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In Wake of Comptroller’s Report on Farr, Haslam says Consistency Needed in Tax-Variance Decisions

Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday the best reaction to a comptroller’s report widely seen as critical of former Department of Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr is to establish clearly defined procedures for tax variances granted by the commissioner.

“I just got a copy and read it over the weekend,” Haslam said of the report (pdf).

“For us, I think the important thing is to say: What are we going to do going forward? I think the clear message to us was: We want to have well-documented, clearly organized procedures for how you handle any variances.”

Haslam said he and current Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts have talked about the issue and that Roberts agrees with him on the proper approach.

Haslam said he does not know if he will advocate any legislation to address procedures for tax variances, however. He said all of his department chiefs are reporting to him with any proposals for legislation they may have for next year and that he will address the Department of Revenue later this week.

A key element of the issue, however, has been the private nature of Revenue decisions, which affect individual taxpayers.

Comptroller Justin Wilson’s report, dated Oct. 17, is accompanied by a letter to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Rep. Charles Sargent of Franklin, saying the report is in response to their request. All four of the legislators are Republicans. McNally and Sargent are chairmen of their chambers’ respective finance committees.

Wilson is a Republican. Farr served in the administration of former Gov. Phil Bredesen, a Democrat.

The comptroller’s report looked at tax variances from 2000-2011 and involved a review of 59 variances — 40 requested by the taxpayer, 19 by the commissioner. The report said approvals of taxpayer-requested variances increased during the tenure of Loren Chumley, who served in 2002-2007, and Farr, who served in 2007-2010. It noted a frequency in recent years where variance award letters involved references to economic development.

“Specifically, taxpayers would use job creation and economic impact as part of their argument for why they should be awarded a variance,” the report said, adding that requests used tax treatment as a “negotiation tool.”

The report said key department employees were sometimes excluded from the decision-making process. The report recommends that the Legislature consider legislation requiring additional approvals to variances, that the department should proceed with a new tracking system for variances and that the department develop a process for reviewing awarded variances.

Haslam acknowledged Monday the difficulty of dealing with privacy issues of agreements with taxpayers balanced with transparency in government.

“That is one of the difficulties, because obviously it deals with private taxpayers’ information,” Haslam said. “But I think the important thing for us to do is make certain, again, that there is a process that is clear and predictable and we’re letting people know everything we can — absent private taxpayers’ information.

“We really are trying to do that.”

New Amazon Deal Praised As Improvement On Deal, Not Backtracking

When all was said and done in the announcement Thursday that Amazon will collect sales taxes in Tennessee beginning in 2014, the state was in a different place from its original agreement with the online sales giant.

The original plan had been that Tennessee would get hundreds of jobs from two distribution centers in the Chattanooga area, so in return the state would let Amazon avoid collecting sales taxes on purchases. The deal was subject to debate almost from the time it became known.

Now, with a commitment that will bring the total number of Amazon jobs to 3,500 in the state, Amazon will have to collect sales taxes, although it is not soon enough for some critics of the deal.

So by negotiating a new deal with the company, taxes included, does that mean that in the big picture Tennessee went back on its word?

“No, absolutely not,” said Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, pointing to the efforts of Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Revenue Richard Roberts. “I’m proud the governor and the commissioner were able to sit down with Amazon and work out an arrangement that is pleasing not only to Amazon but also to the taxpayers of this state.

“I think it is a fair way to bring a large number of jobs to the state of Tennessee.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, called the announcement Thursday a “big win for unified Republican government on the jobs front.”

“The governor has negotiated a deal that promotes economic growth and jobs creation while protecting the interests of brick-and-mortar businesses who are the backbone of our economy,” Ramsey said in a formal statement.

“This is a good solution for the state of Tennessee, and I commend the governor for resolving this.”

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey said the deal simply means an improvement on what the state had before.

“It didn’t go back on its word. It just worked out a better deal,” Claude Ramsey said.

The deputy governor was asked if the new deal would in any way be detrimental to future negotiations with other companies.

“No, sir,” he said. “Because I think it shows that there is a solution. We worked to a solution.”

The original deal was struck by a Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, who told Haslam of his plans and the reasons behind them: Get the jobs and collect no taxes, or lose the jobs and collect no taxes. Haslam, a Republican and newly elected when Bredesen told him of the deal, told Bredesen he would honor the agreement.

But ultimately, the Haslam administration engaged Amazon in an entirely new discussion. The result was an arrangement where Amazon not only would be collecting the sales tax but would be adding jobs to the point its total commitment had grown to 3,500 jobs and $350 million.

The entire scenario involved a Democratic administration sacrificing a substantial amount of revenue and a Republican administration doing everything it could to collect owed taxes — shifts from the stereotypical depictions of Democrats as tax-and-spenders and Republicans as advocates of revenue reduction.

Republicans did so in the name of tax fairness, yet other retailers were not satisfied that Amazon still gets until 2014 to start collecting and remitting.

In the Legislature, it was a Republican duo, Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Rep. Charles Sargent of Franklin, who had contemplated legislation to force the tax collections.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, speaker pro tem, said the new deal does not go against the original deal.

“I don’t think you can say it’s anything against the original agreement,” Watson said. “I think this is a continuation of dialogue that’s been going on between the administration and Amazon since the original agreement was discussed.

“All along, as this whole debate has been occurring, many of us, me being one, have been saying that conversations have been continuing, and this is just a continuation of that conversation.”

Democrats held a press conference Thursday, calling for $15 million toward a jobs plan. When they were asked about the Amazon deal, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh did what Haslam did and emphasized the part of the deal that was about jobs, not taxes.

“I think the primary focus is on the jobs, the jobs that the Bredesen administration brought here through Amazon, and through an agreement that has to do with the revenue, that there’s going to be another 2,000 jobs on top of that,” Fitzhugh said.

“So I think that’s the key thing we have to focus on in these times, which as everybody has said, is jobs.”

Mike Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, said, “The law is already on the books. You’re supposed to be paying that tax as it is now.

“There’s no new taxes being added to the books because of what we’re doing.”

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.

Haslam Announces Agreement With Amazon

Press Release from the Office of Gov. Bill Haslam, Oct. 6, 2011:

Company to create thousands of jobs and to make significant capital investment in state

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an agreement with Amazon resulting in the company’s subsidiaries creating 3,500 full time Tennessee-based jobs with benefits, thousands of seasonal jobs along with making $350 million in capital investment by maintaining the previously announced projects in Hamilton, Bradley and Wilson counties and additional projects in Tennessee.

Amazon’s commitment today represents 2,000 more full-time jobs than were originally announced in Hamilton and Bradley counties.

“We are proud that this worldwide brand has chosen to make a significant investment in Tennessee and is committed to expanding its presence here,” Haslam said. “This agreement balances meeting the needs of the company and the needs of the state by providing certainty to Amazon and brick and mortar retailers in Tennessee regarding sales tax.”

The governor was joined for the announcement in the Old Supreme Court Chamber in the Capitol by House Speaker Beth Harwell, legislative leadership, legislators representing the communities with ongoing Amazon projects, company officials along with Revenue Commissioner Richard Roberts and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty.

Under the agreement, which will require legislative action to implement, Amazon will also begin to collect Tennessee sales taxes beginning January 1, 2014 unless a national solution is addressed before that time.

Currently, Tennessee law requires that consumers pay use tax to the Tennessee Department of Revenue when making an online purchase from any retailer that does not collect sales tax. After 2013, responsibility for collecting and remitting the Tennessee tax will shift to the company. In the event that the U.S. Congress acts before January 1, 2014, all online retailers will collect sales tax at the time federal legislation is enacted.

The agreement will be presented to the General Assembly as legislation for consideration when members convene in January.

Watson Working for Tax-Ruling Transparency

Hixson Republican Bo Watson backed off state legislation this year that would bring transparency to so-called “private letter rulings” — written statements issued to taxpayers from tax-collection agencies — because he was satisfied with efforts by the Tennessee Department of Revenue commissioner to do it on his own.

But even Sen. Watson remains uncertain if the effort for more openness is workable, because of privacy issues related to the rulings.

Private letter rulings have become a point of attention in the state this year because of the ongoing controversy over Amazon.com and its exemption from collecting sales taxes. Speculation has risen that Amazon may be benefiting from a letter ruling from the state, but such information has never been made public.

In fact, Watson said his dealings with Commissioner of Revenue Richard Roberts on making letter rulings more public have had “zero” to do with Amazon in particular. He — and apparently Roberts — just want more openness on the letter rulings issued by the department. An effort to reach Roberts on Wednesday was unsuccessful.

The Knoxville News-Sentinel reported Wednesday night that the Department of Revenue has initiated a shift in policy from the previous administration. The report said the department has issued 40 letter rulings this year and that 17 redacted versions will be made public, with another 15 still under review and eight kept secret.

Watson, the new speaker pro tem of the Senate, this week described some of the difficult issues surrounding letter rulings apart from the Amazon controversy. But he also spoke about his thoughts on the Amazon issue. The company is establishing two distribution centers in the Chattanooga area, one in Hamilton County and one in Bradley County. Watson’s district is part of Hamilton County. A third Amazon center is planned for Lebanon.

Watson said conversations have gone well with Roberts in trying to open up the letter rulings.

“Revenue has been working with me very cooperatively in trying to figure out a methodology that we might be able to do that,” Watson said. “The challenge is the privacy issue.”

There are two types of private letter rulings. One addresses a specific tax question as it relates to a specific business. Then there are letter rulings where a specific company asks a question but the answer has general application.

“So you want the public to be advised of those letter rulings that have general application,” Watson said. “How do you achieve that without revealing the source of the letter ruling?”

Watson’s SB0902 would require that a copy of any revenue ruling or letter ruling issued on or after Jan. 1, 2008 be made available for public inspection in accordance with current public records law. It calls for posting the ruling on the department Web site within 15 days of the date of the ruling, and it calls for the commissioner to redact from the ruling anything, like a name or address, that may identify the taxpayer who requested the ruling.

Watson said he introduced the bill because businesses had had frustrations with the administration of Gov. Phil Bredesen, whose term ended this January.

“They would go in with a tax situation and find out that there had been a letter ruling about it, but they didn’t know anything about the letter ruling. So it frustrated their business process,” Watson said. “So anyway, I introduced a bill to make private letter rulings more public.

“The challenge is that much of the information has to be redacted because obviously a business’s tax information is their private proprietary information if they ask a specific tax question. If the tax question has general applicability, how do you get that answer out to the public without revealing the source of the question?”

Simple deduction comes into play, he said.

“If a large company asks a question and you describe them as a large company with X number of employees, people will figure out who asked the question,” Watson said. “The commissioner, in our conversation, said, ‘Look, we’re going to be much better about issuing the response to these letter rulings than perhaps in the past.'”

Watson said Roberts believes the department can make changes without necessarily having a law to do it. Watson is going to sit back and see how it goes. If the department is unable to achieve the goal, then Watson said he would at least pursue debate on the issue.

Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, chairman of the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee, this week said he appreciates efforts in the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam to address transparency on letter rulings. McNally has been an active player in the attempt to get Amazon to collect the sales tax.

But the issue of letter rulings is just one facet of the broad tax-collection ramifications surrounding Amazon and other online retailers. Haslam recently said he wants Amazon to collect sales taxes in a way that satisfies Amazon and the state. Haslam has also said he wants the state to honor its original commitment to Amazon, which was made by the Bredesen team.

Watson said he was not surprised by Haslam’s remarks and that that’s what he thought would happen all along. He said he got the impression there would be more discussions from what he heard in legislative hearings on Amazon this year.

When Haslam first made public remarks this month about wanting Amazon to collect the taxes, Watson said he was in San Antonio for the legislative summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures and got a heads-up phone call from Warren Wells of the governor’s staff to let him know about Haslam’s comments.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who was at the San Antonio conference, did not get a similar phone call.

“He did not get a call from the governor last week, but they have had ongoing discussions about this issue,” said Adam Kleinheider, a spokesman for Ramsey. “So his comments did not surprise him in any way, and he is 100 percent on board with the governor.”

The NCSL summit included a discussion of e-commerce issues. A similar session was held at the Southern Legislative Conference last month in Memphis.

“As Internet commerce continues to grow, we’re all going to have to recognize that this is a new business model, and states, along with the federal government, are going to have to figure out a way to create tax equity among all the various means of commerce,” Watson said. “I don’t think it’s reached the tipping point where Congress is going to be motivated to act.

“If you’re Amazon, you want tax equity with all the other Internet retailers that may be working under the same model you’re working under — just as the bricks-and-mortar folks want tax equity with the Internet folks.”

Watson said he hasn’t had much contact with retailers since the Legislature adjourned this year, but he has heard from constituents who say a deal is a deal and that original agreements with Amazon should be honored. He said the only contact he has had with Amazon other than the hearings was a five-minute meeting in his office prior to the committee meeting.

Watson said people need to remember that the sales tax still applies to the transaction and the question boils down to who collects the tax, not whether it is owed.

“The state doesn’t aggressively pursue that, and I don’t think we’re going to encourage them on small-ticket items to aggressively pursue that,” Watson said.

Haslam has said Congress needs to settle the issue for the states.

“All states are trying to figure out how to deal with this new marketplace,” Watson said. “The challenge is how do we modernize the law to marry up to the new Internet commercial market that in the last five years has grown exponentially?”

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McNally Pleased with Haslam’s Handling of Amazon Sales Tax Issues

Sen. Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, who has worked to require Amazon.com to collect sales taxes on its online sales, said Monday he endorses Gov. Bill Haslam’s efforts to resolve the issue, calling it a potential “win-win” solution for the state.

McNally also said he appreciates efforts in the Haslam administration to set new guidelines on the handling of private letter rulings — or written agreements specific to the taxpayer — which might make the process more transparent yet still protect a taxpayer’s confidentiality.

McNally, chairman of the Senate Finance Ways and Means Committee, noted new clout among members of the Legislature from the Chattanooga area, where two of the three distribution centers in the state announced by Amazon will be located. A third center has been announced for Lebanon in Wilson County.

Haslam says his administration is in negotiations with representatives of Amazon on establishing a long-term relationship on sales tax collections. The governor’s efforts come in the wake of an agreement between his predecessor, Phil Bredesen, and Amazon, where the company was granted permission to operate its facilities in the state without collecting sales taxes. The reason given for the deal was that the creation of hundreds of jobs in Tennessee made up for the tax issue and that without the deal Amazon would go to another state.

Haslam said last week he wants an agreement with Amazon where the company can expand in Tennessee and at the same time come with an understanding on the collection of taxes. Haslam said if such an agreement were reached the public would be able to know about the deal. Much of the arrangement under the Bredesen administration has been secretive.

“To the extent they can work something out that allows them (Amazon) to operate facilities and provide the jobs and then would, in the end, have them collecting and remitting sales tax, that’s a win-win,” McNally said. “I’m pleased with what the governor has said.”

Commissioner of Revenue Richard Roberts said last week he cannot comment on talks with Amazon, even to confirm or deny that negotiations are occurring.

“He can’t really discuss it unless Amazon gives him permission to,” McNally said.

But Haslam has spoken openly about the discussions, expressing his personal desire that Amazon collect the tax. Haslam publicly voiced his support for the original agreement, as have many lawmakers, citing the importance of the state protecting its reputation for keeping its word.

“Whether the governor, in talking to Amazon, says, ‘This is going to be on the record, and our discussions are not protected by confidentiality,’ I don’t know,” McNally said. “There is a statutory provision that protects taxpayer confidentiality for the Department of Revenue officials.”

McNally said his understanding is that the Department of Revenue is working with Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, speaker pro tem of the Senate, and others about how to handle private letter rulings that are key to the confidentiality matter.

An effort to reach Watson on Monday was unsuccessful.

McNally said he believes such an agreement at the department could be possible while still providing some protection to the taxpayer — “whether that’s through redaction, or whether it’s through having the confidentiality provision expire after a certain length of time, or whether that’s through a mechanism where the commissioner of Revenue would say he’s issuing the ruling regarding ‘XYZ’ provision of the revenue rules, and his ruling is such-and-such without mentioning the taxpayer.”

McNally said such an effort at the Department of Revenue is a positive change. He also expressed confidence that a new long-term deal would be spelled out publicly, as Haslam assured.

McNally at one time suggested a two-year “grace period” for requiring Amazon to collect sales tax, but Haslam responded that it would leave uncertainty on the issue.

One of the developments in the Amazon issue has been the recent emergence of power among some lawmakers from the Chattanooga area. Amazon has announced distribution centers in Hamilton County and Bradley County in the southeast corner of the state.

Watson was recently named speaker pro tem in the Senate after Sen. Jamie Woodson, R-Knoxville, who had had the role, announced her departure to take a job as head of the State Collaborative on Reforming Education. Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, was elected House majority leader this year, and Rep. Eric Watson, R-Cleveland, is chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

“I know there are some very strong advocates, certainly very powerful individuals in that area,” McNally said. “They’ve got some real power in Chattanooga that it hasn’t had in a number of years.

“At the same time, they’re reasonable individuals. They realize you’ve got jobs and capital investment on one side of the ledger sheet, and you’ve got potential erosion of the sales tax base on the other. So, all of our conversations have been cordial, but they’re very strong advocates of their position.”

McNally and Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, chairman of the House Finance Ways and Means Committee, sponsored legislation this year seeking a requirement that Amazon collect the tax. They postponed it.

On Aug. 1, McNally and Sargent requested an opinion from Attorney General Robert Cooper on whether the state may waive the obligation of an out-of-state retailer to collect the sales tax. That followed an earlier request for an opinion from Cooper on whether Amazon had established sufficient retail presence — a legal threshold called nexus — to warrant collection of the tax and whether their legislation requiring it was constitutional. Cooper opined that sufficient nexus was present to warrant the tax collection and that the legislation was constitutionally defensible.

McNally was asked Monday his current opinion on the prospects for his legislation being passed.

“I’d say it’s an uphill battle,” he said.

But he sounded upbeat about Haslam’s recent approach.

“I appreciate the governor trying to work toward an equitable solution for the state, for that region, as far as jobs and capital investment,” he said.

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TN No Longer an Openness Leader on Financial Disclosures

Advocates for open government in Tennessee are expressing concern about whether Gov. Bill Haslam’s executive order relaxing income disclosure rules portends similar steps away from transparency, but there seems to be little out-and-out outrage over the governor’s move.

“The only thing that bothers me about the executive order is the tone that it sets and the signal that it might send,” said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “He’s not rolling back a law.”

Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause in Tennessee, had a similar reaction.

“I hope it’s not an indication of how we’re going to go from here, and I’d like to think it’s not,” Williams said. “But it’s just sad that his very first executive order, just a day or so after being sworn in, he takes a significant step backward.”

One fascinating aspect of the reaction, advocates for openness in government have said, is that the more demanding executive order that Phil Bredesen, Haslam’s predecessor, set as governor went largely unnoticed — until Haslam’s order loosened the requirements.

After being sworn in as the state’s 49th governor Jan. 15, Haslam’s first executive order was to declare that members of the executive branch must follow state law on disclosure, which brings the administration in line with the Legislature. The order means key administration officials including Cabinet members will have to divulge the sources of outside income but not the specific amounts they make. The step rolls back a Bredesen order, which called for disclosure of the amounts.

“Bredesen, to his credit, set a tone of openness by issuing that executive order in the first place,” Gibson said. “So I can’t slam him (Haslam) for doing it, because he’s basically doing what the law is for the Legislature.

“The thing that Bredesen did was far more disclosure than what Congress is required to do. Congress has to report the value of their investments in categories, from $50,000 to half a million dollars, and half a million dollars to a million, and a million to 5 million. So even members of Congress don’t have to report what their actual income is.”

Williams noted that the Haslam step presents a glaring change.

“It sticks out like a sore thumb at being a difference from what had been the precedent,” Williams said. “He (Haslam) is correct that the law doesn’t require it, but it’s kind of one of those things, once you’ve set the precedent, it’s definitely a step backward to not continue it.”

Haslam’s order caught the attention of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, based in Washington, and its policy director, John Wonderlich, called the decision a “stunning disrespect for the role disclosure plays in democracy.”

“Governor Haslam’s executive order flouts the public trust embodied in that disclosure system, and places his personal and political concerns over the public interest and integrity of the very system he was elected to lead,” Wonderlich wrote.

A recurring refrain, however, is a call for a middle-of-the-road approach that would require ranges of income be reported, rather than none.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit research group, falls into that category.

“I guess my solution is a compromise, which is what we have in California and which I believe is recommended, which is ranges,” said Stern. “Over a thousand dollars. Over $10,000, over $100,000, over $1 million, and at that point who cares? You should have an idea.”

“We want to know what the conflict is and approximately if it’s a big conflict or a little conflict, but we don’t need to know the exact amount of the conflict,” added Stern, whose organization describes itself as promoting “innovative political and media solutions to help individuals participate more effectively in their communities and governments.”

Issue of Income Prominent in Gov’s Race

Common Cause’s Williams said the potential for conflict should be closely watched for department heads such as those in Economic and Community Development and Revenue, not because he has concerns specific to Haslam’s choices for those jobs but because of the nature of the positions.

Haslam named Bill Hagerty, founder and managing director of Hagerty Peterson & Co., a merchant bank and private equity firm, to the post of Economic and Community Development commissioner. Haslam picked Richard Roberts, director of Miller Industries, which makes towing and recovery vehicles, to head the Department of Revenue.

The issue of Haslam’s personal income rose prominently in the 2010 governor’s race, with opponents among Democrats and Republicans insisting that Haslam’s income from his family’s Pilot Corp. presented a conflict of interest. Ironically, one of Haslam’s harshest critics was his current commissioner of Safety, Bill Gibbons.

Gibbons ran against Haslam for the Republican nomination. He dropped out early but not before he proposed a plan for openness in government.

Gibbons, previously the Shelby County district attorney general, hit Haslam hard on the issue during the campaign and said every time the state widens a highway with a lot of commercial traffic Pilot has an interest with its truck stops. He said voters couldn’t know if it was a big conflict or a small conflict because Haslam would not reveal his income from Pilot. Haslam did divulge his income from investments outside Pilot Corp.

Haslam has also announced a blind trust for his holdings, but the trust will not include Pilot holdings or a real estate investment he has outside the state.

Among candidate Gibbons’ detailed plans for openness was a strengthening of disclosure laws by moving beyond the requirement of candidates and officeholders to disclose only the sources of income and require reporting of the amount of income from each source.

An effort to reach Gibbons this week for comment on Haslam’s executive order was unsuccessful.

Haslam consistently refused during the campaign to divulge the amount of his income from Pilot, as first requested by a consortium of the state’s largest newspapers. He reasoned that Tennesseans knew that his family owned Pilot and therefore knew all they needed to know. He has now extended that same principle to other members of his administration, and Haslam used the same consistent line of explanation when he addressed the executive order in a recent press conference as governor.

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey reiterated the explanation Haslam has given going back to the campaign.

“To the best of my knowledge the executive order was a follow-up to what he said all over this state to the people of Tennessee,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think the executive order was one period, one comma, different from what he had said for months.”

Haslam Order In Line With Other States’ Rules

Ramsey said to his knowledge there was no survey of what is done in other states to influence the decision.

There is little to suggest Haslam’s order is out of line with other states, although that doesn’t translate into a sparkling record on public disclosure.

The Center for Public Integrity, a journalistic research organization in Washington that promotes improving government openness and accountability, issued a report in 2009 in which Tennessee was among 20 states given a grade of “F” for its disclosure laws. Tennessee was given 57.5 points out of a possible 100, ranking 34th among the 50 states. Only Louisiana, Washington and Hawaii received a grade of “A.”

The report was an update to a report by the Center for Public Integrity issued in 2007. Tennessee received an “F” in that report as well.

Like all the surveys reviewed by TNReport, though, the center’s study focused on laws, not executive orders by governors.

Charts compiled by the Center for Ethics in Government for the National Conference of State Legislatures show a broad range of requirements on disclosure, with several states requiring reporting based on ranges of income.

The Center for Ethics in Government does not summarize its findings like the Center for Public Integrity, but Peggy Kerns, director of the ethics center, said, “I would think that most states do not require disclosure of the actual amount of income, just the source.”

Stern, the Los Angeles researcher, said he believes the work done by the Center for Public Integrity is a good measuring stick and that there has been “not much change at all” since the report was released.

The written report in 2007 did address more closely how state requirements affect governors than the more recent report.

“Requiring them to disclose their private financial ties could reveal possible conflicts of interest,” the 2007 report said. Only Washington received a grade of “A” in that report.

The 2007 study made specific mention that Bredesen, who was wealthy before his election, did not take a paycheck as governor, which put him in the company of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Then-Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey drew a salary of $1 a year, the report noted. Haslam, like Bredesen, is not accepting a paycheck from the state.

The 2009 report noted that two southern states — Louisiana and Mississippi — made the biggest improvements since the earlier study, and it pointed to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal pushing through an ethics reform package that bolstered requirements for all lawmakers to report their financial interests. That action, the report said, led Louisiana to the top spot in its rankings, with 94.5 points out of 100 in the center’s 43-question survey.

Roberts to Lead TN Revenue Dept. in New Administration

Press Release from Gov.-Elect Bill Haslam, Jan. 7, 2010:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam today announced East Tennessee executive and attorney Richard Roberts as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Revenue.

Roberts will oversee the Department of Revenue, which is responsible for the administration of state tax laws and motor vehicle title and registration laws.

“I’m excited that Richard has agreed to join the team as we prepare to begin a new administration,” Haslam said. “Our state is facing difficult economic times, and to have Richard – a results-oriented manager – at the helm of our Revenue Department will help as we look ahead to difficult decisions.”

Roberts currently serves as a director of Miller Industries, Inc., the world’s largest manufacturer of towing and recovery vehicles. Previously he was General Counsel and Senior Vice President with Forward Air Corporation, and he also held the same positions with Landair Corporation. Both are Greeneville, Tenn.-based transportation companies. Before working at Forward Air, he was a corporate securities attorney with the regional law firm Baker, Worthington.

He serves on the East Tennessee Foundation Board of Directors and previously served on the Board of Directors for the Niswonger Foundation from 2000-2006.

“I appreciate the confidence the governor-elect has shown in asking me to serve as Commissioner of Revenue,” Roberts said. “I look forward to the opportunity to be of service to our great state.”

Roberts has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Tennessee Knoxville and a JD/MBA from UT College of Law.

Roberts, 56, is married to Imogene King.