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Beacon Center Produces ‘Roadmap to Freedom’ for Upcoming Legislative Session

Press release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee; December 3, 2013:

NASHVILLE – The Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s leading free market public policy organization, today released its biennial publication, “An Idea a Day.” This year’s publication is styled as “a roadmap to freedom” and represents an actual roadmap. It contains 57 freedom-oriented ideas, one for each remaining legislative day of the 108th Tennessee General Assembly.

The roadmap offers concise, one-sentence policy ideas that will lead to a freer, more prosperous Tennessee. Each idea is accompanied by a link to more information about the topic. Among the issues covered are education, healthcare, taxes and spending, property rights, government reform, regulation, transportation, and cronyism.

“Tennessee is primed to become a leader in reforms that expand freedoms and make our state the envy of every other,” said Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen. “This roadmap serves as a guide for lawmakers looking to press ahead with bold reforms that will lead to a freer, more prosperous Tennessee.”

Hardcopies of the roadmap will be provided to each member of the state legislature. The ideas are offered in an online listing here. A full online version of the roadmap is also available for download at this link: http://www.beacontn.org/wp-content/uploads/2013-Idea-a-Day.pdf

The Beacon Center of Tennessee’s mission is to change lives through public policy by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government. The Center is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan research organization committed to providing timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee.

Long Shadow of TennCare Cuts Creeps into Medicaid Expansion Debate

There’s worry among critics of Obamacare that the federal government can’t be trusted long-term to faithfully fund its share of expanding state-run medical insurance programs for the poor, as presently advocated by the president.

This concern perhaps looms larger in Tennessee than in other states. It was not that long ago that Gov. Phil Bredesen, faced with ballooning health care costs, starting cutting Tennesseans from TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

In the first wave, 170,000 people were cut from the rolls. Over the course of Bredesen’s administration, the state eliminated coverage for another 100,000 people with disabilities. When you add the state’s eligibility restrictions that were put into place, ultimately 350,000 people in Tennessee were cut from TennCare.

Some state elected officials, such as House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, have said that embracing President Obama’s call to expand the TennCare/Medicaid program is the moral thing to do.

“It would be frankly nearly irresponsible — certainly, morally irresponsible — not to expand the Medicaid population, especially because it is in fact going to be cost effective to Tennessee and Tennesseans,” Fitzhugh said recently.

But others remember the long shadow of cutting so many people from TennCare. If Medicaid is expanded in Tennessee and, once again, the program becomes unaffordable, will state officials have to rip hundreds of thousands of people off the rolls again?

“We believe it’s immoral to expand,” said Justin Owen, president of the free-market Beacon Center of Tennessee. “If history is any indication, TennCare will become so bloated, people will have to be cut from the program.”

Owen fears making so many Tennesseans dependent on a program and then “pull the rug out from under them when they can least afford it,” he said. “Go talk to the several hundred thousand people who had to be removed, about the strife they went through. It’s not like we’re speaking about a theoretical.”

And even with the federal government footing the bill with the taxpayer dollars it collects, costs still may be an issue.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters last week that despite those who argue that expanding Medicaid seems like a “no brainer” given that the federal government is currently promising to to fund the lion’s share of the expansion costs, there is still the issue of how the state will pay its share.

“The problem is that our budget is slowly getting eaten up by TennCare,” said Haslam. “Prior to (Gov. Phil Bredesen) cutting the rolls, the TennCare budget was about 30 percent (of the state budget.) He did everything he could to try and reform the program, couldn’t, so he just had to cut the rolls. That process took it down to about 24 percent of the budget.”

“We’ve already crept back up to where it is 26 or 27 percent of the budget,” Haslam added. “When you do that, things get squeezed out.”

Haslam said $900 million to $1 billion the state will have to dig up for its share of of Medicaid expansion to match the federal government’s $10 billion will result in belt-tightening in other areas of state government, such as higher education, prisons and childrens’ services.

“I want to find out how much it’s going to cost the state,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga told TNReport. “I know for the first three years the federal government is supposed to pay for it all and if we can trust them to do that, that would be helpful.”

And President Obama’s expansion plan may not be the last.

History shows that Congress has expanded Medicaid in ways large and small since 1967 that required states to broaden and deepen coverage.

For example, in the 1980s, expansions included:

+ Medicaid covering children whose low-income families did not receive direct federal cash assistance. Pregnant women and their infants would get covered.

+ Undocumented immigrants and the homeless getting emergency care through Medicaid.

+ The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, an expansion of Medicaid to cover long-term care for the elderly and disabled not already covered by Medicare.

Some expansions in the 1990s included:

+ Making it easier for nursing homes to recover payments from the estates of Medicaid beneficiary’s estates.

+ Requiring states to cover families under higher eligibility thresholds.

+ Allowing states to cover working disabled individuals with incomes above 250 percent of federal poverty level.

But it will be rural hospitals that will likely on the front line in the 2013 debate over Tennessee Medicaid expansion.

A University of Memphis health care study released last winter argued that Obamacare will produce an economic windfall to the state. Medicaid expansion advocates like Fitzhugh say more federal Medicaid dollars are needed to help financially sustain health care facilities outside urban population hubs.

“You’re talking about rural hospitals,” said Fitzhugh. “An expansion of Medicaid will allow people to have insurance, will allow them to know that if they get sick, they have some kind of coverage.

Haslam said he’s asking hospitals in Tennessee to estimate the costs and benefits of expansion — and of sticking with the status quo — to the operation of their facilities.

“Right now, if somebody walks into a hospital and they don’t have TennCare and the hospital takes care of them, they get reimbursed to a degree for that uninsured person,” said the governor.

Haslam said he isn’t likely to make a decision on whether support expanding the state’s low-income health insurance program, TennCare, until after his administration has more thoroughly investigated the pros and cons of the matter — and that decision may come after the legislative session.

“One of things that we want to do is make a thoughtful decision about the impacts,” Haslam said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter (@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

TVA Ratepayers Make Up Pension Shortfall

The Tennessee Valley Authority is facing a multibillion-dollar pension shortfall, and it appears the federal utility has been scrambling to shore up the losses with ratepayer cash.

From the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

When investment markets tanked in 2008 and TVA’s pension fund took a nearly $2 billion dive, the tab for making sure there was enough money to cover commitments to 24,000 retirees fell to electric ratepayers. 

Fully funded, TVA’s retirement plan should total $11.5 billion.

Instead, it now stands at $7 billion.

TVA has infused it with almost $1.3 billion since 2009 — ratepayer money.

There’s a bigger problem, though, says Justin Owen with the Beacon Center, a Nashville-based free-market think tank: Pension problem are rampant throughout the country, and politicians are moving too slow to apply fixes.

“The (TVA) story is symptomatic of a larger problem,” Owen said. “What it amounts to us political promises. Now we’re seeing that many of those promises… are empty promises.”

Beacon has studied pension problems across the U.S. recently, looking at how pension bailouts across the nation would affect Tennessee taxpayers.

“We have to stop making these promises in the future,” Owen said. “We can’t afford it.”

He said that public entities need to move to retirement plans similar to the 401(k) plans offered in the private sector.

UCDD Mansion Gets Dubious Honor in Beacon’s Pork Report

Last year, Wendy Askins was living the dream on taxpayer dollars. Now the former development agency official is winning prizes for it, too.

Askins used funds intended for the needy to support her own life of luxury, winning her the “Pork of the Year” title in an annual report by the Beacon Center.

The Mediterranean-style mansion that Askins purchased in rural Putnam County with money from the Upper Cumberland Development District was supposed to house poor senior citizens. But the agency’s former executive director moved in as well, outfitting the place with a sauna, chandelier and computer-controlled showers, as Nashville’s NewsChannel 5 reported.

Under the not-so-watchful eyes of elected officials charged with overseeing the agency, Askins reportedly put no fewer than five relatives on the district payroll, with a final cost to the public of $1.5 million, the report says.

The Nashville-based Beacon Center released its annual “Tennessee Pork Report” Tuesday, unveiling what the nonprofit think tank determined to be the most wasteful uses of state and local government money. The report’s authors pegged the district’s largesse as the “most egregious example of waste across the state,” prompting them to create a new title in its honor, the Pork of the Year.

Chris Thompson, mayor of Byrdstown and a member of the UCDD board, wasn’t surprised to find out that Askins’ fiasco had won.

“It’s kind of like government gone wild. If they’re going to misuse taxpayer money, they ought to be held accountable for it,” he said in a phone interview. Thompson has said he was not aware of the misspending until after certain meeting minutes showing the board OK’ing the spending were found to be bogus.

Askins and the UCDD are now reportedly under investigation by both state and federal authorities. Her lawyer told NewsChannel 5 in April there is no evidence she committed any crime, despite colleagues’ accusations of nepotism, checks that Askins wrote to herself after moving her own furniture into the mansion, and receipts showing she even paid for dog chow on the project’s account.

“There should be no way that an executive director can write a check to themselves,” said Jim Shulman, executive director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability, which held its own investigation of the Living the Dream project.

The case sparked resignations and hostility among members of the UCDD, and prompted doubts about how the state’s other development districts manage their funds.

“This isn’t an isolated incident. You have to be naïve to think that this is the only agency that this kind of thing is going on in, though maybe not as much as Living the Dream,” said Thompson.

Beacon Center executive director Justin Owen agreed, saying any of the state’s eight other development districts could be in line to win the porcine prize next year.

The Beacon Center, formerly known as the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, has published the Pork Report annually since 2004, basing its findings on government budgets, media reports, appropriations bills, state audits, and research by Beacon Center staff.

Beacon Center Wants to Team Up with TN Leaders to ‘Fix Healthcare Woes,’ Not Wait on Washington

Press Release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee; June 28, 2012: 

The Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s free market think tank and advocate for patient-centered healthcare reform, issued the following statement in light of the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act decision:

We are deeply disappointed that the Supreme Court chose to uphold President Obama’s healthcare law and drastically expand the federal government’s authority over our lives. The law is unaffordable and irresponsible, and places far too much control in the hands of unelected bureaucrats in Washington.

While it is incumbent upon Congress to repeal this law, we simply cannot wait on politicians in Washington to act. Instead, we look forward to working with our state leaders to advance people-centered solutions to fix our healthcare woes. We are also committed to protecting taxpayers from the harmful impact of the president’s law.

The state-led healthcare solutions promoted by Beacon will put control of important decisions back into the hands of patients and their doctors where they belong. Our solutions include giving individuals the same tax treatment for the purchase of health insurance as companies, providing for more portability in their plans; allowing Tennesseans to purchase health insurance from other states; and expanding access to clinics that serve the poor.

– Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen

About Half a Billion in Gov’t Bacon ID’d by Beacon

In Tennessee, taxpayer money has been used to dabble in the movie-making business, prop up car companies, and promote country music heritage — in Virginia.

Such projects are cataloged in a new Pork Report tracking $468 million in waste and public malfeasance in the past year, $216 million worth of loin, butt and chops at the state level, the Center says.

Authored by the Nashville-based Beacon Center, the report identified more than $182 million in what the center calls “corporate welfare.” Furthermore, “politicians went hog wild” spending the citizenry’s resources on what Beacon Center president Justin Owen described as “taxpayer-funded tourist traps,” including a country music museum in Virginia and a planned water-and-snow theme park in Nashville.

“Many times politicians try to convince us that somehow their visions are grander and more wonderful,” said Ben Cunningham, a Tea Party leader and spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt who Tuesday joined Owen at a press conference on Capitol Hill. “Sometimes they even try to convince us that they are a cut above — morally and intellectually above the rest of us — and that their grand, good intentions are somehow grander and more wonderful than the good intentions of the citizenry.

“But in fact, they’re ordinary human beings just like you and I, and they have to be held to the same standards that everybody else is held to.”

This is the seventh year the Beacon Center, formerly known as the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, has published the Pork Report. TCPR was founded in 2004 by Johnson City-native Drew Johnson, who next month will succeed 70-year veteran Tennessee newspaperman Lee Anderson as an opinion page editor for the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.

State spending Beacon’s 2012 Pork Report identified as wasteful included:

  • $2 million in film incentives in 2012.
  • $1.5 million in economic incentives for GM to expand its plant in Spring Hill.
  • $266,200 to Volkswagen to put a sign, only visible from the air, atop its plant in Chattanooga.
  • $500,000 for a planned country music museum in Bristol on the Virginia side of the state line adjacent to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s district.
  • $88.7 million for pre-kindergarten, which has “repeatedly failed to have a significant lasting impact on the education of Tennessee’s children.”

“This year state and local governments didn’t hold back when spending taxpayers’ money,” said Owen.

Political responsibility for much of the iffy spending and sketchy programs pegged in the report can be assigned to fiscally conservative-talking Republicans, who run state government and are not expected to lose their grip on power in this year’s legislative elections.

“Republicans spend just like Democrats do,” Owen said. “And when you’re spending someone else’s money, you have an incentive to spend it unwisely.”

Although the report points to spending made on Gov. Bill Haslam’s watch, the governor contends his administration is already on top of cutting out pork spending.

“I can promise you that government waste has got our full attention. Now, waste is obviously defined different ways by different folks,” Haslam told reporters Tuesday after defending spending on Pre-K, economic development and tourism.

“One of the value judgements you make every year in the budget is, what are you going to fund out of a lot of potential good things and what are you going to cut out of several things that people have an opinion about whether that’s critical or just nice to have.”

The Center thinks much remains in the latter category and says the state should adopt a law to return excess revenues to taxpayers and set up a state spending commission to root out waste.

The Center advocates strengthening a 1978 state constitutional provision meant to rein in growth. If the state is considering spending that exceeds the growth rate in personal income, lawmakers are required to take a separate vote on the amount beyond that cap. The Center says this vote should require a two-thirds approval, rather than the current majority, and that the measure of personal income growth should be replaced by a figure based on population growth plus inflation.

TN Cities Ranked for ‘Friendliness to Business’

Press Release from the Beacon Center of Tennessee, Nov. 13, 2011:

Farragut takes title of Tennessee’s Most Business-Friendly City in 2011

NASHVILLE – The Beacon Center of Tennessee, the state’s free market think tank, today announced the results of its annual ranking of the state’s 50 most populous cities. Founded as the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, the Beacon Center analyzes cities’ friendliness to business each year based on a number of factors.

This year’s Most Business-Friendly City is the East Tennessee town of Farragut. The city is the first to receive the distinction twice, having first been awarded the title in the Beacon Center’s inaugural rankings in 2006. Later this month, the Center will present Farragut officials with a plaque commemorating the honor.

The study, titled How Business-Friendly are Tennessee’s Cities?, scores each city in three categories that reflect a commitment to encouraging business success and fostering an entrepreneurial spirit. Those categories are Economic Vitality, Business Tax Burden, and Community Allure.

Farragut has consistently ranked toward the top, finishing first in 2006 and second in last year’s rankings. In 2011, its job performance and low tax burden give it the state’s most business-friendly climate.

“Farragut has maintained a solid commitment to low taxes and an inviting economic policy,” said the Beacon Center’s President & CEO Justin Owen. “The city’s dedication to business growth has paid off, leading it to the top of the business-friendly rankings in 2011.”

The city lacks a property tax, has a low crime rate, and has witnessed strong job growth compared to other cities. It finished first in the Business Tax Burden category with a perfect score, third in Economic Vitality, and eighth in the less-weighted category of Community Allure, pulling well ahead of the second ranked city of Brentwood. Franklin, Mt. Juliet, and Spring Hill round out the top five.

“This award is a reflection of Farragut’s commitment to creating a business-friendly climate free of stifling taxes and restrictive regulatory burdens,” Owen said. “We applaud the local elected officials and business leaders for earning the distinction as Tennessee’s Most Business-Friendly City for the second time in just six years.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, Memphis, Brownsville, Martin, Dyersburg, and Tullahoma rank in the bottom five for business-friendliness in 2011.

The full report, along with the ranking of each of Tennessee’s 50 most populous cities, can be found at www.BeaconTN.org.

GOP Showing Little Taste for Lower Food Tax

Now that Tennessee Republicans are “large and in charge” of state government, as minority Democrats like to snidely put it, they seem to have lost their appetite for cutting the state’s sales tax on food.

Even though Tennessee is looking at $62.3 million in excess revenues over the last 11 months, lowering the tax isn’t likely to happen any time soon, say powerful majority-party politicians.

Nevertheless, Tennessee Democrats are floating a plan to give part of the overage back to taxpayers — by reducing the 5.5 percent tax on food and making additional funds available for “needs-based” college scholarships.

The Volunteer State now charges a 7 percent sales tax on items other than food and is one of seven that offers a reduced rate on groceries, although 31 states exempt most non-restaurant food purchases from sales taxes.

Republicans, who consolidated their political power in the 2010 election promising a more fiscally disciplined, taxpayer-friendly state government, last month scoffed at Democrats for offering up a plan to reduce the tax on food.

“It’s just irresponsible,” House Republican Leader Gerald McCormick told TNReport. His preference is the state keep any extra tax collections safely locked up in the government’s savings account for spending later in leaner times, like when Washington starts ladling out smaller helpings of federal largess.

Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey claims he’d “love to eliminate the food tax.”

Not now, though.

“I hope and pray that Tennessee will soon be in a position to do just that,” the Blountville Republican said in an e-mailed statement shortly after the Democrats served up their tax-cut idea. “But a revenue blip does not a surplus make.

“While the new revenue numbers are encouraging, the last few years have taught us that we cannot afford to be cavalier with the contents of our treasury,” he said.

Ramsey, who recently proclaimed that “a basic philosophical difference between Democrats and Republicans” is that the latter favor taxpayers keeping their own money in times of revenue surplus, accused Democrats of “craven political posturing” for proposing a tax cut on groceries in the current fiscal climate.

Requests through Ramsey’s spokesman for further comment and explanation from the lieutenant governor went unanswered.

Republicans didn’t used to be so hostile to the idea of a tax cut for Tennesseans who purchase food. Indeed, some, like Kingsport Rep. Tony Shipley, once upon a time got elected promising to push for food-tax relief.

In 2007, Sen. Mae Beavers was at the forefront of the legislative effort to reduce the food tax, ultimately by half a cent. At the time, she complained that wasn’t enough. But now she’s just irritated the matter has popped up again.

“I really take offense to (Democrats) making a political issue out of it this time when they had a chance to take it all off a few years ago,” said Beavers.

Gov. Bill Haslam was more conciliatory towards the proposal, saying he “100 percent” agrees with Democrats’ desire to reduce taxes on groceries when the state collects excess money from taxpayers.

In principle, anyway. He questions though whether tens of millions of dollars in over-collections truly represents a “surplus” at this time.

“If we had a surplus, we should not be keeping the money. I couldn’t agree more,” the governor told TNReport. “It’s just way too early to say that because I have a feeling we’re going to have to make some hard calls.”

The catch, Haslam says, is state government would need to consider cutting millions of dollars in services now covered with $160 million in one-time money, address rising education costs and weather instability from the economy and federal government in order to reduce the tax.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff in there I can guarantee the Democrats and most of the Republicans don’t want to cut,” Haslam said. “My first word would be to the Democrats, how do you feel about that $160 million in services? Are you ready for all of those to go away, because our overage is not enough to do both.”

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, the leading Democrat in the House, says he sees nothing particularly ludicrous about proposing to cut “one of the highest sales taxes on food in the entire country.”

“If that’s absurd, well, we need more absurdity in government, because I think that’s an excellent option that we may have,” said the Ripley Democrat.

Lawmakers this year considered a plan to raise the tax on soda in exchange for lower food taxes, but that issue went nowhere. Lawmakers did manage to lower taxes on investments for some senior citizens by raising the income benchmark by $10,000 to exempt more individuals and couples from paying the Hall income tax.

While legislators play political ping-pong over the excess taxpayer dollars, state government observers of various ideological stripes agree the partisan bickering ought to be set aside in favor of a serious policy-driven conversation.

“It’s not enough to rely on the whims of either political party to return excess revenue to taxpayers,” said Justin Owen, executive director of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, a free-market think tank which has advocated a reduction in the grocery tax.

What the state should do is automatically kick any excess revenues back to the public at the end of each fiscal year, he said.

Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt said it seems obvious to him “any surplus ought to be returned to the taxpayer.”

“The time to give tax revenue back to the families to put back in the family budget is in the good years, this way you even out the ups and downs of tax revenues and you better control the size of government,” said Cunningham, a prominent voice in Tennessee’s tea-party movement.

Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, a coalition of liberal activists, unionized workers and progressive advocacy groups, has long pushed for reducing Tennessee’s reliance on a sales tax. TFT argues Tennessee’s tax on food is perniciously high — that it, in essence, constitutes a “tax on life.”

“Groceries represent a much bigger portion of low-income families’ budgets while it only represents a small fraction of most high-income families’ budgets,” argues TFT. “By eliminating the tax on food, the average family would save enough annually to buy a whole month’s worth of groceries.”

TFT’s preference for instituting a state income-tax to offset reduced revenues from a lower or eliminated grocery-tax doesn’t seem likely to gain much traction in the GOP-dominated Legislature, where the wheels are in motion to constitutionally ban an income tax.

TNReport.com is an independent, nonprofit news organization supported by generous donors like you!

TCPR Questions Merits, Fairness of Tax Incentives

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research was often critical of the Bredesen administration for its incentive packages aimed at attracting business. And now the nonprofit free-market think tank is scrutinizing the Haslam administration for the same issues.

TCPR issued the 2011 edition of its annual “Pork Report” Tuesday, saying it has found $371 million that state and local governments in Tennessee have wasted over the last year.

The report takes immediate aim at $140 million in state and local funds that will go to appliance maker Electrolux to build a manufacturing plant in Memphis. That deal was struck by former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s economic development team, but the Pork Report notes that current Gov. Bill Haslam has pledged $97 million in taxpayer money to follow through on the commitment.

Haslam has consistently said he intended to honor such commitments made by the Bredesen administration. House Republican Majority Leader Gerald McCormick told TNReport recently that while he finds it “distasteful” to offer tax incentives to entice companies to relocate to Tennessee, “unfortunately, that’s the playing field that we’re on.”

As with previous years, the Pork Report hammers on prodigal politicians and big-spending bureaucrats who in TCPR’s view play far too loose with tax dollars. Taxpayers can ill afford ill-advised spending in these troubled times, said TCPR president Justin Owen, who added that spending done in the name of stimulating the sluggish economy is often particularly suspect.

“As this year’s Pork Report shows, it’s times in economic calamity where citizens are faced with waste in their government as government tries to fix the economic problems,” Owen told reporters at a press conference Tuesday.

“We see this year in the Pork Report hundreds of millions of dollars being spent on economic development incentive packages, on energy and environmental programs,” he added. “While these things are often sold as a way to spur job growth, particularly the economic development incentives, they amount to nothing more than taking money out of certain taxpayers’ pockets and handing it to others — oftentimes large corporations in the form of corporate welfare.”

Owen said rarely have proponents of incentive packages demonstrated an appreciation of existing businesses.

“I will say that Gov. Haslam has signaled his intent to re-evaluate this process,” Owen said. “You saw just this morning, with Startup Tennessee, he is wanting to start focusing on some of those existing Tennessee businesses.

“We encourage that, and we hope that his administration will continue to move in that direction rather than continue to hand money to certain companies at the expense of others.”

But Owen said the state has spent “wildly” on environmental programs.

“We all know about the former governor’s affinity for solar energy, and it appears this governor will keep that going,” Owen said. “We have another $14.5 million going into innovative project grants for solar, even though solar accounts for a very tiny sliver of the overall energy market.”

Owen said the state will spend another $13 million to buy forests and wetlands in conservation efforts across the state and pointed out that the land is being bought with funds from the real estate transfer tax, meaning the land is being purchased on the backs of homeowners.

The Pork Report itself is a 28-page booklet that identifies what the authors call “waste, fraud, abuse and mismanagement of taxpayer money by state and local government officials.”

“Despite a changing political landscape in Tennessee, wasteful government spending has not disappeared,” the report says.

The report does offer some solutions, calling on the Legislature to enact stricter spending laws. It calls for a “kicker” law that would require the state to “kick” surplus funds back to taxpayers. It says the state should strengthen the Copeland Cap, which has been on the books since 1978 and prevents the Legislature from increasing spending beyond the rate of personal income growth. TCPR says since a simple majority can override the Copeland Cap, that should be changed to a two-thirds vote requirement.

The governor’s office responded to the report.

“Governor Haslam is proud of the budget, which passed unanimously in the General Assembly and includes key investments, strategic reductions and savings for the future,” said David Smith, press secretary for Haslam, in an e-mailed statement Tuesday.

“He is focused on making Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high-quality jobs, and while economic development incentives play a role in that process, it is also why he is focused on improving education and ensuring Tennessee has an attractive business climate.”

TCPR’s report also cited $13 million in federal stimulus funds going to the Port of Cates Landing in northwest Tennessee, noting Haslam has devoted $7 million from the state budget to help build the port. The Pork Report says statements by local leaders suggest “corporate welfare” might not have been necessary for the port, saying private money was secured to build the port if state and federal money didn’t.

The report criticizes $2.5 million in tax credits for purchasers of the electric-powered Nissan Leaf, which the report says could result in an increase in state gas taxes. Likewise, it challenges funds going to Wacker Chemie, the German chemical company locating a plant in Bradley County, and notes Haslam has pledged $34.6 million in the budget to expand the plant. The Wacker deal was another Bredesen project.

Elsewhere, the report takes a swing at state-run golf courses, calling for raising the greens fees or leasing the state’s courses to private businesses. The report called the course at Pickwick Landing State Park a “money-sucker,” saying it has cost the state $1.7 million since 2005.

On local government, the report takes note of news reports saying Davidson County Criminal Court Clerk David Torrence worked only three days a week, sometimes two, concluding he worked only 50 percent of the time for a job that pay $125,000 a year.

Ben Cunningham, spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt, called TCPR “an extraordinary resource to this state.”

“The most important budget of all is the family budget, the taxpayers’ family budget,” Cunningham said. “All other government budgets must first come from that family budget, and if that family budget is not healthy those other budgets will not be healthy.”

TCPR Releases Annual Report on Wasteful Government Spending

Press Release from the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, June 28, 2011:

“Tennessee Pork Report” Uncovers $371 Million in Government Waste Watchdog groups expose wasted tax dollars by state and local governments

NASHVILLE, TN – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today released its 2011 Tennessee Pork Report, exposing that state and local governments across Tennessee wasted $371 million over the past year. For the sixth consecutive year, Tennessee’s premier free market think tank partnered with taxpayer watchdog Citizens Against Government Waste to document waste, fraud, and abuse at all levels of Tennessee government.

Examples of wasteful spending outlined in the 2011 Pork Report include:

  • $140 million to pay a European company to relocate to Memphis;
  • $14.5 million on an unnecessary solar energy program run by the state;
  • $2.5 million to provide tax credits to Nissan Leaf purchasers, which could lead to an increase in state gas taxes;
  • $131,000 to send utility district employees on exotic trips around the globe; and
  • $95,000 wasted by Nashville’s criminal court clerk who only works three days each week.

“Yet again, state and local governments failed to live up to taxpayers’ expectations by wasting their hard-earned money,” said Justin Owen, president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. “With our economy in dire straits, the last thing government officials should be doing is offering handouts to corporations, dreaming up whimsical environmental programs, and using taxpayer money for their personal use. It’s time for them to become better stewards of Tennesseans’ money.”

In addition to exposing wasteful government spending habits, the report also offers three effective solutions to eliminate waste and promote more responsible, transparent government. The report serves as an informative and valuable resource for policymakers and taxpayers alike.

“Tennesseans should arm themselves with the Pork Report and hold their elected officials accountable for government waste,” said Ben Cunningham, spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt, who participated in the report’s release. “Only then can we truly cut the fat in government.”

The litany of examples of government waste, fraud, and abuse in the 2011 Pork Report come from state and local government budgets, media reports, appropriations bills, state audits, and independent research conducted by the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.

An electronic version of the report can be found at:http://www.tennesseepolicy.org/wp-content/uploads/2011-Tennessee-Pork-Report.pdf or www.cagw.org. Hardcopies can be purchased by calling (615) 383-6431 or emailing info@tennesseepolicy.org

The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee through the ideas of liberty. Citizens Against Government Waste is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement in government.