August 16 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Promises Openness On Amazon (TN Report)

Gov. Bill Haslam insisted Friday he has not changed his position on negotiations with Amazon.com on the collection of sales taxes and said whatever agreement might be struck with the retail giant the people of Tennessee would be informed about it. Meanwhile, former Commissioner of Revenue Charles Trost, on whose watch the original Amazon deal was made in Tennessee, declined to comment Friday on details of the state’s current arrangement with the company.

Haslam Not Ready to Endorse a GOP Candidate (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Governor Bill Haslam says he’s nowhere close to endorsing a candidate for the Republican nomination in next year’s presidential race. Haslam says maybe half the candidates have reached out for his support, but he’s not about to choose one.

Charter schools gaining ground in Tennessee (Tennessean/Hubbard)

The first effort to start a suburban Middle Tennessee charter school popped up this month in Rutherford County, where a state employee, a former science teacher and a minister want to launch a high school for at-risk students. Tennessee is home to 40 charter schools in Memphis, Nashville and Chattanooga.

SBA Offers Disaster Assistance to Residents Affected by Severe Storms (Biz Wire)

Residents and businesses affected by the severe storms, tornadoes and flooding that occurred on June 18 through 25, can apply for low-interest disaster loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration, SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills announced today. Mills made the loans available in response to a letter from Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam on Aug. 4, requesting a disaster declaration by the SBA.

Newspaper reports Haslam loan reassignment (Associated Press)

A local newspaper is reporting Gov. Bill Haslam’s stake in a $5.5 million loan guarantee was sold to a prominent Knoxville developer three days after it uncovered the original transaction. The Tennessean reports that Haslam personally guaranteed the loan to local developer Budd Cullom in 2009 while he was mayor of Knoxville.

TN finance chief: Keep $28M surplus as reserve (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee should hold a $28 million general fund surplus in reserve in case state tax collections drop, state Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes said Monday. Emkes is Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief Cabinet officer and said in an interview with The Associated Press that showing such restraint could help bolster the state’s case for keeping its high credit ratings.

Ed. Department looks to replace testing officials (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Department of Education is launching a nationwide search to replace two testing officials. Department spokeswoman Kelli Gauthier said Monday that the executive service appointments of Dan Long and Stan Curtis ended last week.

Two of state’s top testing officials resign from Education Department (TN/Sisk)

Two of Tennessee’s top testing officials have resigned in a shakeup that follows the state’s decision to apply for a waiver from No Child Left Behind standards. Dan Long, director of the Tennessee Department of Education’s testing division, and Stan Curtis, the division’s assistant director, left the department late last week, education officials confirmed Monday.

UT Extension to cut 44 grant-funded jobs in Tenn. (Associated Press)

The University of Tennessee Extension says 44 grant-funded jobs providing nutrition education for Tennesseans using food stamps will be eliminated due to a $2.9 million cut to funding. The affected workers in the Tennessee Nutrition and Consumer Education Program were notified Monday that their positions would be eliminated on Sept. 30, the extension said in a news release.

UT Extension to cut 44 grant-funded jobs (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Boehnke)

University of Tennessee officials on Monday informed 44 employees running nutrition education programs across the state that their jobs would be eliminated on Sept. 30 because federal grant funding was cut. Another 12 vacant positions were also eliminated, bringing the total number of employee cuts this year in the University of Tennessee Extension to 116 positions after state budget cuts led to the elimination of 60 jobs in January.

Clarksville intersection upgrades in works (Leaf Chronicle)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation has approved plans and funding for three of four requested intersection improvement projects in Clarksville, Street Department officials announced at a committee meeting Monday. Chris Cowan, a Street Department engineer, told the Streets and Transportation Committee that bids will go out on the projects at the end of the month.

Court of Appeals sheds light on ‘contract’ definition (Nashville Post/Nannie)

When is a contract really a contract? Really. It depends, of course.

Ruling limits Red Bank red-light cameras (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sher)

Tennessee Attorney General Bob Cooper says a new law restricting use of traffic-enforcement cameras appears at first blush to outlaw immediately the use of the devices to cite motorists failing to come to a complete stop when turning right at red lights. The new law and Cooper’s legal opinion already have shut down at least one Tennessee city’s use of traffic cameras in combating abuse of right-on-red situations.

Rep. Haynes: Those offensive Facebook postings were NOT mine (NS/Humphrey)

State Rep. Ryan Haynes’ Facebook identify was stolen last week and the impostor posted fake statements using “a lot of colorful language” under the lawmaker’s name for a while, the Knoxville Republican said Monday. Haynes said he had visited a library on Wednesday and logged into Facebook while there.

Memphis City Council has full slate for meeting (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

The Memphis City Council is slated to tackle issues today including redevelopment of The Pyramid and when it is allowed to raise taxes. The 13-member council will also vote on the first of three readings of an ordinance that changes the city’s pension and benefit system.

Memphis City Council Considers Pricey Portraits Again (WPTY-TV Memphis)

Would you spend $1,000 for a picture of yourself to hang on your wall? Well, if you’re a Memphis taxpayer, that’s what you’re spending for a picture of someone you may not even know. Each of the 13 City Council members gets that much to spend on his or her official portrait.

Redistricting panel wants to keep 21 commissioners (Daily News Journal)

The Rutherford County Commission Redistricting Committee agreed in a 9-2 vote Monday to keep 21 commission districts, pending a legal opinion backing the decision. “I can tell you right off the bat we probably want to keep it at 21 districts,” said Commissioner Steve Sandlin, who was voted chairman of the committee during the body’s first meeting at the Rutherford County Courthouse.

Roe warns postal workers change is on the way (Times-News)

U.S. Rep. Phil Roe warned about 50 union letter carriers Monday night that change is coming in the U.S. Postal Service whether they like it or not. “Things are going to change because we don’t have enough money to pay the bills,” Roe, R-Tenn., told a National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC) group after eating dinner with them at the Renaissance Center.

Tea Party activists take aim at Black (Daily News Journal)

Local Tea Party members contend U.S. Rep. Diane Black, R-Gallatin, is not one of them after her vote to raise the debt ceiling and will stage a protest today at the congressman’s Murfreesboro office. “Many people in the 6th District were counting on her to be a leader in this (debt issue), and they are very disappointed people,” event organizer Micah Forrest said.

Medicaid Pays Less Than Medicare for Many Prescriptions, Report Finds (NYT)

Medicaid gets much deeper discounts on many prescription drugs than Medicare, in part because Medicaid discounts are set by law whereas Medicare prices are negotiated by private insurers and drug companies, federal investigators said Monday in a new report. The report, from the inspector general of the Department of Health and Human Services, could be used by lawmakers trying to cut drug prices as Congress looks for ways to rein in the cost of Medicare under the new deficit-reduction law.

States grow anxious about possible recession (Stateline)

The possibility of a double-dip recession is worrying state officials who thought they had put the worst downturn since World War II behind them. State officials say the bleak economic news of the past few weeks has triggered new alarm just as jobs are slowly increasing and tax collections are improving.

TVA customers to pay less in September (Associated Press)

Tennessee Valley Authority residential customers will pay a lower fuel cost on September bills, with the decrease ranging from 50 cents to $1.50. The Knoxville-based utility said in a statement Monday that the lower monthly fuel cost is largely beause of reduced demand.

TVA cuts fuel surcharge next month but plans rate hike in October (TFP/Flessner)

Chattanoogans who sweated paying their electricity bills through the summer heat wave will get a reprieve next month when TVA reverses three months of increases and cuts the fuel portion of its bills. But that rate relief could be short-lived. TVA directors are considering a rate increase that could boost electricity charges again in fiscal 2012.

Building reactor at TVA Bellefonte plant on agenda (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Valley Authority has a message for opponents of its Bellefonte Nuclear Plant: No costumes. A month after zombie-costumed protesters paraded in Chattanooga to oppose TVA’s plans to revive what they described as a “corpse of a power plant” in northeast Alabama, the nation’s largest public utility has a new ban on costumes at its board meeting Thursday.

NRC sets meeting on Watts Bar nuclear plant (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will hold a public meeting at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 24, to discuss construction at the Watts Bar nuclear plant’s second unit. The meeting will be at the Magnuson Hotel, 1421 Murrays Chapel Road in Sweetwater, Tenn.

CBL vice president challenges Amazon.com deal (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Owners of Chattanooga’s biggest mall say it is unfair for Internet retailing giant Amazon.com to continue enjoying a competitive edge over traditional brick-and-mortar retailers. Michael Lebovitz, CBL and Associates’ executive vice president of development and administration, said Monday that Amazon, which is building two distribution centers in Southeast Tennessee, competes on an “uneven playing field” since the company is not required to collect state and local sales taxes.

Taxing questions; should Amazon jobs deal be a ‘do-over’? (WRCB-TV Chatt.)

In a matter of weeks, Amazon.com will open two ‘fulfillment’ centers in Hamilton and Bradley Counties adding hundreds of jobs. It’s renewing the fight over the T-words: Tennessee sales taxes.

Tax incentives a ‘mixed blessing’ to Loudon County (Knox. News-Sentinel/Willett)

Kimberly-Clark, one of the two large Loudon County companies contesting their property tax assessments, has been the beneficiary of tax breaks in the past. The county has a history of offering tax breaks to recruit and retain employers, according to Pat Phillips, president of the Loudon County Economic Development Agency.

Largest Loudon taxpayers contesting property assessments (N-S/Willett)

Kimberly Clark and DuPont Tate & Lyle, two of the biggest corporate taxpayers in Loudon County, are contesting their property tax assessments with the State Equalization Board. The move means that municipalities, including Loudon County and the city of Loudon, could face a big hit in revenue if the board sides with the two companies, which are asking to have the appraised value of their property cut by more than half.

ACI Glass closing, adding to layoffs announced by Memphis City Schools (MBJ)

Job cuts at Memphis City Schools and Vitro America LLC division ACI Glass Products LLC will shrink the workforce in Shelby County by 354 jobs, according to separate state notices. ACI Glass plans to eliminate 46 jobs through the closure of its Memphis office at 965 Ridge Lake Blvd., Suite 300.

ACI Glass to cut 46 employees (Commercial Appeal)

ACI Glass Products will lay off 46 employees in Shelby County beginning in September, according to a state notice. A report released Monday by the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s Dislocated Worker Unit said layoffs will begin in mid-September and end on Oct. 1. ACI Glass Products is part of Vitro America, which has its headquarters in Memphis, where it employs about 80 people in the Ridgeway Business Center at Poplar and Interstate 240.

Shortage of accountants challenges Middle TN (Tennessean/Gonzalez)

Colleges, high schools try to meet demand as HQs flock to area Demand for accountants is growing faster than supply in the 10-county Nashville area, and a shortage of accounting professors across the nation makes meeting future needs difficult, say local educators and workforce experts. Fueled by the concentration of corporate headquarters, the region will need almost 4,900 more accountants in a decade, a 33 percent increase, according to reports by the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Hamilton County explores pursuing STEM grant (Times Free-Press/Hardy)

The Hamilton County Department of Education will explore grant funding for a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math school — better known as a STEM school — but officials must act fast if they want to compete in the state’s next round of funding. The Tennessee STEM Innovation Network met with local school and business leaders Monday at the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Business Development Center to discuss its upcoming round of grant funding, which would provide nearly $2 million in funding for selected schools.

New-teacher hires stir debate at Memphis City Schools (C. Appeal/Roberts)

When Memphis City Schools accepted millions of dollars from The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to improve teacher effectiveness, it agreed to tap new pipelines for attracting teachers. But after at least 190 teachers with no experience were hired over 100 teachers with lots of it, school board members wanted to know Monday if jobs were earmarked for some of the new teachers — and what they are supposed to tell angry constituents.

MCS approves Race to the Top Contract with MTR (WMC-TV Memphis)

While 100 Memphis City School teachers are still waiting for jobs, Monday night the school board approved a plan that will increase the district’s teacher applicant pool. Memphis City Schools started the year with 540 surplus teachers.

School Board Agrees to MTR Contract (WHBQ-TV Memphis)

Memphis City School’s Board of Commissioners voted “yes” to a $1.4 million contract with the Memphis Teacher Residency program on Monday. That was after 40 minutes of heated discussion over surplus teachers already in the system.

Germantown May Hire Schools Consultant (Memphis Daily News)

Germantown Mayor Sharon Goldsworthy is recommending the city hire a consulting firm to research the creation of a municipal school district. But in a written statement that is her first response to last week’s ruling in the federal court schools consolidation lawsuit, Goldsworthy said the exploration of a Germantown school district is one of several options the suburban city is weighing, including being part of a consolidated Shelby County school system.

State’s 2007 error, since fixed, altered Metro schools’ standing (City Paper/Garrison)

Metro school officials say the Tennessee Department of Education’s misinterpretation of No Child Left Behind guidelines in 2007 meant MNPS for the past four years had wrongly been operating under a more severe classification of the federal law than it should have. State administrators have corrected the error.

Meth-making components found in outbuilding (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Fowler)

When he opened the outbuilding’s door, “the chemical odor was so bad you could not breathe safely,” Anderson County Deputy Wally Braden stated in his report about a meth lab bust. Those four gallons of muriatic acid, the Coleman fuel, a respirator and several other items belonged to an unnamed friend who had been living there until he discovered the meth lab, resident David Eric Cagle told the deputy.

Alabama: Retrial Set in Corruption Case (Associated Press)

A federal judge plans to retry parts of a gambling corruption case starting Oct. 3. A jury returned not guilty verdicts on 91 charges last week and could not reach a unanimous decision on 33 others.

Texas: Miles and Miles of Drought (New York Times)

This year, Texas has received less than half its normal rainfall: 6.53 inches instead of 16.03. Climatologists say this dry spell is the worst one-year drought since Texas began keeping rainfall records in 1895, and they predict that the cause of the drought — the weather created by the Pacific current called La Niña — may well extend into next year.

OPINION

Editorial: A new deal for Amazon (Commercial Appeal)

The state is not in a position to force the issue, but a permanent tax break would not be sustainable. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has a narrow path to tread between promises made by the previous administration to Amazon and the justified complaints of the online retailer’s competitors.

Guest columnist: Negotiate for future fair tax collections (Leaf Chronicle)

Collecting Tennessee sales tax from online retail giant Amazon is a dicey issue. Gov. Bill Haslam appears headed in the right direction.

Editorial: Testing, within reason (Commercial Appeal)

Infusing the No Child Left Behind Act with a degree of rationality, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan said last week that states will get an opportunity to apply for waivers from its unreasonable demands. There is a catch, of course, as there should be.

Editorial: TN must stay on track with driver service center fixes (DNJ)

We couldn’t be happier with the announcement that, beginning this week, all driver service centers in Tennessee will be open extended hours. Each center, including the one on Samsonite Boulevard in Murfreesboro, will now operate during the hours of 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Editorial: Emkes right to advise Tennessee to hang on to every dollar it has (J. Sun)

The state of Tennessee isn’t exactly flush with money, but it has seen several months of tax revenue that exceeded projections. That helped create a $28 billion general fund surplus.

Guest columnist: Tennessee roads, bridges in a financial hole (Tennessean)

Congress should invest in needed repairs to fuel jobsIn the backdrop to the recent political fireworks on the federal debt limit is a sobering reality: America is in the midst of a national jobs emergency. Tennessee, struggling with 9.8 percent unemployment, is a perfect example of what’s happening nationally.

Free-Press Editorial: Appeals court deals serious blow to ObamaCare (TFP)

In a strong rebuke to the Obama-Care socialized medicine law enacted by Democrats in Congress last year, a federal appeals court has rightly struck down the most alarming provision of the law. A panel of the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta declared in a 2-1 ruling that Congress has no constitutional authority to force virtually all Americans to purchase government-approved medical insurance or be penalized.