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AG Pressed to File Suit Over FCC Broadband Ruling

A trio of prominent Tennessee House Republicans on Tuesday called for the state’s attorney general to challenge the Federal Communications Commission’s recent decision to strike down state restrictions on municipal broadband expansion.

Last week the FCC ruled in favor of the Electric Power Board of Chattanooga and their request to set aside a 1999 Tennessee law limiting municipal electric providers to offering internet services only within their electric footprint.

House Majority Whip Jeremy Durham and House GOP Caucus Chairman Glen Casada, both of Franklin, as well as Dresden Rep. Andy Holt, vice chairman of the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, are urging state Attorney General Herbert Slatery to fight back against what they term the FCC’s “unconstitutional violation” of Tennessee’s sovereignty.

The three Republicans are accusing the FCC of having “usurped Tennessee law.”

In a press conference at the state Capitol Tuesday, Durham questioned the legality and appropriateness of “an unelected, federal body…overturn(ing) laws that have been made by the duly elected members of the Tennessee General Assembly.”

“I believe it’s another example of federal overreach. It doesn’t have to be the pen of Barack Obama and an executive order, sometimes it’s these unelected bodies like the FCC,” Durham said.

Whether or not the FCC ruling constitutes “good public policy or bad,” isn’t so much the issue as that the subverting of state laws sets “a very dangerous precedent,” said Durham.

According to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, the decision was made because “some states” have limited competition by designing “thickets of red tape,” and through its action, the commission is “cutting away that red tape consistent with Congress’s instructions to encourage the deployment of broadband.”

EPB officials, though cautious of possible pending litigation, praised the decision last week.

“Many neighbors have been struggling with the economic and educational disadvantages of not having access to broadband services. We are looking for the quickest path forward to help those neighbors join the 21st century information economy,” said Harold DePriest, EPB’s president and CEO, in a press release.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters Tuesday he’s still weighing options and mulling the FCC ruling and hadn’t made a decision on if he supports Tennessee appealing. “Before you decide to appeal something, you have to make certain that there’s a reasonable reason to do that,” Haslam said, adding that he’ll be looking to Slatery for guidance on the issue.

Haslam said he recognizes “value” in people gaining access to high-speed Internet if it is otherwise unavailable, but there are also concerns about “the local government subsidizing something that makes it hard for business to compete.”

The General Assembly’s Democrats issued a press release Tuesday afternoon criticizing the governor and lawmakers for working “to limit consumer choice,” instead of supporting the FCC’s decision to expand the choice for Tennesseans.

According to both chambers minority leaders — Memphis Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley — Tennessee consumers “consider the matter settled” with the FCC ruling, and “don’t care so much about these technicalities,” if it means having access to high speed internet service.

Tullahoma Sen. Janice Bowling, a Republican, is pushing legislation this year to let municipal electric companies offer their services to what she called the “under-served or un-served” areas of the state.

Neither chamber has taken action on the bill.

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Haslam Releases 2015 Legislative Agenda

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 10, 2015:

Bills include last-dollar scholarships to community college for adult learners 

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today filed legislation that is reflected in his FY 2015-16 budget proposal. The bills are a result of the governor’s continued focus on more Tennesseans earning a post-secondary credential, supporting teachers across the state and building a more customer-focused, efficient and effective state government.

“These legislative proposals build on the Drive to 55, our effort to raise the percentage of Tennesseans with a degree or certificate beyond high school from 32 to 55 by the year 2025.  We know that just reaching high school graduates won’t be enough to reach our goal, so we’re specifically looking to get adults with some college credit to go back and earn their degree,” Haslam said.

“Along with including $100 million in the budget for teacher salaries, the proposals are also aimed at supporting educators in meaningful ways, and we are always looking for ways to recruit, reward and retain the best and brightest to serve in state government.”

The governor’s legislation, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga), includes:

  • The Community College Reconnect Grant pilot program would use a one-time payment of $1.5 million in lottery funds in the FY 2015-16 budget proposal to provide last-dollar scholarships to adults with some college credit to attend a community college. In Tennessee there are nearly 1 million adults with some post-secondary credit but no degree, and this is an additional component of the governor’s Drive to 55 initiative.
  • The Educators’ Liability Trust Fund would provide personal liability coverage to teachers free of charge. While many teachers are covered through their school districts’ insurance plans, the governor heard from many in his conversations around the state that they are concerned they’re not adequately covered and teachers end up paying for liability protection at their own expense. This year’s budget proposal includes a one-time appropriation of $5 million to establish the fund to provide coverage.
  • The Revenue Modernization Act would help keep Tennessee a low tax state by leveling the playing field between in-state companies and out-of-state companies doing business in Tennessee. The proposal would also seek to close certain loopholes by adapting to changes in the way products are bought and sold. The proposed legislation includes:
    • Addressing “nexus” in sales and use, franchise and excise, and business taxes;
    • Adopting market-based sourcing of services to determine which state counts the sale of service for tax purposes when a company conducts business in more than one state;
    • Making Tennessee’s tax structure more competitive with surrounding states by changing the way a multi-state company’s income and net worth is taxed for franchise and excise purposes;
    • And allowing the use of software and video games being accessed remotely to be subject to sales tax as if they had been purchased or downloaded.
  • The Compensation Enhancement Act continues the administration’s focus on recruiting, retaining and rewarding a talented state government workforce by adapting longevity payments to help implement the market- and performance-based compensation plan. Since the governor took office, $139.4 million has been allocated in the state budget for salary increases, and the FY 2015-16 budget proposal includes another $47.7 million for salary increases. Under the proposal, executive branch employees would receive a permanent increase to their base salary equal to half of the longevity payment due, effective July 2015. The remaining half of the longevity payment would be reallocated to the state’s General Fund and then used to fund market- and performance-based salary increases.
  • The State Health Insurance Reform legislation aims to address the rising state employee retirement health care costs and give the state flexibility to offer more competitive total compensation packages and to design benefits for state employees. Key changes include:
    • The state would have the flexibility to offer a defined contribution or defined benefit to current employees for pre-65 retiree health insurance, reflecting the practice of most large private sector employers, and state and local education employees hired after July 1, 2015, would not be eligible for pre-65 retiree health insurance;
    • The State Insurance Committee would have the flexibility to change the percent subsidy that is given to the active state employees by offering one basic health plan;
    • After July 1, 2015, no part time state employee may be eligible for any insurance plan while current employees working 1,450 hours or more per year will be grandfathered into the plan;
    • The state would not offer Medicare Supplement Insurance under the state and teacher insurance plans for employees hired after July 1, 2015.

The governor previously filed the following three pieces of legislation in January: the Tennessee Teaching Evaluation Enhancement Act, Protection of Volunteer-Insured Drivers of the Elderly (PROVIDE) Act, and the Tennessee Promise Implementation Adjustments Act.

Full Haslam Remarks from Extraordinary Session Launch

Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; February 2, 2015:

Lt. Gov. Ramsey, Speaker Harwell, and members of the Tennessee General Assembly:

Let me begin by thanking you for the opportunity to come before you as you begin this Special Session. Calling a Special Session, which I’ve never done before, is not something I take lightly. I understand the difficulty of the subject we will be discussing. Issues surrounding health care are complex, and the politics can seem difficult, but there are few challenges facing our state or our country today as great as those presented by our broken health care system. I just don’t believe that we can sit back and do nothing.

It might be worth it to remind ourselves how we got here. In 2010, Congress passed the Affordable Care Act. It was a massive piece of legislation that passed on a totally partisan basis. It was incredibly controversial then, and today, over five years later, it remains controversial.

In June of 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on a question about the legality of the Affordable Care Act. In a somewhat surprising ruling, they determined that the Affordable Care Act was constitutional but that the federal government could not force states to expand their Medicaid programs. Every state was left to decide on its own whether or not to cover the newly eligible population. While some states immediately decided that they would, others quickly said no. In Tennessee, we took time to evaluate our options to find the right answer for our state. In March of 2013, almost two years ago, I was in this chamber to tell you that Tennessee would not expand our Medicaid program. Expanding a broken system doesn’t make sense. But, I also didn’t think that flat out saying no to accepting federal dollars that Tennesseans are paying for, that are going to other states, and that could cover more Tennesseans who truly need insurance made much sense either.

So we started the work to find a third way – a Tennessee Plan. A plan that would leverage those federal dollars to really begin the work of fixing what is wrong with our health care system, to better align incentives for providers and consumers.

Regardless of where you are on the political spectrum, I think everyone agrees that our current system of health care does not work. It doesn’t work in two ways – access nor cost. First, there are too many people who need medical care that aren’t getting it. Secondly, everyone should realize that we have to do something to address health care costs.

My problem with Obamacare is that they took on one of those issues – providing more access to health care for folks without insurance coverage – but they did nothing to address the issues around the cost of health care. That was wrong then, and it’s wrong now.

In Tennessee, we want to do something to address that: To have a plan that leverages those federal dollars to really begin the work of fixing what’s wrong with our healthcare system; To better align incentives for providers and consumers; To move away from a fee-for-service, completely volume-driven structure to an outcomes, value-based approach for our providers; And we saw an opportunity for more Tennesseans to be covered in a way that would make them active participants in their health, with skin in the game, and reward them for healthy choices.

After nearly two years of hard work, we have a Tennessee-specific plan that addresses health outcomes and cost. This is not Obamacare. If it was, it wouldn’t have taken us this long to negotiate. We have done what you asked us to do and what we said we would do. We found a unique, Tennessee solution. Here’s how it works:

Insure Tennessee is a two-year pilot program that will not create any new taxes for Tennesseans and will not add any state cost to the budget. Once the 100 percent federal match is lowered to its eventual 90 percent, the Tennessee Hospital Association has committed that the industry will cover any additional cost to the state. The program will automatically terminate in the event that either federal funding or support from the hospitals changes in any way. The plan will provide two new options of health care coverage not currently provided in a traditional Medicaid program.

The first is called the Volunteer Plan. It will provide a voucher to participants that they can use to take part in their employer’s health insurance plan. The voucher will be used to pay for premiums and other out-of-pocket expenses that are associated with private market plans.

The second is called the Healthy Incentives Plan. Participants in that plan could choose to receive coverage through a re-designed program of TennCare, which would introduce healthy incentives for Tennesseans, or HIT accounts, which are modeled after health reimbursement accounts and could be used to pay for a portion of the required cost sharing.

Insure Tennessee introduces personal responsibility and patient engagement through choice, incentives, and co-pays in a way that doesn’t happen with Medicaid.

I want you to know how much I appreciate all of you who have truly dug in on this issue. I know there are a lot of honest questions, and I have been impressed with how many of you really are trying to find the right answer for you, your district, and our state. Many of you are concerned about what might happen if the federal government changes the rules, or if the hospitals change their mind about the assessment fee, or if after two years we decide that this is not right for Tennessee. In any of those events, we have the clear authority to end the program. There is a Supreme Court ruling, an Attorney General’s opinion, and a letter from the Secretary of Health and Human Services that affirm our right to do that.

Many of you have asked: “Will we really want to cut people from the rolls?” After all, Tennessee has been down that road before, and many of you were here 10 years ago when we went through the painful experience of doing that.

I’ve thought about that long and hard and intentionally set the program up as a two-year pilot so that if that decision has to be made, it would be made in a time while I am still governor instead of passing it on to my successor.

The way I answer that question is this: Imagine it’s your loved one that is in need of health care and has no way to pay for it now. He or she is like a man we heard about in Jackson two weeks ago. He was a carpenter who suffered from hypertension. He didn’t have insurance, so he didn’t have a primary care physician and used the emergency room when something went wrong. Because his hypertension wasn’t managed through preventative and regular care, he ended up having a stroke. That landed him in the hospital, followed by rehabilitation, and now he is unable to work.

He was a hard working Tennessean that wasn’t able to get the care he needed on the front end and that has real consequences for him and his family. It also means added cost for the rest of us. Having a stroke wasn’t only devastating to him and his family, it could have been prevented, and not preventing it is costly to all of us. It’s about getting the right care, at the right time, in the right place.

If you gave your loved one an option – you can have health coverage now to address your very real need and with that the possibility that you might lose it in the future, or you could never have it – which would you choose? If you think about your loved one, I bet the answer is simple.

I know that many of you are worried about the reliability of the federal government as our partner. I understand the concern, but I think it’s worthy of mention that the United States of America has never missed a scheduled Medicaid payment.

Some have said that this is about bringing Obamacare to Tennessee. It’s not. Tennesseans are already paying increased taxes due to Obamacare, and there are 150,000 people in this state receiving health care subsidies from Obamacare. And guess what? On average, those people are making three times more than the Tennesseans that would be covered through Insure Tennessee. That’s Obamacare, but that’s not what we’re talking about. This is a chance to make a real difference in health care.

Finally, I know that many of you share my concern about our state becoming even more reliant on a federal government that is deeply in debt. I think all of you know my view on budgets. Next week I will be presenting to you my fifth budget as the governor of the state of Tennessee, and we have a track record of being able to make hard decisions. We have a record of fiscal responsibility that is second to none, and I would never do anything to endanger the financial strength that so many have worked so hard to build.

On the federal government side, I would not do this if I didn’t honestly believe that our efforts will ultimately have a real impact on controlling health care costs in our country. Our country is not going to fix this issue around the deficit or around our national debt until we solve the health care cost crisis.

We should all be upset that Congress and President Obama passed a plan that did not do that when they had the chance. But we do have the chance. And that is why I’m recommending this plan.

As a Republican elected leader, I feel like we owe the country answers as to what we would do about health care. For too long, we’ve said what we don’t like – mainly Obamacare. This is a chance to show what we would do. We talk frequently about wishing Washington would just block grant Medicaid to us. I still wish they would do that. And if they did do it, we would come up with a plan that looks a lot like this. Admittedly, we would go further and take more steps, but the plan would look a lot like this.

I think this is also an issue about who we are. My faith doesn’t allow me to walk on the other side of the road and ignore a need that can be met – particularly in this case, when the need is Tennesseans who have life-threatening situations without access to health care. Particularly when the need can be met like this one can, without cost to our state, with money that our state is currently being taxed for and is sent elsewhere, and with a plan that can help answer one our nation’s biggest issues.

I know and fully appreciate that for many, the easiest thing is to say: “This is Obamacare, and I want nothing to do with it.”

I would ask you to look past the easy political argument and do what Tennesseans have always done – come up with a plan that addresses Tennesseans’ needs and do it in a fiscally responsible way. Like many of you, I didn’t come to state government just to make a point. I came to make a difference.

We have the chance to make a difference – a difference that will improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans and at the same time to begin attacking the out of control health care costs that have driven our state and our country for too long.

Two years ago, the General Assembly made two requests of us: First, to bring a unique and specific plan to Tennessee that met the needs of our citizens and was financially responsible for our state and the country; And second, to bring that plan back to the General Assembly for a vote.

I have done both of those things.

This plan is overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and Democrats in our state.

Tonight, I am asking for your vote to help Insure Tennessee.

AFP-TN Urges Rejection of Haslam “Insure TN” Plan

Press release from Americans for Prosperity-Tennessee; January 22, 2105:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee is considering expanding Medicaid under Obamacare with the Insure Tennessee program.  States that have chosen to expand Medicaid have faced unexpected financial hardship and skyrocketing healthcare costs.

The long-term financial liabilities and lack of a reliable exit clause are two of the many concerns with Insure Tennessee’s Obamacare expansion. Many have questioned whether it’s possible to opt-out of Medicaid expansion under Obamacare once implemented.

As states attempt to end their participation, Tennessee should watch and see how it plays out. There could be fallout from the federal government suing states or withholding traditional Medicaid funding, placing truly vulnerable citizens at risk.

Ballooning enrollment and uncontrollable costs put expansion plans in competition with other state priorities such as education, public safety and infrastructure.

“We are calling on our state officials to reject Obamacare expansion in Tennessee,” said Andrew Ogles, state director of Americans for Prosperity Tennessee.”Despite untrustworthy promises from the Obama administration that we can ‘try it before we buy it,’ this is the same administration that said, ‘If you like your doctor you can keep your doctor.’ Our state does not need to go down the same disastrous road.”

FGA: Legislators Who Support Insure TN Could Face Trouble in 2016

Press release from the Foundation for Government Accountability; January 20, 2015:

Nearly 80% of Volunteer State Voters Upset by $716 B in Cuts to Services for Seniors and the Needy to Pay for Insure Tennessee

A majority of Tennessee voters stand against ObamaCare’s Medicaid Expansion once they learn the true impacts the program will have on the state, with almost 60 percent of them opposed, says a Foundation for Government Accountability poll released today.

The poll was conducted after Gov. Bill Haslam reversed his opposition to ObamaCare to support Washington’s goal of expanding the welfare state in Tennessee, in spite of the lessons learned by the state’s failed TennCare program. Not too long ago, the TennCare Medicaid expansion nearly bankrupted the budget and forced lawmakers to kick hundreds of thousands of people off of the program to keep the state afloat. When reminded of the TennCare Medicaid expansion disaster, 62 percent of Tennessee voters said they were less likely to support the ObamaCare expansion Gov. Haslam’s wants today.

With ObamaCare still toxic, and the nightmares of the TennCare expansion debacle still fresh in peoples’ minds, Gov. Haslam is seeking to rebrand his ObamaCare Medicaid expansion plan, calling it “Insure Tennessee,” to dupe voters and legislators into thinking his welfare state expansion is both Tennessee-centric and market-based.

“There is nothing Tennessee-centric about caving to the dictates of Washington’s health care takeover through ObamaCare. Call it what you want, but the federal strings will be the same, the budget crunches will be the same, and the risks to patients and taxpayers will be the same. Insure Tennessee is ObamaCare expansion in disguise,” said FGA CEO Tarren Bragdon.

“Tennessee was able to climb out of the hole it dug itself after the TennCare expansion, but that may not be the case this time around. After the ObamaCare Medicaid expansion raises premiums, after the feds renege on their promises, after truly needy patients are pushed to the back of the line, the state may have no legal way to back out.”

While the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion was optional—doing so would turn these new expansion enrollees into a so-called mandatory population—the court did not clarify whether a state can back out of an ObamaCare expansion after passing it without losing their federal funding for all Medicaid enrollees. Upon learning that the state may not be able to reverse its decision after it expands Medicaid, two-thirds of Tennessee voters said they were less supportive. 73% of voters said they were less likely to support Haslam’s ObamaCare expansion plan knowing it could rob funding for critical priorities including education, safety and roads.

“Tennesseans don’t want Gov. Haslam’s ObamaCare Medicaid expansion. It’s time for the legislature to stand up for their citizens and protect them from a massive expansion of ObamaCare,” said Bragdon. “Gov. Haslam may be captivated by the allure of allegedly free money from Washington, but leaders in the Legislature need to keep a clear head and fight for what’s right for the people of Tennessee.”

When Haslam starts talking with legislators about Insure Tennessee, someone should remind him that the people of Tennessee don’t want to see the care of their parents, their health care system, their taxes, and their state jeopardized just so he can win points with the President. That’s no way for a conservative leader to lead, and that’s why 57 percent of Tennesseans and 78 percent of Republicans say they are less likely to reelect a candidate if they support ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion, Insure Tennessee.

The FGA poll can be viewed here.

Haslam Touts First-Term Successes, Pledges Continued Emphasis on Education, Economy

Republican Bill Haslam is promising that one thing he definitely won’t do in his second term as governor is “coast to the finish line.”

“Four years from now, someone else will be standing in this spot and preparing to take over leadership of Tennessee,” Haslam said in his inaugural address after being administered the oath of office on Saturday by Tennessee Chief Justice Sharon Lee. “I feel an obligation to pass the baton to him or her with the state as prepared for the future as we can be.”

Haslam was first elected to the state’s highest office in a landslide in 2010. Four years later, in 2014, he faced no serious opposition and won with an even larger percentage of the popular vote. And the governor promised that over the course of the next four years he’ll continue focusing on two of the issues that he touts as his areas of greatest achievement in his first term.

“In education, we are now the fastest improving state in the country. Our high school graduation rates have increased from 76 percent to 88 percent over the past decade,” said Haslam, who prior to becoming governor served two terms as mayor of Knoxville. “There are now 100,000 more kids proficient at grade-level in math, and more than 57,000 additional students are proficient at grade-level in science. The number of students needing remedial math when they get to community college has decreased by 10 percent.”

He also talked up his “Tennessee Promise” program, launched last year, that offers two free years of college to any graduating high school senior.

“We are the first state ever to promise high school graduates the chance to attend community college or technical school free of tuition and fees,” said the governor.

Haslam noted that with respect to drawing successful businesses to Tennessee — something he said his administration has made a key priority — the skills and overall preparedness of prospective employees are crucial points of interest to corporate executives considering a move or expansion.

“Every company I talked to looked me in the eye and expressed their concern about whether Tennessee’s workforce is ready for tomorrow’s challenge,” Haslam told the several-hundred strong audience that turned out for the noontime ceremony on the south steps of the state Capitol. “Every company emphasized to me that we needed to quickly increase the percentage of our population with a certificate or degree beyond high school. To achieve that, we have to make certain that our students graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education.”

Haslam’s comments were well received by both Democrats and Republicans on hand for the event — and for mostly the same reasons. Prominent members of both parties said they appreciated both his optimism and vow to keep fully engaged throughout his second term.

Tennessee House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh likes that Haslam plans to press an aggressive policy agenda.

“I don’t want him to just sit down and let these last four go by,” said Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. “I am ready for him to press forward on some of these issues.”

Fitzhugh said he has “a good working relationship” with the Republican governor. If Haslam is “a little accommodating” and commits himself to remaining “open to compromise,” then the next four years should be good for Tennessee, he said.

“Today is a great day to be optimistic about our state,” said Fitzhugh.

Likewise, Chris Devaney, chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party, appreciates that Haslam is assuring Tennessee “he’s not going to let off the pedal” in the homestretch. “He has been somebody that has had innovative ideas for moving the state forward on education and economic development, so we are excited about the next four years,” Devaney said.

He brushed off suggestion that Haslam, viewed as a centrist or even a liberal within the GOP, could himself become an increasingly divisive figure within his own party, which dominates both chambers of the Tennessee Legislature.

“As the family continues to grow, like in any big family, there are going to be arguments within the family,” said Devaney, who in December won a fourth term as leader of the TNGOP. “I think that at the end of the day, people have seen the good things that Bill Haslam has done and suggested. He has really been moving the state forward, so I think we are really going to have a good four years.”

Haslam Inaugurated to Second Term, Looks Ahead

 Press release from the office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; January 17, 2015:

Improving educational opportunities and outcomes for Tennesseans critical

NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam today was sworn in for his second four-year term as the 49th governor of Tennessee, addressing thousands of Inaugural attendees from across the state on War Memorial Plaza with the State Capitol serving as the backdrop.

“One thing I can guarantee you that we are not going to do in the next four years is coast to the finish line,” Haslam said.  “The decisions that we make in the building behind me are too important; too important to the 6.5 million Tennesseans who are alive today and even more important for the generations that will follow us.”

The governor called on Tennesseans to work together to build on the state’s successes and momentum.

“It’s about all of us. The governor, legislators, state employees, teachers, parents, community leaders, business executives, health care professionals, faith leaders, and citizens of all kinds saying: ‘We are on the right path, but we can do better, and we must do better,’” he added.

“We can be a state government that treats its citizens like customers and gives full value for every tax dollar that is paid.  Tennessee can be the very best location in the southeast for high quality jobs. Most importantly, we can make sure that we get education right.  There is nothing more important for us to do.”

Haslam charted progress that has been made in Tennessee during his first four years in office, especially in his priority areas of a well-managed, efficient and effective state government; better educational opportunities and outcomes for more Tennesseans; and high-quality, good paying Tennessee jobs. Highlights include:

Efficient and Effective State Government

  • Tennessee has the lowest debt per person of any of the 50 states.
  • Tennessee tax rates are among the lowest in the country.
  • Overhaul of the state’s outdated employment system allows the state to now recruit, reward and retain the best and brightest to serve in state government.

Education

  • Tennessee is the fastest improving state in the country in academic achievement.
  • There are now 100,000 more kids proficient at grade-level in math, and more than 57,000 additional students are proficient at grade-level in science since 2011.
  • Tennessee is the first state in the country to promise high school graduates two years of community or technical college free of tuition and fees.

Jobs

  • 210,000 net new private sector jobs have been created in Tennessee since January 2011.
  • Tennessee named “State of the Year” in economic development for an unprecedented two years in a row.
  • Implemented tort reform and overhauled the state’s worker’s compensation system to further strengthen the state’s business climate.

The governor highlighted Tennessee’s leading status in the automotive manufacturing sector as well as other advanced manufacturing and technological industries where the state is at the center of innovation.  He also addressed challenges facing the state, including concerns about whether Tennessee’s workforce has and will have the technical skills and ability to meet the demands of a rapidly changing global economy.

“I see the job of governor as being part of a historically significant relay race.  I was handed the baton four years ago, and it is my job to be intentional about advancing that baton during my eight years in office and handing it off to the next governor in a better position than it was handed to me.

“As we embark on the second leg of this race, it is going to take all of us running together.  The time is right for us to take longer strides, to run harder, to reach further, and to gain more ground.  We can do this together, and to reach our full potential, we have to do it together.”

Text of the entire speech follows:

Governor Ramsey; Speaker Harwell; Members of the Tennessee General Assembly; Constitutional Officers; Justices of the Supreme Court; Members of Tennessee’s Congressional Delegation; Former Governors; Honored Guests; Friends; Crissy: my wonderful partner in this journey and the hardest working and best First Lady in the country; Our family, which has doubled since the last Inauguration; and the citizens of this great State that we all love:

Being sworn in for a second term makes me think back to four years ago when I was up here taking the Oath of Office for the first time. Becoming a Governor is a little bit like being shot out of a cannon. There is a great view, but the ground underneath seems to be shifting quickly. First, you hire a Cabinet and then a Senior Staff. Then, you move to Nashville. Quickly your jokes are funnier, people stand up when you walk into a room, and state troopers seem to be following you everywhere. Right away the legislature is in session and before you can even find the men’s room, your first budget is due. Four weeks later, it is time to give the annual address to the people of Tennessee to update them on the State of the State. My first thought was, how should I know? I just got here.

But, I did know. I knew that we had to focus on those issues that Tennesseans truly care about and are critical to our future:

First, a more effective and efficient state government that delivers the very best services to Tennessee tax payers at the lowest possible cost;

Then, better education opportunities and outcomes so more Tennesseans are prepared for the competitive world that we live in;

And finally, high quality, good paying Tennessee jobs and a business environment that gives companies the confidence to invest their capital right here in Tennessee. I believe that we’ve made progress on all three fronts.

On more efficient, effective government, Tennessee’s financial condition is something that we should all take pride in. We have the lowest debt per person of any of the 50 states. Our tax rates remain among the lowest in the country. Tennessee has now gone longer without a significant tax increase than in any time in modern history.

Our departments are focused on providing the very best services to citizens at the lowest cost possible. We are able to do that now more than ever because we overhauled the state’s outdated employment system. Today, unlike in the past, we are able to recruit, reward and retain the best and brightest to serve in state government.

In education, we are now the fastest improving state in the country. Our high school graduation rates have increased from 76 percent to 88 percent over the past decade. There are now 100,000 more kids proficient at grade-level in math, and more than 57,000 additional students are proficient at grade-level in science. The number of students needing remedial math when they get to community college has decreased by 10 percent. We are the first state ever to promise high school graduates the chance to attend community college or technical school free of tuition and fees.

On the job front, we have added 210,000 net new private sector jobs since January 2011. For the last two years in a row, Tennessee has been named the “State of the Year” for economic development. No state has ever won that award in back-to-back years.

We’ve passed sweeping tort reform legislation and overhauled our worker’s compensation system. We established an entrepreneurial job creation strategy that has gained national attention known as Launch TN.

We’ve also brought together our tourism-related businesses to jointly market Tennessee in a way that has never happened before.

But despite our accomplishments and momentum, one of the things that I’ve realized during my time in office is that we haven’t had nearly high enough expectations of ourselves. In many ways, we’ve settled and haven’t lived up to our full potential. So, one thing I can guarantee you that we are not going to do in the next four years is coast to the finish line. The decisions that we make in the building behind me are too important; too important to the 6 and a half million Tennesseans who are alive today, and even more important for the generations that will follow us.

Four years from now, someone else will be standing in this spot and preparing to take over leadership of Tennessee. I feel an obligation to pass the baton to him or her with the state as prepared for the future as we can be. But this isn’t about who the Governor is now, or who the next Governor will be four years from now.

It’s about all of us. The Governor, legislators, state employees, teachers, parents, community leaders, business executives, health care professionals, faith leaders, and citizens of all kinds saying: “We are on the right path, but we can do better, and we must do better.”

We can be a state government that treats its citizens like customers and gives full value for every tax dollar that is paid. Tennessee can be the very best location in the southeast for high quality jobs. Most importantly, we can make sure that we get education right. There is nothing more important for us to do.

As I mentioned earlier, we truly are making progress today in education in Tennessee. It is not an exaggeration to say that the eyes of the country are on us to see if we can continue to show the significant gains that we have made in the last several years. Unfortunately, our history in Tennessee is to take two steps forward and then two steps backwards.

I think that every governor for the last 100 years has said that education would be a priority and has worked to improve educational outcomes and opportunities for our children, but for too long Tennessee has remained near the bottom of state rankings in academic achievement.

Let’s seize on this momentum and on the hard work of our teachers and students to continue the progress that we are making. No other state can claim to be the fastest improving state in the country for educational results. No other state can say that they guarantee high school seniors two years free at a community or technical college.

Getting education right will go a long way to address all of the challenges we face in our state. It will mean more jobs for more Tennesseans; less reliance on federal and state services; higher incomes; healthier citizens; and the list goes on.

I wish you all could’ve been with me this week in Detroit at the North American International Auto Show. Like me, you would’ve been filled with pride as you realized the leading status that Tennessee now has in the automotive manufacturing world. As a matter of fact, for four years in a row we have been named the “State of the Year” for automobile manufacturing. Last year, Tennessee produced more than 750,000 vehicles, and the largest automobile plant in North America is now in Tennessee.

You would’ve been excited to listen in as scientists from Oak Ridge National Lab talked about carbon fiber technology that can be used to make automobiles lighter and more fuel efficient and that Tennessee is in the inside lane to be at the center of that innovation.

Like me, you would’ve watched in amazement as a car could be made to order on a 3D printing press with a total construction time of about 12 hours. In the not too distant future, a person will literally be able to design his or her own car. Again, Tennessee is at the forefront of the technology innovation.

But, like me, you would’ve walked away concerned. Concerned because manufacturer after manufacturer emphasized that the world is moving really fast, and the need to have workers with the technical skills and ability to keep up has never been more critical. Every company I talked to looked me in the eye and expressed their concern about whether Tennessee’s workforce is ready for tomorrow’s challenge. Every company emphasized to me that we needed to quickly increase the percentage of our population with a certificate or degree beyond high school. To achieve that, we have to make certain that our students graduate from high school prepared for post-secondary education.

I see the job of Governor as being part of a historically significant relay race. I was handed the baton four years ago, and it is my job to be intentional about advancing that baton during my eight years in office and handing it off to the next governor in a better position than it was handed to me.

As we embark on the second leg of this race, it is going to take all of us running together. The time is right for us to take longer strides, to run harder, to reach further, and to gain more ground.

We can do this together, and to reach our full potential, we have to do it together.

It is an honor to serve as your Governor. Every day I walk up the marble steps of this beautiful building behind me, and I count myself blessed to have a job that I love and to work with people who are committed to serving the 6 and a half million people who call Tennessee home.

Four years from now, someone else will be standing here, and I will be sitting up here watching and cheering. On that day, like this day, I will know that Tennessee’s best days are ahead of us.

Wishing you Godspeed, I promise to give my all for this great state that we call home.

Government Jobs Shrinking Under Last Two Years of Haslam

In a blog post Wednesday examining the state’s ascending unemployment rate, Ed Arnold at the Memphis Business Journal pointed out that the biggest loss of jobs has come from the government sector.

Tennessee’s unemployment rate for August 2014 was 7.4 percent — 1.1 percent lower than the 2013 rate, which was unchanged from August 2012’s rate of 8.5 percent. However, the most recent unemployment numbers also represent a 1.1 percent increase from this April’s rate of 6.3 percent.

As the MBJ piece explains, although several employment sectors have shed jobs in recent months only three have a smaller workforce than in fall of 2013 — information, education and government.

Information and education both lost 1,300 workers.

The government workforce, which saw an increase in nearly 7,000 employees between 2011 and 2012, had declined by 11,600 workers in 2013, according to Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development figures. That fall continued through 2014, with a loss of 6,700.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed 2014-15 budget also included a reduction of 664 state employee positions, 100 of which were not vacant.

Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor whose family founded the Pilot Flying J truck stop chain, has made it a top goal of his administration to streamline state government, making it more efficient and business-like.

In 2012 the General Assembly passed civil service reform legislation, pushed by Haslam, that granted the state more freedom in hiring and firing practices, as well as to reward performance over seniority.

Fitzhugh Celebrates Fall with New Call for Medicaid Expansion

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; September 23, 2014:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (September 23, 2014) – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh is celebrating the beginning of fall as a countdown to the release of Governor Haslam’s long-awaited “Tennessee Plan” to expand Medicaid.

To mark the start of the season, Leader Fitzhugh has released a video asking Governor Haslam to make good on his pledge. Transcript to follow:

“Hi, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh.

“Today marks the beginning of fall. This is the time of year that I look forward to cooler weather, changing leaves and UT Football.

“This year, I’m also looking forward to Governor Haslam’s “Tennessee Plan” for expanding Medicaid. A few weeks back, the Governor promised to submit a plan this fall.

“Well, Governor, fall starts today and the countdown for Medicaid expansion begins anew. I hope the Governor makes good on his promise. Meanwhile, we’ll be back throughout the coming weeks with updates about how the Governor’s dithering affects you, the tax payer.

“Again, I’m House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. Fall is here and—I truly hope—we can soon say the same thing about the Governor’s Tennessee Plan. Thanks.”

In August, Governor Haslam told reporters that he would probably go to the Department of Health and Human Services with a plan this fall that “makes sense for Tennessee.” Over the past year, House Democrats have implored Governor Haslam to follow the lead of Republican Governors like John Kasich of Ohio and Jan Brewer of Arizona who have put the residents of their state first by accepting federal funds to expand Medicaid.

It has been 545 days since Governor Haslam announced to a joint convention of legislators that he would seek a “Tennessee Plan” to expand Medicaid, and 266 since Tennessee began losing $2.5 million a day in federal funds, costing taxpayers $665,000,000 in lost revenue.

Health Dept: Injuries from Falls Leading Cause of Death for TN Seniors

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Health; September 23, 2014:

Falls Prevention Awareness Day is Sept. 23, 2014

NASHVILLE – A simple fall may be just a nuisance for many people, but for a senior adult it can be a matter of life or death. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has declared September 23, 2014 as Falls Prevention Awareness Day to promote simple ways to prevent and reduce falls among older adults.

“Falls and the resulting injuries can lead to loss of independence for seniors and disrupt families,” said TDH Commissioner John Dreyzehner, MD, MPH. “For any of us, a fall can range from a brief embarrassment to a life change, all in an instant. This awareness day is an opportunity for everyone, but especially for older adults and their support communities, to learn how to reduce fall risks so our seniors can stay independent for as long as possible.”

Falls are the leading cause of emergency department visits, hospitalizations and death for Tennesseans over the age of 65. In 2012, there were 212,254 emergency department visits; 17,629 hospitalizations and 590 deaths due to falls in Tennessee. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates Tennessee spent more than $400 million in medical costs due to falls in 2010 alone.

TDH recommends the following simple strategies for preventing falls among older adults:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Have annual vision checks
  • Review medications with your health care provider to reduce side effects
  • Wear sensible shoes
  • Use a handrail when on stairs.
  • Always use another balance point besides your two feet. Make a pact with your spouse, a loved one, or a friend to hold on to each other while walking.
  • Perform a simple fall prevention checklist to reduce hazards. The CDC has a checklist available online at www.cdc.gov/ncipc/pub-res/toolkit/checklistforsafety.htm.

In July, the Tennessee Department of Health trained 20 individuals to lead “Stepping On” classes. Stepping On is a comprehensive falls prevention program designed to change behaviors and increase self-confidence for people over 65 years of age and reduce the fear that leads to inactivity and withdrawal from social activities. Conducted by occupational therapists and other subject matter experts, the program consists of one two-hour session each week for seven weeks covering topics including appropriate footwear; household safety hazards; the effect of vision and medication management on fall risk; tips for staying safe outside the home; fall prevention strategies and how to cope if a fall does occur. Classes also feature fun, easy strength and balance exercises to improve mobility and self-assurance. If you are interested in hosting a class in your area, contact Terrence Love at Terrence.Love@tn.gov.

This year’s Falls Prevention Awareness Day theme, Strong Today – Falls Free® Tomorrow, highlights the important roles professionals, older adults, caregivers and family members play in raising awareness and preventing falls in the older adult population. Falls Prevention Awareness Day is sponsored by the National Council on Aging. Learn more at www.ncoa.org/improve-health/center-for-healthy-aging/falls-prevention/falls-prevention-awareness.html.