Building Support for Road-Tax Hike Takes Time: Tracy

Jim Tracy, a Republican state senator from Shelbyville, has been traveling the state seeking input from Tennesseans about whether they’re OK with paying more at the pump to finance future road projects.

Short answer is, not yet, Tracy told reporters at a Tennessee Transportation Coalition event in Murfreesboro on Oct. 6.

As chairman of the Senate Transportation Committee, Tracy is in a key position to either thwart or advance any proposal by Gov. Bill Haslam to hoist Tennessee state government’s 21.4-cent-a-gallon tax on gasoline.

Tracy says the conversation about road funding needs to be approached as a long-range plan.

“One-time money won’t fix the problem,” he said. “We are $6 billion dollars in backlog with projects. We are going to have to look at long-term funding to fix it.”

In Tracy’s view, “We’ve got a couple three years to work on this problem.” So he doesn’t feel pressure to ram a tax-hike through in the coming session, which begins in January 2016.

“I just don’t think we are ready to do it yet,” he said.

“This will be a process that I will be doing over the next year,” Tracy added.

According to the Tennessee Department of Transpiration, the state’s current-level gas tax yields about $658 million per year.

Haslam on Israel Trip

Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Republican governor, visited Israel for a few days in early September. He briefly spoke with TNReport about the trip following an event in Lenoir City on Sept. 10.

“The first priority was to strengthen economic development,” Haslam said.

“Israel has become a real high-tech nation,” the governor continued. “And a lot of technical discoveries, particularly around health care, where Tennessee is strong, have been made. We went over there to see, are there potential partnerships or investments that could happen that would benefit the state long term.”

A large health care provider in Northern Israel issued a press release following Haslam’s visit saying the governor and his wife, Crissy, had stopped in with a visiting entourage “to see the latest innovations in healthcare and to discuss collaboration between the state and the hospital.”

Alexander: Obamacare Not Going Away Anytime Soon

Lamar Alexander, who chairs the powerful Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, says GOP lawmakers in Washington likely don’t have the numbers or the political leverage to dramatically roll back the Affordable Care Act before the 2016 election.

Nevertheless, he predicts some kind of legislation will clear the House and Senate that’s aimed at easing ACA mandates on the level of coverage Americans are required to carry in order to avoid penalties from the IRS.

“I think it is very likely you will see us try one more time to get something to the president that would change give Americans a chance to buy lower-cost insurance that fits their health care needs and fits their budget,” he told TNReport after a speech at the the Rotary Club in Oak Ridge on Sept. 3.

Privatization, Outsourcing Could Benefit Taxpayers: Haslam

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says his administration is studying ways to deliver government services cheaper and more efficiently, which may include greater reliance on outsourcing and privatization.

“Our responsibility is to provide the very best service at the very lowest cost,” the governor said in an interview with TNReport. “For six and a half million Tennesseans, there is always way more demand for government services than there is our ability to fund those.”

Haslam said his administration has asked private companies to provide proposals for how they might manage or run a range of government services. “We are not saying we’re actually going to do anything differently, but we are asking for information to see who is interested in even making a proposal, so we are a long way from changing anything,” he said.

“As government, we owe it to our people to always be saying, ‘Are we doing it the best way we can?’,” said Haslam, a Republican who served two terms as mayor of Knoxville before winning Tennessee’s highest statewide elected post.

Tennessee Democrats are criticizing Haslam for considering private alternatives to having state employees perform government functions.

“In privatization, what usually happens is a private company comes in and the first thing they do is cut jobs and they cut wages and benefits,” Mary Mancini, the state Democratic Party chairwoman, said in a press conference Aug. 26. “So this is absolutely is about jobs.”

Mancini and Democratic lawmakers, who are vastly outnumbered in both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly, question whether privatization and outsourcing produce tangible and lasting benefits for taxpayers. “Where is the accountability and where are the real-cost savings,” Mancini said in a press release this week.

Haslam Touring TN to Talk Transportation Funding

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is traveling the state to discuss backlogs of yet-to-be-paid-for road-building and repair projects. The governor is joined here by Department of Transportation Commissioner John Schroer at the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce on Aug. 13.

Haslam says a public “conversation” is needed about what he describes as a significant funding shortfall that’s developed as vehicles become more and more fuel efficient, thus reducing the amount of fuel-tax collected by the state compared to actual roadway usage.

Jeb Bush Press Conference in Nashville

Jeb Bush headlined a GOP fundraiser in Nashville on May 30. The former Florida governor, who is eying a run for president, took questions about Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul’s criticism of American’s domestic spying program and foreign policy, as well as Common Core and health care for the poor. Bush was flanked by Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, as well the state GOP newly elected party chairman, Ryan Haynes, and members of the state’s Republican congressional delegation, including Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander and Rep. Diane Black.

GOP Unity, Electoral Gains a Priority for Haynes

Knoxville Republican State Rep. Ryan Haynes talks with TNReport about his candidacy to seek the chairmanship of the Tennessee Republican Party.

Haynes declared his interest in seeking the post following the announced resignation of current party Chairman Chris Devaney, who has served in that role since 2009, and was just re-elected to the post in December.

Haynes, who will turn 30 in May, has served his East Tennessee district in the General Assembly since 2009.

No Details Yet on Tentative GOP Medical Cannabis Bill

Details of possible GOP-sponsored legislation allowing the use of cannabis for treatment of certain ailments still aren’t yet hashed out.

A trio of Republican state lawmakers last week announced their tentative support for at least considering having a discussion on a limited medical marijuana bill.

State Sens. Mark Green of Clarksville and Steven Dickerson of Nashville, as well as Rep, Ryan Williams of Cookeville, told reporters last week that they didn’t yet have any solid aspects of the bill sorted out.

They were hoping to have a bill drafted with more solid information by Monday, but that doesn’t look to have happened.

The lawmakers proposal would likely go further than allowing low-THC oils for medical use, but not as far as legalizing “street” uses of marijuana, such as edibles.

Williams told TNReport late Monday that they were still working on drafting the legislation, and no other specific features were yet available.

Dickerson told the Tennessean Monday that the bill would likely deal with the low-THC oils, but would expand the use of that oil to individuals with other medical ailments.

Lt. Gov. Ramsey Liked ‘Insure TN’ at First, But Details Raised Doubts

Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey initially supported Gov. Bill Haslam’s Medicaid expansion plan, dubbed “Insure Tennessee,” when it was first unveiled in December. But the more he learned about it, the more Ramsey grew skeptical that it could work.

Under the terms of “Insure Tennessee,” enrollees would pay a nominal out-of-pocket fee when they they seek medical care. Ramsey, Tennessee’s lieutenant governor, said he very much favors co-pays as a condition of people accessing taxpayer-financed health care.

However, he became skeptical the co-pay requirements would in fact be enforceable in any consistent manner. And if co-pays can’t be dependably collected, then the whole structure of “Insure Tennessee” could collapse, he said.

Harwell: Medicaid Expansion in TN a Nonstarter Until Obama Leaves Office

Majority-party members of the Tennessee House of Representatives won’t likely be talking too seriously about any plans to expand Medicaid — at least until a new president takes office, the chamber’s ranking lawmaker said Thursday.

House Speaker Beth Harwell said attitudes may shift once President Obama leaves the White House, but Republicans will likely want much more latitude to run the program than the feds have allowed in the past. “Perhaps there is a possibility in a couple years with a different president if we could go forward and ask for a block grant from D.C., that puts it in a whole new perspective, and I think we would be able to reexamine it then,” Harwell said.

Harwell doesn’t anticipate the House approving any proposals to expand Medicaid or adopt the governor’s “Insure Tennessee” in wake of the the proposal’s demise in a special session a week ago. “We have other things that the body as a whole needs to address this session,” she said. “We have been through a week of special session and now we are on to ether items.”

Speaker Harwell made these remarks to TNReport Feb. 12.