surprise increased its news value and reach. Typically, Mr. Obama went on the road the day after the address, like the two previous presidents, to push his agenda. But starting on Wednesday, according to the White House, Mr. Obama will begin a three-day, three-state trip in which he will lay out new executive actions and legislative policy proposals for higher education (Tennessee), housing (Arizona) and jobs (Michigan).
The Tennessee Valley Authority has had seven restructurings, including three major reorganizations, since Congress revamped the way the federal utility is governed a decade ago. A new audit shows the changes have been costly for TVA: Nearly half the 47 executives hired during the period left within the decade, at a cost of $7.4 million. Since 2004, when Congress replaced the three-member, full-time board with a nine-member, part-time board, TVA is not only paying its executives higher salaries, but has enlarged its leadership team and increased turnover expenses, an inspector general’s report found. The audit showed TVA had 54 executives last year when the report was completed, compared to 46 a decade ago, before the expanded board structure began. That’s a 17 percent increase.
Babcock & Wilcox Technical Services Y-12, which managed the Y-12 nuclear weapons plant for more than a decade, received a performance score of 78 on its final report card and a fee of about $46.5 million. Based on its performance score, B&W Y-12 received 78 percent of the maximum fee that was available — $59,388,289 — under the company’s former contract with the National Nuclear Security Administration. Consolidated Nuclear Security, a corporate partnership headed by Bechtel National, replaced B&W Y-12 as the Y-12 manager on July 1 following a hotly contested contract competition that took more than two years to complete because of multiple protests and other factors.
When talking with the people of our community, I always hear one very common theme: The message we need to be sending is that Tennessee is open for business! We know that in order for this economy to come roaring back, we need to get out of the way of our job creators, and ensure that we are not placing unnecessary burdens on business. We consider three main questions when reviewing legislation: Does it increase the size of government? Does it make it easier to start and operate a business in Tennessee? Does it keep us moving forward in reforming our educational system to meet the needs of the 21st Century? We need to be able to honestly answer these questions — we do not want to increase the size of government; we want to make it as easy as possible to start and operate a business in Tennessee; and we certainly want to ensure our education system is meeting the needs of our children so they are prepared to get a job in the real world, post-graduation.
Right now, it does not look like Memphis Mayor A C Wharton will be able to lasso seven votes on the Memphis City Council to support a school funding settlement he reached with Shelby County Schools Supt. Dorsey Hopson. But council member Shea Flinn, who is the council’s point man for mediation efforts to settle the issue, said the mayor’s surprise announcement “cut the legs” from under those efforts, jeopardizing any possibility for a settlement. He added that the mayor, who is running for re-election in October, was grandstanding for political points. The city would pay SCS $43.3 million in cash and credits over 13 years in the Wharton-Hopson agreement. The agreement would ask the city to pay $6 million by Feb. 1, then make annual payments ranging from $1.5 to $2.2 million for the next 13 years.
No one doubts that transportation problems only are going to worsen if population projections for Rutherford County are anywhere close to being accurate, but construction of a monorail between Murfreesboro and Nashville now seems an unlikely option. The monorail proposal has an advocate in state Sen. Bill Ketron, but a source of funding for the project’s current estimated cost of $1.3 billion is not clear. State officials now are discussing an increase in the gasoline tax just to fund current transportation projects, and that funding is not available for mass transit under current state law. The federal government also is in need of additional resources for transportation funding. Recent Nashville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization recommendations for regional transportation improvements, as County Mayor Ernest Burgess noted, have been for enhanced bus service between Murfreesboro and Nashville.
A firm co-founded by a University of Tennessee graduate has revived an idea for a better nuclear reactor born at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the 1960s. The biggest impediment to the development of a new-generation molten salt reactor, according to an essay by Josh Freed posted recently on the Brookings Institution website, is a lack of government funding for the research and development of next-generation nuclear power plants. With the growing need to transition toward energy sources that do not emit greenhouse gases, the Obama administration and Congress should give research funding for emerging nuclear technologies a higher priority. Mark Massie, who obtained a bachelor’s degree in nuclear engineering at UT before earning a Ph.D. at MIT, co-founded Transatomic Power Corp. to develop a molten salt reactor that would be safer to operate than conventional light-water reactors and help solve the nation’s mounting spent nuclear fuel problem.