July 22 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of political headlines assembled from Tennessee news organizations by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

Haslam speaks to DMC luncheon (Memphis Business Journal)

Says Memphians have ‘unparalleled’ passion, commitment. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam stressed the importance of continuing to focus on developing Downtown during the Downtown Memphis Commission’s 2011 Annual Luncheon. Haslam compared the state to a business, and said Memphis is the biggest and most important branch in the state.

Haslam Calls for Debt Solution (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam says Washington’s lack of agreement yet on whether to raise the country’s borrowing limit, in addition to disagreement over how to rein in spending long term, is a “big issue to us” in Tennessee. The remarks from Haslam, who said state officials are huddling over the possible fallout from a downgrade of the country’s triple-A credit rating, come in light of a report released this week by the Moody’s rating agency.

Governor mulls possible credit rating drop (Associated Press/Johnson)

Gov. Bill Haslam says state officials are discussing the impact of a lowered credit rating if the U.S. government’s credit rating is downgraded. Earlier this month, Moody’s Investors Service placed the federal government’s triple-A credit rating under review for a possible downgrade as Congress and the White House wrestle over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion borrowing limit.

Debt debate reverberates in state governments (Associated Press)

Virginia’s governor is livid that his famously tight-fisted state could face higher borrowing costs to build roads and schools. Maryland has put off a $718 million bond sale for three days because of the current financial uncertainty.

Tennessee governor weighs in possible MCS delay (WMC-TV Memphis)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam weighed in Thursday in on the battle between the city of Memphis and Memphis City Schools over a possible delay in the start of school. “I think what we can do is, once the judge makes a decision, to do everything we can to facilitate the merger if that’s what the judge decides,” Haslam said.

First lady helps launch reading initiative (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

Even if he’d gone swimming Thursday, the president of the state’s newest chapter of a special foundation said he was ready to spread the word about reading. Under his sport coat, beneath his dress shirt, Jim Leitnaker said he was sporting a bogus tattoo on his chest with a simple message: Read to Your Child.

Reading Fundamentals a Focus of Rural Education Summit (TN Report)

Early childhood learning received considerable attention at a conference on rural education in Nashville Wednesday. Its importance to the overall success a student achieves in school was emphatically stated by many of the policy experts and advocates on hand for the event.

SCORE Conference Accents Connection Between Education, Econ. Growth (TNR)

They held an education summit in Nashville on Tuesday and Wednesday, and it turned into a jobs summit. And that’s pretty much what organizers of the event had in mind all along.

Funding requests accepted by state (Times-Gazette)

A state agency is now accepting applications for transition funding from over 200 Tennessee communities that were recently left without local planning services. In late May, the state announced that it was doing away with state planning services provided under contract to local government and the city lost the service of state planner Art Brown, while Bedford County lost Bryan Collins.

TennCare Fraud, Bartlett Woman Charged (WPTY-TV Memphis)

A Bartlett woman is charged with fraud for gaining access to healthcare benefits provided by TennCare, even though she wasn’t eligible for the public program. According to the Office of Inspector General (OIG), 27-year-old Tjuanna Coburn of Bartlett was arrested with help from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office.

Tennessee unemployment up for third month straight (Nashville Biz Journal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate continues to edge closer to the 10 percent mark, a rate not seen since June 2010. State unemployment ticked up to 9.8 percent in June, up from the May revised rate of 9.7 percent, according to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

TN jobless rate nears 10 percent (Tennessean/Marsteller)

But state adds new positions faster than U.S. Tennessee’s jobs picture might not be as bleak as some observers think despite an increase to9.8 percent unemployment in June. Although the state’s unemployment rate has risen in recent months, Tennessee has been creating new jobs at a faster pace than the nation as a whole, state officials said Thursday.

Tenn. unemployment up slightly in June (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate June was 9.8 percent, up from a revised 9.7 percent in May, the Department of Labor and Workforce Development said Thursday. The national unemployment rate for June was 9.2 percent, up from 9.1 percent in May.

Tennessee’s jobless rate rose to 9.8 percent in June (Commercial Appeal)

Tennessee’s unemployment rate keeps ticking up, rising to 9.8 percent in June, the state Department of Labor & Workforce Development said Thursday. The rate was up one-tenth of a percentage point from May’s revised rate of 9.7 percent.

Unemployment Numbers Go Up Three Months in a Row (WTVF-TV Nashville)

There’s a less rosy picture being painted of the states’ job market. June numbers just released show unemployment ticked up a tenth of a percent to 9.8. That means 3,200 more Tennesseans are out of work.

State commission awards grants for arts projects (Commercial Appeal/Wright)

The Tennessee Arts Commission has awarded more than $1 million in grants to 49 Shelby County art organizations for fiscal 2012, the commission announced Thursday. The commission has distributed grants to Tennessee arts groups for more than 45 years.

Homeowner at odds with TDOT over Lovell Road widening (N-S/Willett)

When the Tennessee Department of Transportation tried to buy his property to widen Lovell Road, Tom Ammons decided to stay. Now, after 10 years fighting to keep his land and accepting a settlement, Ammons believes the deal wasn’t good enough.

Road work delayed near school (Columbia Daily Herald)

City officials wait for state approval Columbia officials initially hoped that the bulk of the work to install sidewalks and a traffic signal on Hampshire Pike near Whitthorne Middle School could begin while school was out and traffic was thin. But because the city still hasn’t received needed approvals from the Tennessee Department of Transportation, the construction will likely last well into the school year, when traffic volume is at its peak.

TN Democrats propose scholarships, food tax cut (Tennessean/Sisk)

House leaders file bill to use surpluses next year Tennessee Democrats are proposing lower taxes on food and more money for college scholarships if state revenue continues to improve, but Gov. Bill Haslam says the state has not recovered yet. House Democratic Caucus members filed a bill Thursday that would spell out how surpluses are used if the state collects more in taxes than it has budgeted over the next year.

With revenues up, House Dems push for lower tax on food, more aid (CA/Locker)

The state legislature’s Democratic Caucus said Thursday it will push to use the state’s improving revenues to cut the sales tax on food and bolster need-based college scholarships next year. Following two years of decline, state revenue is above projections for the last 12 months.

Democrats propose food tax cut, more scholarships (Times Free-Press/Sher)

House Democrats say future state revenue surpluses should be used to cut sales taxes on food and increase the number of college scholarships for needier students. Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said during a news conference Thursday that after two years of recession-related revenue declines, the state over the past year has had better-than-anticipated revenues.

Dems want surplus tax collections fo scholarships, cutting food tax (CP/Woods)

House Democrats called Thursday for devoting any surplus state tax collections to cutting the sales tax on food and giving scholarships to college students. “When the state is taking in more money than needed, as we’ve seen over the last few months, then this money needs to go back to Tennesseans, not into the state’s pocket book,” House Democratic leader Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley told a news conference.

Democrats Launch Hail-Mary Tax Relief Plan (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee tax collections are higher than anticipated, and Democrats in the state House have a plan for spending that surplus money. They just filed a bill to that effect. But the legislature won’t gather again until January, and Democrats don’t have the votes to pass anything without GOP buy-in.

Haslam’s Cabinet logging less travel than Bredesen’s bunch (N-S/Humphrey)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s Cabinet members have taken 24 fewer out-of-state trips so far this year than their predecessors did during the last six months of Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, state records show. Bredesen’s department heads made 42 journeys outside the state from July 1 through Dec. 31, 2010, with at least some of the costs charged to state government, according to reports posted on the Department of Finance and Administration’s website – a practice begun by Bredesen and continued by Haslam.

La Vergne officials defend hikes in heated town hall (Daily News Journal)

After raising water and sewer rates and doubling property taxes during the last few months, La Vergne leaders held a town hall meeting July 21 to talk with residents about their concerns and explain why the increases were necessary in order to improve the city. “We had five separate budget hearings. Our retreat was two days,” said Alderman Tom Broeker, who added that the board members spent countless hours thinking about the plan on their own time.

LaVergne residents continue to protest higher taxes (WKRN-TV Nashville)

Residents in LaVergne took their anger over a recent property tax increase and water and sewer rate increase to a special town hall meeting called by the city’s mayor and alderman Thursday. City officials moved the meeting from City Hall to a nearby multi-purpose building to accommodate the large crowd.

Rep: Debt deal needs teeth (Columbia Daily Herald)

U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais was one of nine House Republicans who voted against a GOP proposal to slash $6 trillion in spending and avoid a threatened Aug. 2 default on government debt. DesJarlais, whose district includes Maury County, said Wednesday the plan — dubbed “cut, cap and balance” by supporters — didn’t go far enough in addressing the nation’s deficit.

Deployment hardest on families (Daily News Journal)

But troops do miss the hugs, kisses Capt. Stephen Haley had been through this before. But that didn’t necessarily make it any easier.

How many governors are using social media? (Stateline)

Not long ago state governments were ambivalent about using social media to connect with citizens. Those days are over, if the use of the most popular sites by the nation’s governors is any guide.

At risk of losing federal funds, states defy NCLB (AP/Bonnerand, Amario)

At least three states are vowing to ignore the latest requirements under the No Child Left Behind law in an act of defiance against the federal government that demonstrates their growing frustration over an education program they say sets unrealistic benchmarks for schools. The law sets a goal of having 100 percent of students proficient in math and reading by 2014, but states were allowed to establish how much schools must improve each year.

Debt Ceiling Uncertainty Puts States at Risk (New York Times)

The federal debt ceiling debate is already complicating life for state and local governments. Maryland is postponing a bond sale that had been scheduled for Friday, after the state was warned that its credit rating would probably be lowered in the event of a federal downgrade. California, which typically issues short-term bonds at this time of year, is working to arrange bank loans instead, citing the market uncertainty.

Uncle Sam Weighs Landlord Role to Ease Housing Slump (Wall St. Journal)

The Obama administration is examining ways to pull foreclosed properties off the market and rent them to help stabilize the housing market, according to people familiar with the matter. While the plans may not advance beyond the concept phase, they are under serious consideration by senior administration officials because rents are rising even as home prices in many hard-hit markets continue to fall due to high foreclosure levels.

Government begins process of merging Y-12, Pantex nuke contracts (NS/Munger)

More than a year after announcing plans to combine the management contracts at two of its nuclear weapons production plants — Y-12 in Oak Ridge and Pantex near Amarillo, Texas — the government finally launched a contract competition. The National Nuclear Security Administration on Thursday released a draft “Request for Proposals,” which gives potential bidders 60 days to review the details of the contracting plan and submit comments and suggestions.

Chemical plant coming to Humphreys County, Tenn. (Associated Press)

Occidental Chemical Corp. of Dallas has announced plans to build a plant in Humphreys County, Tenn., that will create approximately 85 full-time jobs. The company said Thursday the membrane cell chlor-alkali plant will be next to DuPont’s New Johnsonville titanium dioxide plant, maximizing the companies’ ability to share resources and services.

Plant to bring 85 new jobs to Humphreys (Tennessean/McClain)

Construction may put 300 more to work Occidental Chemical Corp., a subsidiary of Occidental Petroleum, said Thursday that it plans to build a chemical plant next to DuPont’s Johnsonville, Tenn., titanium dioxide plant in Humphreys County. The project is expected to lead to at least 85 full-time jobs when the facility opens.

Industry on the move (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Higgins)

Olin Chlor Alkali launches construction of its $160 million facility in Bradley County today in an 11 a.m. ceremony at the Hiwassee River. Work is progressing on Whirlpool Corp.’s new Cleveland plant, which remains on schedule to begin operation early in 2012.

Deal could resolve dispute, open City Schools on time (CA/Callahan, Roberts)

A deal reached Thursday offered hope that the showdown over school financing that has threatened the start of the fall semester for city school students could be coming to an end. Under the proposal, brokered over the last two days by Mayor AC Wharton and Memphis City Schools board president Martavius Jones and announced during a meeting of the City Council’s Education Committee, the city would pay the schools $15 million by Aug.15.

City, MCS Appear to Reach Tentative Agreement (Memphis Flyer)

So it looks like we’ve got a deal to avert any hitch in beginning the 2011-12 school year — a tentative one, mind you, inasmuch as it still has to be formally approved by the full City Council, sitting as such, and the Memphis City Schools board. But the ingredients of the deal, however masked in obfuscatory language, are clear enough: The city school board, which had threatened to cancel out the coming academic year if the City didn’t pony up in full on its court-ordered debt to MCS, has basically agreed to shave the debt down if the City agrees to pay up right away.

Tentative Accord Reached In MCS Funding Standoff (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr., Memphis City Schools board president Martavius Jones and the Memphis City Council reached a very tentative accord Thursday, July 21, that would resolve the school funding standoff and put the school system back on its regular calendar to start the school year on Aug. 8. The plan, worked out over two days of discussions that remained intense right up to the announcement Thursday afternoon, goes to the MCS board Friday evening at a special meeting.

Plan to open Mem. schools on time has majority of board in support (CA/Callahan)

Five of the nine city school board members responded favorably to a tentative plan reached Thursday that would open Memphis schools on time. Although details remain to be sorted out, if Martavius Jones, Stephanie Gatewood, Jeff Warren, Betty Mallott and Sara Lewis follow through, the board should approve the plan at its called meeting at 6:45 tonight.

Possible $15 Million Deal Might Result In Schools Opening On Time (WREG-TV)

Maybe people were too exhausted for drama. Sometimes announcements in the Memphis City Hall Chambers can be delivered with almost Shakespearian delight.

Compromise Close in MCS Funding Fight with City (WPTY-TV Memphis)

After all the fighting and drama, a compromise could be in the works that could see more than 106,000 Memphis City Schools students start on time. On Thursday, July 21, 2011, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and MCS Board President Martavius Jones announced they have reached a compromise they believe meets the needs of both the city and the district.

Sumner might consolidate financial offices (Tennessean/Hubbard)

Schools unhappy with single agency plan Sumner County teachers, court clerks and sheriff’s deputies are likely to be paid by one consolidated county finance department in the year ahead. County commissioners say moving the Sumner County school district’s 13 finance workers into its county finance office, which has fewer than a dozen workers, could save about $500,000 per year.

School board passes budget (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

With close to $18 million in cuts, the Hamilton County Department of Education’s $373 million budget finally is balanced. But the severe cuts — which include a loss of at least 24 positions, diminished hours for some employees and $1.5 million from the school’s capital maintenance fund — have the school board anxious for the Hamilton County Commission to restore PILOT funds to its general fund.

Community to have say in Knox school board redistricting (N-S/Alapo)

Knox County’s nine school board districts must be redrawn by early 2012, and community members are invited to submit ideas now on how it should be done. County residents have until close of July 28 to turn in redistricting plans, said Tim Kuhn of the Knoxville-Knox County Metropolitan Planning Commission.

Seeking to be average: County school system wants funding at state level (JCP)

Washington County Director of Schools Ron Dykes said he could guarantee he would never again appear in front of the County Commission’s Budget Committee to ask for additional money — but only if and when the county can fund the school system at a level equal to the state. Tennessee spends $8,773 per student; Washington County currently spends $8,066.

Mississippi: Sales tax holidays prove successful (Hattiesburg American)

Mississippi is poised to enjoy another “Sales Tax Holiday” that has proved to be a huge success, and boost for consumers. This year, the holiday will be held the weekend of July 29-30.

OPINION

 

Editorial: New, stricter drunken driving laws should help (Leaf Chronicle)

We have long contended in this space that when it came to drunken driving, Tennessee needed to come down harder on repeat offenders. Too many people have racked up the DUIs, then turned around and gotten right behind the wheel of a car again.

Free-Press Editorial: Rep. Fleischmann on Obama, debt (Times Free-Press)

Although a majority in Congress have been irresponsible in dealing with our unchecked federal debt, we shouldn’t get the idea that all our representatives and senators are financially reckless. With the debt up against its $14.3 trillion legal limit, our congressman from Chattanooga, Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, and a few other freshman representatives held a press conference outside the White House this week to urge President Barack Obama to present a clear plan of his own to deal with the problem.

Editorial: Politicians failing us on budget impasse (Daily News Journal)

This has gone on long enough. Actually, it’s gone on much too long, and it’s time for members of Congress and the White House to break the impasse over raising the debt ceiling and putting the country on the path to fiscal sanity.

Columnist: No Child Left — to the Left (Columbia Daily Herald)

It was a lovely day recently in Atlanta. The school kids were out playing in Piedmont Park, and some were diving for murder weapons in the park’s lake.