Posts

TNHDC: Haslam Letter to HHS Latest ‘Farce’ in ‘Continued Obstruction’ to TennCare Expansion

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; December 10, 2013:

Haslam Letter to Sebelius a Farce
The time to act is now on the Medicaid expansion.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Late yesterday, Governor Haslam released a letter to Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius regarding his continued obstruction of Medicaid expansion in Tennessee.

“The Governor’s letter is simply the latest in a series of farces,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “It’s more of the same hand-wringing, ducking and dodging we’ve come to expect from this administration, all in an attempt to absolve themselves of the worst moral and mathematical failure in a generation—denying health care to 330,000 working Tennesseans.”

Governor Haslam’s letter offers no specific proposals, instead laying out a series of complaints and concerns about the overall Affordable Care Act. It offers no details about the so-called “Tennessee Plan,” which the Governor has yet to provide either to the federal government or state legislators.

“Governor Haslam is seeking to offer lower quality care to fewer people and still collect all the money allocated in the Medicaid expansion – that is not something that Secretary Sebelius has the power to authorize, and he knows that,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “If Governor Haslam is going to negotiate seriously with CMS on creating a ‘Tennessee Plan,’ it needs to be done in a way that both conforms to federal law and appreciates the economic, fiscal and moral blunder that would result from a decision not to expand Medicaid.”

A hybrid Medicaid expansion plan has already passed the Arkansas legislature and been approved by the federal government. The Arkansas Plan includes cost-sharing components and addresses questions about defining “medically frail” through a questionnaire developed by the state.

“Expanding Medicaid in Tennessee is not an impossible task, but Governor Haslam is doing everything he can to make it one,” said Leader Fitzhugh. “All of the serious questions about creating a hybrid plan have been addressed in the Arkansas Medicaid waiver. Tennesseans don’t have time for the Governor to wait for political cover. The time to act is now.”

The Tennessee General Assembly returns to session on January 14, 2014. Speakers Harwell and Ramsey have pledged to move the session along as quickly as possible, meaning the Governor may only have a few months left before legislators will be gone for the rest of the year. If we do not act by January 1, 2014, Tennessee will begin to lose $2.5 million per day in federal funding.

Amid Looming Budget Issues, Haslam Doubles Down on Tax Cut Rhetoric

Gov. Bill Haslam has acknowledged that decreasing state revenues will make producing a new budget more difficult this year than any other he’s faced since taking office.

But the governor, speaking to a Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Murfreesboro this week, said the tax cuts he’s supported in the past were intended to attract and retain capital in the state, and as such the right thing to do.

“Businesses do look at the taxes they pay — it’s just a fact of life. And so, we’ve worked on making certain that Tennessee stays what it’s historically been: one of the lowest tax states,” Haslam said.

The Tennessee General Assembly has cut about $160 million a year in taxes, Haslam said. The taxes cut include the Hall Income Tax, a 10 percent cut from the grocery tax, the gift tax, which Tennessee was one of only two states with a tax on, and the inheritance tax.

“Prior to this in Tennessee, if you died you paid a penalty for that – beyond the obvious one — and we just didn’t think that was right,” Haslam said.

The shortage in revenue receipts is not from the sales tax, which is “at, or just a little below projections,” but with the state’s franchise and excise tax collections, “which is a little hard for me to explain – to understand, so we’re trying to dive a little deeper with our Revenue Department to see what the miss is there,” Haslam told reporters after the event.

Haslam noted he was worried by national reports showing that holiday weekend sales after Thanksgiving were down a bit. “Obviously, when you live on the sales tax, Thanksgiving weekend is a pretty big deal,” said the governor.

Haslam also touted his administration’s other efforts to produce a more business-friendly climate in the state, despite ongoing criticism from Democratic lawmakers. “The GOP promised that if we gutted worker and consumer protections that we would become an oasis of job creation. Instead, our workers are being left behind in an economic recovery that has led to lower unemployment numbers in most other states,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner said in a press release slamming the Haslam administration over the state’s lofty unemployment.

However, Haslam stood by the reforms to tort law and workers compensation that his administration had pushed as helping to make the state “a much more attractive work environment.” The governor suggested that the political source of any economic sluggishness can be traced back to Congress and the president — in particular, the government shutdown and the questions surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

“People invest capital into a market that they have confidence in,” said Haslam, adding that confidence in Washington is low right now.

“So, what we’re trying to do in Tennessee is to provide that predictable environment that people know what they’re investing into. Unfortunately, the situation in Washington makes that very difficult to do, but we honestly think we can do that in Tennessee, and create that environment,” Haslam said.

TN House Dems Warn of “Fiscal, Moral Disaster” At Years End

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; December 3, 2013:

28 Days until Fiscal and Moral Disaster

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In 28 days, Tennessee’s Republican leadership is poised to make the greatest fiscal, economic and moral blunder in decades. According to reports in the Tennessean, the Governor’s decision to put politics above policy is already resulting in layoffs and hiring freezes in hospitals across the state – a trend that will only worsen as the full impact of Governor Haslam’s decision goes into effect on January 1, 2014.

“The indifference shown by Governor Haslam and Tennessee’s Republican leaders is truly remarkable given the stakes,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “There has never been an easier way for the state of Tennessee to improve the lives of its citizens without having to spend a single dime in state funds for years to come.”

When the 2010 Affordable Care Act was passed, hospitals struck a bargain with the federal government that they would forgo money in the form of reimbursements in order to get more patients through the Medicaid expansion. When the Supreme Court left the decision to expand Medicaid up to the states, it created a fiscal disaster for hospitals in states with political leadership too focused on partisanship to put the needs of their people first.

“This Christmas, Governor Haslam has the opportunity to give thousands of working men and women in Tennessee the best gift possible – longer and healthier lives,” said Chairman Turner. “I understand it will be difficult to get the expansion passed in the legislature, but the Governor owes it to the people of our state to try. If he stands by and does nothing, the hospital closures, the jobs lost, and the premature and preventable deaths of Tennesseans will rest squarely on his shoulders.”

Governor Haslam has claimed to be working on a “Tennessee Plan” with the federal government, however, a waiver that would start the process of adopting the plan has not been requested by the Haslam administration. Said Chairman Turner, “Has Governor Haslam reached out to Tennessee’s Congressional delegation with his ‘plan’ in order to help get the approval of HHS? Does he even have a plan to present?”

“People across this state need to understand that if we do not expand Medicaid, their health care options and jobs may be at risk, even if they have private or employer based insurance,” said Chairman Turner. “How many people in our state must suffer so that the Republican leadership can please its Tea Party base?”

TN House Dems: GOP Policies Causing TN Workers to be ‘Left Behind’ in Economic Recovery

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; November 22, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (11/22/13) – Figures released from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that Tennessee has one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation. At 8.4%, Tennessee is tied for 42nd in unemployment.

“Unfortunately for Tennesseans, the Republicans are winning their war on working people,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner (D-Nashville). “The GOP promised that if we gutted worker and consumer protections that we would become an oasis of job creation. Instead, our workers are being left behind in an economic recovery that has led to lower unemployment numbers in most other states.”

Tennessee’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate remained stagnant at 8.4% in October while 28 other states saw decreases in their unemployment. Earlier this month, Tennessee’s Comptroller released a scathing report indicating that the Haslam administration failed to adequately account for billions of dollars in tax dollars that were supposed to go towards job creation.

“In spite of billions of dollars in giveaways to large corporations, too many Tennesseans are struggling to find a good job,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville). “In a little over a month it will get even worse when Governor Haslam’s refusal to accept the Medicaid expansion will result in thousands of jobs and billions of dollars lost in Tennessee.”

According to a University of Memphis study, If Governor Haslam does not expand Medicaid, Tennessee’s economy will lose out on $10.5 billion in federal funds and 18,000 jobs over the next five years.

TN House Dems Hopeful About Haslam Appointment to NGA Health Cmte

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; October 23, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (October 23, 2013) – In what must be ironic news to the 330,000 Tennesseans waiting for a decision on Medicaid expansion, Governor Bill Haslam was chosen to Chair the National Governors Association’s Health and Human Services Committee along with vice-Chair Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.

“This could be terrific news for Tennessee,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Six of the ten governors on the task force Governor Haslam was appointed to in May have made the important decision to accept the federally funded Medicaid expansion. Hopefully Governor Haslam will learn from someone like New Mexico’s Republican Governor Susana Martinez who bucked tea party extremists in order to do the right thing for her state’s working poor.”

Governor Haslam is one of five governors in the United States who still claim to be “weighing options” on Medicaid expansion, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Governor Susana Martinez decided earlier this year to expand Medicaid, saying, “[t]he election is over and the Supreme Court has ruled. My job is not to play party politics, but to implement this law in a way that best serves New Mexico.”

“The Governor seems to have struggled with this decision,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Mike Turner. “Unfortunately, there are hundreds of thousands Tennesseans who are struggling to pay medical bills – having to make the impossible choice between food and the medicine they need. They simply can’t wait any longer for the Governor to finish his internal debate and do what is right for working families in our state.”

Governor Haslam has claimed to be working on a “third way” or “Tennessee Plan” with the federal government that would utilize Medicaid expansion funds for private insurance plans. However, unlike Arkansas which has already begun implementing such a plan, the Governor has not indicated he is closer to making a decision by the January 1st deadline for initial Medicaid expansion funds.

Details on the National Governor’s Association Health and Human Services Committee can be found here: http://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/blog/2013/10/haslam-tapped-to-head-national.html

House Dems Praise Supreme Court DOMA Decision

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; June 26, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner and State Rep. Sherry Jones (D-Nashville) are applauding today’s Supreme Court decision which declared DOMA as unconstitutional.

“Today was a victory for the dignity of men and women across the country who wish to enjoy equal protection under the law,” said Rep. Jones. “Most Tennesseans agree that couples in a loving and committed relationship deserve to be treated equally.”

In a poll released by Vanderbilt University, a plurality of Tennesseans showed support for marriage equality or civil unions. According to the poll, 49% favored full marriage rights or civil union protections.

“Polls consistently show that the American people are evolving on the issue of marriage equality,” said Chairman Turner. “This decision is a positive step forward for people who believe that a state should be allowed to recognize all relationships and be treated fairly by the federal government.”

The decision today in U.S. v. Windsor will allow all couples with state recognized marriage licenses the ability to access the more than 1,000 federal benefits these taxpaying citizens were previously denied. In the courts majority opinion, Justice Kennedy wrote that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”

TNHDC Opposes Huffman’s Proposed Salary Changes for Teachers

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; June 20, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats joined together to speak out against a proposal by the Haslam administration to cut teacher pay in Tennessee.

“If we are ever going to raise Tennessee’s educational standards, we must make our state more attractive to highly qualified, professional teachers,” said Rep. Gloria Johnson (D-Knoxville). “Instead, Commissioner Huffman and the corporate special interests bankrolling the so-called ‘education reform’ movement have set their sights once again on attacking our public school teachers.”

Commissioner Huffman will present his proposed changes to the minimum teacher salary schedule to the State Board of Education on Friday, June 21. The new proposal will reduce steps in salary increases from 21 to four and eliminate incentives for doctorate degrees and post-masters training.

“Our teachers are this state’s greatest resource,” said House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh. “Something this administration and self-proclaimed education reformers still fail to grasp is that putting teachers last will not put students first.”

“If this proposal goes forward, Governor Haslam will be breaking the state’s promise to thousands of teachers across the state,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “Teachers have invested their precious time and money into obtaining further education with the promise that they would be adequately compensated. Now, teachers are going to be left with thousands in debt and a broken promise from the state.”

View the proposed schedule for teachers HERE.

TN House Dems Have Fingers Crossed for Longshot Haslam Vetoes

Tennessee House Democrats held a post-session press conference Tuesday voice their disappointment with much of what the GOP supermajority-controlled Legislature passed this year.

Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley was joined by House Caucus Chair Mike Turner of Old Hickory and Memphis Rep. Antonio Parkinson to speak to reporters about what issues they wish the General Assembly would have acted on and new laws they think the state could do without.

Turner charged that the session was a boon for the wealthy Tennesseans and corporations but “if you were in the middle class, it was a terrible session for you.”

Chief amongst the concerns Turner mentioned was the Haslam administration’s overhaul of workers’ compensation that he called “a tax on sick workers.”

“That did not really address the problem that keeps the cost rising—the medical costs—and just took more money out of workers’ pockets,” said Turner.

Leader Fitzhugh, meanwhile, said his biggest disappointment was the governor’s decision not to accept nearly $1.2 billion in federal Medicare expansion money. But Fitzhugh didn’t fault Haslam completely, saying some of the blame rests with his own party for not doing enough to rally their base on the issue.

“I think our problem, as Democrats, this time is we didn’t get the message out to the people who could have been affected, Fitzhugh said. “I think there are people out there that don’t really that they were this close to having the ability to have health insurance when before they couldn’t afford it… and I’m just sorry we didn’t get the word out to more of them so they could have risen up a little bit and tried to convince the governor.”

While the Democratic lawmakers weren’t shy about questioning many of the session’s Republican-backed initiatives, they were hesitant, when asked by reporters, to choose which new laws they thought were the worst, saying they didn’t want to jinx the possibility, however slim, that Haslam might choose to veto some of them.

“There are a lot of things he could veto and we’ll sustain him on probably all of them if he vetoed them,” Turner told reporters. “I don’t want to influence his veto one way or another until after the fact. Come back with that question after—what’s he got, 10 days or something like that?”

Dems Claim Victory in Defeat of Campaign Finance Bill

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 18, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – House Democrats were joined by 13 Republicans and one Independent Republican in voting against legislation by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada to change corporate contribution laws. The bill failed 48-41 after nearly an hour of debate.

“The people of Tennessee don’t want this because they know that money corrupts,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. During the debate on the legislation, Chairman Turner implored his Republican colleagues to side with the people and vote against the bill.

HB643 would have nearly tripled the amount of money political parties and caucuses could give to state candidates. It also removed the requirement that corporations register as PACs. Additionally, the bill would have allowed insurance companies to contribute to political candidates.

Rep. JoAnne Favors (D-Chattanooga) warned that allowing insurance companies to give to candidates during our current health care debate would “give the appearance of being unethical.”

Having failed to receive a majority, the bill now moves back to the Calendar and Rules Committee.
Roll call of the vote available here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/136545701/Roll-Call-on-HB643-by-Casada

Turner: In 2013 ‘One Major Victory After Another’ in GOP’s ‘War’ on Workers

Press release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus; April 12, 2013:

Nashville, Tenn. – The Tennessee State House on Thursday passed a series of bills that will weaken rights and lower wages for Tennessee’s workforce. During the nearly four hour session, House Republicans voted to radically change the state workers’ compensation system and do away with the prevailing wage for construction workers.

“This year has been one major victory after another in the Republican Party’s war on working people in the state of Tennessee,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner. “The wealthy special interests have certainly gotten their money’s worth this year and it will be working families that have to pay the price for their indifference and greed.”

The Governor’s workers’ compensation changes will reduce payouts to injured workers by 1/3, make it easier to fire injured workers, and make it harder for workers to collect legitimate claims. In addition, the new law puts the appeals process out of the hands of local courts and into a new state-appointed bureaucracy underneath the beleaguered Department of Labor. Democrats had requested the Governor delay this legislation in response to the Comptroller audit which showed “internal controls…were ineffective or non-existent” with regard to the state’s unemployment insurance system.

“These are short-sighted changes that will result in more workplace injuries and higher rates of bankruptcy for injured workers,” said Chairman Turner. “All the while, these new changes do nothing to address the higher medical costs in Tennessee which are the reason our workers’ comp rates were higher in the first place.”

Also passing on Thursday was HB850 by Rep. Marsh (R-Shelbyville) which will eliminate prevailing wage protections for construction workers on state contracts. The prevailing wage law was designed to prevent contractors from undercutting competition by driving down wages on workers. If the Governor signs this legislation into law; lower paid and lower skilled workers will be used to complete projects, causing delays and infrastructure problems down the road.

“Working people in this state are being driven down further and further as Republicans try to win a race to the bottom in wages, benefits, and job protections for Tennesseans,” said Chairman Turner. “Unfortunately, many working families in this state won’t realize the damage that has been done until it’s too late.”