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July 27 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.

APSU at center of higher ed movement (Leaf Chronicle)

University given half of $1M grant Austin Peay State University is becoming a leader in a statewide and national movement to make higher education funding based more on graduation rates than campus head counts. A year ago, the National Governors Association adopted Complete College America’s metrics as part of its Complete to Compete initiative.

With $1 million grant, APSU named key leader in improving grad rate (C. Online)

Austin Peay State University will be the key leader in Tennessee to help other colleges and universities with a nationwide challenge to impact degree completion in higher education with the help of a $1 million Completion Innovation Challenge grant. In July 2010, the National Governors Association adopted Complete College America’s metrics as part of its Complete to Compete initiative.

Tennessee awarded $1M innovation challenge grant (Clarksville Online)

Austin Peay State University will be the key leader in Tennessee to help other colleges and universities with a nationwide challenge to impact degree completion in higher education with the help of a $1 million Completion Innovation Challenge grant. In July 2010, the National Governors Association adopted Complete College America’s metrics as part of its Complete to Compete initiative.

Haslam visits Spring Hill, announces grant to finish sidewalk project (Tennessean)

Gov. Bill Haslam is visiting City Hall at 2:15 p.m. Thursday to award a $69,000 grant that will help the city finish a sidewalk project for school children. The money will be used to build an elevated walking path connecting the Tanyard Springs subdivision in Spring Hill to sidewalks already built in Thompson’s Station.

Olivet incubator seeks state, local support for biz in Orange Mound (CA/Dowd)

Encouraged by Gov. Bill Haslam’s recently launched pro-entrepreneurship Startup Tennessee campaign, organizers at the Olivet Incubation & Training Center met with state and local leaders on Tuesday to seek support for business development in Orange Mound. During a tour of the center, Rev. Kenneth Whalum emphasized that the organization provides an important service by nurturing startups.

States fret over ‘game of chicken’ on federal debt ceiling (Stateline)

Alarm bells are ringing in state capitols over the potential damage that could be done to states by the first-ever default of the federal government on its debt. Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, a Republican, expressed worries Monday about the “incredibly serious game of chicken that we’re playing in Washington,” reports The (Memphis) Commercial Appeal.

Tennessee sales tax holiday Aug. 5- Aug.7 (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The Tennessee Department of Revenue on Monday reminded consumers that the sixth annual Sales Tax Holiday will be held Aug. 5-7. Shoppers during these three days can save nearly 10 percent on tax-free clothing, school and art supplies and computer purchases.

Maury Co. officials: Tax holiday not too tardy for locals (Columbia Daily Herald)

A one-week lapse between the start of school in Maury County and the state’s sales tax holiday need not hinder local families from preparing students for school or taking advantage of the savings, school officials say. Tennessee’s sixth annual Sales Tax Holiday is set for Aug. 5-7.

Deal for Cummins Falls land is ‘like buying Niagara Falls’ (Tennessean/Paine)

Cummins Falls, a 75-foot cascade with a massive swimming hole below, soon will be part of a publicly owned natural playground. The Tennessee Building Commission authorized acquisition of a 211-acre tract with the falls 80 miles northeast of Nashville on Monday.

12-week class lets Tennessee prisoners earn early release (Tennessean/Quinn)

While his friends were in prison, 24-year-old Jeffery Frame paid bills for their mothers. But when he got locked up for an aggravated assault and cocaine, his buddies abandoned him.

Columbia State gets the go to grow (Tennessean/Giordano)

School wants more land in Franklin as enrollment rises Columbia State Community College received state approval Monday to proceed with an option to purchase land in Franklin to expand its Williamson County satellite campus. The bank-owned land — about 38 acres — is east of I-65 near the Williamson Medical Center and the McKay’s Mill subdivision.

Univ. of Tenn. gets grant for supercomputer link (Associated Press)

The University of Tennessee has received $18 million to help link the nation’s supercomputers. A university statement Tuesday said the supercomputing grid will create a powerful tool for taking on some of the most complex problems in science.

UT gets $18M to work on supercomputer grid (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

The University of Tennessee has received an $18 million grant from the National Science Foundation for work on a new supercomputing grid to better link the nation’s high-performance computers and research facilities. The work will be carried out at the National Institute for Computational Sciences that’s located at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and jointly managed by UT and ORNL.

Civil War mementos go digital (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Johns)

Words weren’t enough for Confederate infantryman John Ray Moss. In an 1861 letter sent to his wife Nancy from Lick Creek, Tenn., he took the time to draw the three-story house he pledged to build for her, complete with a belfry, wraparound porch and Confederate flag.

Officials say no wrong-doing at state department of revenue (City Paper/Nix)

Former Tennessee Department of Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr will not face criminal charges over the handling of sales tax revenues of certain business following an investigation that began last August. On Tuesday, Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson and 15th Judicial District Attorney General Tommy Thompson announced in a press release that a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has concluded, finding no evidence of criminal wrong-doing by Farr.

TBI clears ex-revenue chief Reagan Farr in tax cases (Tennessean/Sisk)

An 11-month inquiry has cleared the state’s former top tax collector, as investigators determined that questions over the handling of business tax cases were policy differences, not criminal wrongdoing. Former Tennessee Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr will not face any criminal charges after the conclusion of a state investigation, district attorneys in Davidson and Wilson counties said Tuesday.

Former Tennessee revenue chief cleared of wrongdoing (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Former Tennessee Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr has been cleared of all criminal wrongdoing in his handling of several business’ sales-tax investigations, officials announced Tuesday. After a nearly yearlong state probe, Davidson County District Attorney General Torry Johnson and 15th Judicial District Attorney General Tommy Thompson said in a joint statement that a Tennessee Bureau of Investigation probe turned up no evidence of actions to justify criminal charges against Farr, a Bredesen administration Cabinet member.

Tennessee AG: Commission can’t veto school pay hikes (Times-News)

A Tennessee attorney general’s opinion may derail the Hawkins County Commission’s attempt to prevent two school officials from receiving substantial pay increases. Earlier this month, the Hawkins County Commission’s Education Committee rejected a balanced 2011-12 county school budget, citing objections to two proposed salary increases.

House GOP leader upset with Sen. McNally over Amazon bill (N-S/Humphrey)

House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said Tuesday that he really stuck his “neck out” to defend jobs in the Oak Ridge area in the past, but does not plan to do so in the future because Sen. Randy McNally is pushing a bill that would hurt Amazon.com. McCormick, elaborating on comments initially made to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, said he thought a project dealing with low-level nuclear waste was unfairly attacked two years ago through a Democrat-sponsored bill banning such waste in Tennessee.

Tennessee state employees to report government waste (Tennessean/Sisk)

Union hopes to preserve state services The Tennessee State Employees Association is launching a 3-month study aimed at finding waste, setting it up as an alternative to Gov. Bill Haslam’s “top-to-bottom” review of state government. “Is this top-to-bottom look going to be cut services, cut services, cut services?”

State workers seek cost-saving ideas (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

Fearing additional layoffs by Gov. Bill Haslam, state employees on Tuesday launched an effort to root out government waste and save money in hopes of sparing programs and jobs. Tennessee State Employees Association officials said their move to solicit state workers’ ideas about combating wasteful spending is intended to counter Republican Haslam’s “top to bottom review” of state government, which already has resulted in the firing of some employees.

State employees: Push for efficiency instead of layoffs (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

Concerned that Gov. Bill Haslam’s “top-to-bottom review” of state government will translate into eliminating programs and laying off more state workers, the Tennessee State Employees Association said Tuesday it will offer alternative proposals. At a news conference in front of the state Capitol, TSEA Executive Director Robert O’Connell said the 14,000-member organization is soliciting proposals for better efficiency in government operations with the idea of “cutting waste, not services.”

Tennessee state employees asked to look for ways to cut costs (CA/Locker)

Hoping to avoid further layoffs, the Tennessee State Employees Association is asking state employees “in the trenches” to report money-saving ideas and money-wasting problems they see to the association, for presentation to state officials later this year. TSEA’s “State Government Cost-Cutting Study” parallels Gov. Bill Haslam’s “Top-To-Bottom” review of state departments and agencies that is focused on trimming or eliminating state programs and services.

TSEA Members Plan Cost-Cutting Review (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

When state lawmakers return to Nashville in January, the Tennessee State Employee Association plans to hand them a new cost-cutting plan – generated by state workers. The new plan is called “Cut Wastes, Not Services,” and TSEA executive director Bob O’Connell says it’s an attempt to continue state services by cutting unnecessary costs.

Shipley: Suspended nurses’ constitutional rights were violated (Times-News)

State Rep. Tony Shipley said Tuesday night the license suspension process of three nurses last year by the Tennessee Board of Nursing “offended me constitutionally.” Shipley told a Kingsport Tea Party group he advocated for those nurses because their constitutional rights were violated.

Many uninsured, poor don’t know of health-care ‘safety net’ clinics (TN/Wilemon)

Twenty-one percent of adults in Nashville have no health insurance and many of them don’t know where to go to see a doctor, according to a report issued Tuesday. Half of the uninsured who participated in focus groups had never heard of safety net clinics.

Half of Nashville Uninsured Don’t Know About Clinics, Study Says (WPLN-Radio)

A new study estimates that half of uninsured people in Nashville don’t know there’s low-cost healthcare available in the city. That’s according to a group that’s been analyzing the gap in health coverage, particularly for poor people, for the last 2 years.

Steady outcry follows cutback to health center (Times Free-Press/Carroll)

They are contacting state legislators, threatening to leave Hamilton County and scorning the age-old Republican line that even the toughest cuts are necessary. They are the friends and relatives of patients at the TEAM Centers Inc. office in Chattanooga, and they aren’t backing down.

Cooper wants congressional pay stopped if U.S. defaults on debt (City Paper)

The Office of Congressman Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., announced Tuesday the veteran House of Representatives member will introduce legislation that, if enacted, would stop congressional pay if United States defaults on the national debt. The bill would prohibit members from receiving pay during a default, and would not allow for that pay to be recouped retroactively.

Rep. Cooper Says A Default Should Mean No Pay (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Congressman Jim Cooper says he plans to file legislation that would “stop congressional pay” if the U.S. defaults on its debt. Cooper says not only would his bill keep members from collecting their salaries during a default, but it would bar them recouping any lost pay retroactively.

ET congressmen report barrage of calls on debt stalemate (News-Sentinel/Collins)

The calls started so early and came so often that U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. arrived in the office at 6:30 in the morning to personally help answer the phones. U.S. Rep. Phil Roe’s congressional website was so overwhelmed that it crashed and was out of service for a good part of the day.

Where lawmakers stand on cutting budget, raising debt ceiling (CA/Sullivan)

The Mid-South delegation in Congress is all over the map when it comes to the debt ceiling deadline approaching Aug. 2. Some, spurred by conservative constituents who elected a Republican House last November, insist the nation’s credit limit must be tied to steep reductions in future spending. Others endorse raising the limit without major quid pro quos.

Debt-limit debate wearing on Americans (USA Today)

Washington’s latest stalemate has inflamed partisan passions over federal spending, with the threat of an economic calamity in the balance. Yet across the nation, many people see a wearyingly familiar fight — one they simply want to end.

Nashville post office winds up on possible closure list (Nashville Biz Journal)

A number of Tennessee post offices — including one branch in Nashville — have landed on a list released Tuesday for possible closure to help cut the U.S. Postal Service’s $8 billion budget gap. The Postal Service announced plans to study the closing of up to 3,700 of its 32,000 retail outlets nationwide.

Postal Service considers closing retail outlets, including six in Shelby County (CA)

The Postal Service is considering closing more than 1 in 10 of its retail outlets, including six in Shelby County. The financially troubled agency announced Tuesday that it will study 3,653 local offices, branches and stations for possible closing.

U.S. Postal Service says it may shutter 3,700 post offices (Bloomberg News)

The U.S. Postal Service, which may run out of money in September, said Tuesday it may close as many as 3,700, or 12 percent, of its post offices as customers buy more services online and through locations such as grocery stores. Post offices in every state but Delaware may close, according to a list provided by the USPS. More than half are in rural locations, said Sue Brennan, a spokeswoman for the service.

Governments crack down on moving scams (USA Today)

Federal and state authorities are cracking down on online scam artists who pose as licensed movers and rip off consumers by jacking up prices, giving fake estimates and holding consumers’ belongings hostage. States including New Jersey, California and Illinois have conducted undercover operations this year, and Maryland approved legislation that keeps movers from charging more than 25% above an original estimate.

TVA considering changes to flood-control barriers (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Willett)

Two years after spending millions to install sand baskets on four East Tennessee dams, the Tennessee Valley Authority is considering removing or replacing the controversial flood barriers. In 2009 TVA installed “gambion” barriers — made of wire mesh filled with sand or dirt — on Fort Loudon, Tellico, Cherokee and Watts Bar dams to prevent overflow in the case of an extreme flood event.

A high rise: Middle Tennessee sees surge in hotel construction (TN/Marsteller)

Travelers soon will get more choices for a good night’s sleep in Middle Tennessee. The Nashville region is experiencing a surge in hotel construction, with nearly 1,400 rooms already being built and an additional 2,100 in the planning stages.

Downtown convention center likely to sap $585M budget (Tennessean/Rau)

The new downtown convention center is in danger of exceeding its $585 million budget after a jury concluded last week that the city vastly undervalued a critical piece of property in the project’s footprint. Music City Center is 40 percent complete, but in the wake of the jury ruling, project leaders will have a minuscule $2.5 million contingency fund remaining.

Wacker helps schools affected by tornado (Times Free-Press/Higgins)

Wacker Polysilicon donated 40 laptop computers Tuesday to elementary school students in Bradley County Schools. Ingomar Kovar, president and chief executive officer of Wacker Chemical Corp., made the presentation to schools Director Johnny McDaniel, school board members Troy Weathers and Christy Critchfield and others.

Metro Nashville Public Schools prepped to open virtual school (City Paper/Duncan)

The subject of virtual schools has been in the news lately. During its most recent session, the state legislature changed a law to allow more Tennessee students, even those who are home-schooled and in private schools, to access Nashville’s virtual options.

Memphis board takes back decision to delay school (Associated Press/Sainz)

The Memphis school board, which threatened to indefinitely delay the start of classes in a fight with the city over funding, agreed Tuesday night on a payment schedule that would send students back on time. The board in an 8-0 vote approved the plan that provides it $12 million by Aug. 5.

Memphis board OKs funding deal (Commercial Appeal/Roberts)

The Memphis school board unanimously approved a payment plan from the city Tuesday night that means schools can open on time. However, the undercurrent was clear: If the city departs one bit from the board’s expectations, all bets are off.

Board Votes Unanimous Aye for Deal with City to “Reinstate” School Year (MF)

In the end, the Memphis City Schools board ratified its deal with the City of Memphis. The Board’s special meeting on Tuesday night was in marked contrast to the high-intensity session conducted a week ago Monday, when members voted 8-1 to demand $55 million from the City, with an “or else” being that they might cancel the school year otherwise.

MCS Board Approves Funding Compromise (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Schools board members voted 8-0 Tuesday, July 26, to start the school year as scheduled on Aug. 8 provided the Memphis City Council approves its budget at the Aug. 2 council meeting including at least $68.4 million in city funding. The money is to be paid in monthly installments through the June 30, 2012 end of the current fiscal year.

Charter school says it would sue to open in Shelby County (C. Appeal/Silence)

Operators of Shelby County Schools’ first charter school — to open this fall — haven’t decided yet whether to spend the bulk of their money on building renovations and marketing campaigns or on attorneys. It depends on whether the county school board rejects a proposed contract for the New Consortium of Law and Business, which the nonprofit Smart Schools Inc. plans to open in Bartlett.

California: California Counties Reel From Tax Hit (Wall Street Journal)

Declining home prices are starting to slam California harder than the rest of the nation, in part due to a state law that sets a ceiling—but no floor—on property taxes. The toll is evident here in Calaveras County, a largely rural area about 100 miles east of San Francisco.

Indiana: Among Twists in Budget Woes, Tensions Over Teaching the Deaf (NYT)

Politicians have seen plenty of demonstrators outside the Statehouse here. But the crowd that gathered last month was a bit different from the usual shouting protesters.

Pennsylvania: Succcessful mortgage relief program falls to budget axe (Stateline)

Five years into a historic downturn in the U.S. housing market, federal and state policy makers have not yet succeeded in turning the tide. The Obama administration’s flagship Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) has assisted far fewer homeowners than expected.

OPINION

Free-Press Editorial: Haslam’s indictment of Washington (Times Free-Press)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam believes we should face our national debt problem realistically. Instead, he says, politicians are playing an “incredibly serious game of chicken” as a partial federal default nears.

Guest columnist: Focus on specific student needs (Tennessean)

‘Good things don’t happen by accident’ In the past few years, much has been written and a lot of attention has been given to math literacy and math instruction in public schools. Math continues to be an issue not only for the state of Tennessee but also for the nation.

Guest columnist: Stress math more in middle grades (Tennessean)

Students who are experiencing mathematical learning difficulties come predominantly from high-poverty and high-minority areas but there are many students who have problems with achievement in mathematics. For many students, the middle grades are a period in which achievement gaps in mathematics will become an achievement problem.

Guest columnist: Maury County’s not-so-great expectations (C. Daily Herald)

We get what we expect from our schools, and it shows in economic development. The director of Maury County schools recently said he was “excited about the growth” in Maury County’s 2011 TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program) scores.

Editorial: Facility issues at UT underscore need for increased funding (N-S)

The University of Tennessee is scrambling to renovate space for new dorm rooms and using ever-rising student fees to upgrade facilities, more fallout from the state Legislature’s gutting of higher education funding. The Legislature has cut appropriations for higher education by $60 million over the past four years.

Jim Cooper: Stop paying Congress if nation defaults (Tennessean)

This is a crucial week for America as Congress grapples with the debt ceiling and budget reforms. These are complicated issues.

Editorial: Fincher FEC complaint ‘dismissal’ doesn’t exonerate congressman (JS)

Recently, the office of Rep. Stephen Fincher, R-Frog Jump, announced the “dismissal” of a complaint filed against him with the Federal Election Commission regarding campaign finance reports he filed during last year’s election. But, as we have come to expect from Fincher, the report of the “dismissal” was not the whole truth, and it doesn’t exonerate him.

Times Editorial: Balance needed in postal closings (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

The financially beset Postal Service announced Tuesday that it will study the possibility of closing 3,653 offices to help reduce costs. Stations on the list of possible closures include three in Chattanooga, one in Cleveland, Tenn., and two in Murray County, Ga.

 

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