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June 5 TN News Digest

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

Haslam Signs Measure to Lower Food Tax (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today traveled to Marion County to sign legislation to reduce the state portion of the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent. Haslam held a ceremonial bill signing at the locally- and independently-owned Smith Bros. Grocery in Whitwell, Tenn. “We’re focused on making state government more efficient and more effective while reducing the cost to taxpayers,” Haslam said. “The sales tax on food touches all Tennesseans, and this is an effort to lower the burden. I applaud the General Assembly for passing this important piece of legislation this year.”

Gov. Bill Haslam signs bill cutting grocery tax (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam held a ceremonial signing of legislation Monday that cut Tennessee’s state sales tax on groceries by one-quarter cent on July 1, even as Democrats continued to argue that the reductions should be deeper and occur more quickly. “This is a significant day for Tennessee,” Haslam said during a presentation at Smith Brothers Grocery in Whitwell. “This is one tax that almost every Tennessean pays.”

Governor Haslam signs grocery tax reduction bill (WRCB-TV Chattanooga)

You’ll soon be spending a little less at the grocery store. Monday afternoon, Governor Bill Haslam signed into law the grocery tax reduction bill. But before you start spending your savings, Channel 3 takes a look at just how much you’ll bank. Lifetime Whitwell resident Stella Morrison won’t mind spending less at the grocery store. “I think it’s a great idea,” Morrison says. “We’ve heard about it in other states.” Monday, Governor Bill Haslam signed into law the grocery tax reduction bill outside Smith Brothers Grocery in Marion County.

Haslam Touts Food-Tax Reduction (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The state sales tax on food is set to drop a little bit next month. On Monday Governor Bill Haslam held a ceremonial signing for the new law, which lowers the current 5.5 percent tax on groceries. The new law will save Tennesseans $0.25 in taxes on every hundred dollars worth of groceries. At the Kroger in Nashville’s Bordeaux neighborhood, Linda Phillips says it’s better than nothing.

By the numbers: The ROI of Tennessee’s incentives (Nashville Business Journal)

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam recently expanded a state program that provides cash grants for companies looking to move to or grow in Tennessee. It’s all part of an effort on behalf of Tennessee officials to save taxpayers money, be more transparent about economic development spending and keep the state competitive. Meanwhile, the move has reinvigorated a decades-old conversation about the effectiveness of business incentives.

2 groups authorized to open Tenn. charter schools (Jackson Sun)

Two of the nation’s leading charter management organizations have been authorized to open new charter schools in Memphis and Nashville. The Achievement School District has allowed Aspire Public Schools and Rocketship Education to open 26 schools by the 2019-2020 school year, district head Chris Barbic announced Monday. Aspire will oversee 10 schools in Memphis. It currently operates 34 schools across California with about 12,000 students. Rocketship has about 2,400 students in five charter schools in San Jose.

TN to convert 10 failing schools in Nashville to charters (Tennessean/Rau)

State will convert Metro campuses to new charters The state plans to convert 10 failing Nashville schools into charter schools that will serve about 5,000 students by 2020, the Tennessee Achievement School District announced Monday. The move marks a dramatic expansion of the Achievement School District in Davidson County. This fall, about 100 Davidson students will be enrolled in an Achievement School District school when LEAD Academy takes over fifth grade at Brick Church Middle School.

State taps three charter groups to operate schools in Nashville (CP/Garrison)

A state governance body that oversees Tennessee’s lowest-performing schools has authorized three organizations to open publicly financed, privately led charter schools in Nashville. Tennessee’s Achievement School District, comprised of 85 schools statewide, announced Monday it has contracted with Nashville-based LEAD Public Schools, California-based Rocketship Education and KIPP Nashville to serve Metro students who attend some of the district’s historically struggling schools.

State approves charter school groups to run more Memphis schools (CA/Roberts)

Five charter organizations Monday got the green light to expand their brands in Memphis City Schools, including two West Coast operators moving for the first time outside California. The local operators are Gestalt Community Schools, KIPP Memphis and Capstone Education Group. Each started with one school in Memphis. Based on the strength of their balance sheets and improved test scores, they are now being given charge of low-performing schools in the Achievement School District.

Can Schools Fail their Way to Success? (Memphis Daily News)

Tennessee’s Achievement School District is in the news today. In Nashville, there was a press conference Monday to announce that seven charter school organizations plan to open nine new schools in the ASD in Memphis and Nashville in 2013, the year of the big change. Is the Achievement School District like the NBA Lottery? Can you fail your way to success? In the NBA, if a team is mediocre it winds up with a low-to-middling draft pick, but if it is really bad, it is rewarded by making the lottery and has a chance (but not a certainty) for the number-one pick that can turn the team around in a year or two.

SCORE Tardy Turning in Teacher Evaluations System Review (TN Report)

The education reform group charged with grading the state’s new teacher evaluation process is turning in its homework late. No, the dog didn’t eat their research paper. But the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, SCORE, wanted to take a more time collecting data, officials said. “Frankly, it’s that we had some additional inputs from people across the state over the last few weeks,” said David Mansouri, SCORE’s spokesman. “We feel like this is a really important document, and we wanted to make sure all those inputs were included.”

City Cafe reopens in Murfreesboro (Gannett)

A week and a half after the Tennessee Department of Revenue seized City Cafe, the iconic restaurant reopened Monday amid a “dispute” over how much it owes in state sales taxes. “I made it a point to come down here after they opened it back up,” said Brad Lamb, a local bank employee who considers himself a third- or fourth-generation City Cafe diner. Lamb said he was “completely shocked” by the state’s move to shut down the restaurant, but added, “With the way things are, you don’t know what to think.”

Greene Co. woman charged with TennCare fraud (Herald-Courier)

A Greene County woman is charged in nearby Carter County with TennCare fraud for selling prescription drugs paid for by TennCare. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) today announced the arrest of Phyllis Hamm, 55, of Chuckey, after a joint investigation with the 1st Judicial Drug Task Force, the Johnson City Police Department Vice Unit, the Carter County Sheriff’s Department and the Elizabethton Police Department. Hamm is charged with one count of TennCare fraud and one count of sale of a Schedule III controlled substance.

Emails show special judge sought to block public scrutiny (N-S/Satterfield)

Special Judge Jon Kerry Blackwood removed motions from a court file, ordered prosecutors to make no public mention of them, used email communication in lieu of orders and hearings and favored meetings in chambers over public hearings — all to avoid public scrutiny of his handling of the Christian-Newsom torture-slaying cases, documents show. Blackwood’s displeasure at media coverage of his decision-making in the cases of four defendants in the January 2007 killings of Channon Christian, 21, and Christopher Newsom, 23, is detailed in emails made public as part of an effort by Knox County District Attorney General Randy Nichols’ office to request that Blackwood step down from the case.

Voter ID Opponents Shift Focus to Education, Rallying Democratic Voters (TNR)

Liberal critics of Tennessee’s voter identification requirements passed in 2011 by the state Legislature say they’re presently focused more on education, outreach and fanning outrage in the court of public opinion than a direct legal challenge. Clearly, litigation-focused groups like the American Civil Liberties Union still despise the new law, which requires voters to show a form of government-issued photo ID in order to cast their ballot, says Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the Tennessee ACLU. But plans for a lawsuit are on the back burner, she says.

Tea party influence in TN may be limited (Tennessean/Sisk)

Buoyed by the fruits of redistricting, which came on the heels of the Republican Party’s big win in the 2010 midterm elections, tea party groups see new opportunities to nudge the state in a more conservative direction. But unlike in Indiana, Texas and many other states where their clout has resounded loudly, Tennessee’s tea party groups have not yet rallied around a slate of candidates, lowering the likelihood that they will be able to tip the balance in races this fall.

Dean proposes $2.5M for “zombie” neighborhoods (Nashville Business Journal)

Mayor Karl Dean is proposing $2.5 million to pay for unfinished infrastructure as Metro government works to clean up the last of a series of “zombie” neighborhoods in the Antioch area. Dean set aside the money in his proposed $300 million capital spending plan, though administration officials say they hope to only spend a fraction of that as they complete negotiations on a few final subdivisions. Successful negotiations would resolve an issue that sprang up in the economic downturn as developers went broke or walked away from projects, leaving many neighborhoods with unfinished infrastructure.

Nashville property tax hike supporters may get drowned out (Tennessean/Cass)

Some of the people offering a helping hand to Mayor Karl Dean this spring would benefit from the property tax increase he’s seeking. After receiving a May 4 email blast from the mayor’s office, which wanted help making the case to Metro Council members, Tom Cigarran wrote back: “Will do. You have my full support.” Cigarran is chairman of the Nashville Predators’ ownership group, which gets millions of dollars of taxpayer support each year.

Budget battle: $7 million more for schools (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Donila)

The Knox County Commission on Monday approved Mayor Tim Burchett’s proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year, albeit with a twist. In a 7-4 vote, commissioners agreed to give the school system an additional $7 million but not the $35 million it initially requested for next year to pay for an ambitious educational plan that supporters said would increase test scores and lead to better schools. “This would not require a tax increase,” said Commission Chairman Mike Hammond, who offered the modified plan.

School board members pleased with commission vote (News-Sentinel/McCoy)

Knox County school board members said Monday night’s Knox County Commission budget vote was a good compromise. Board chairman Thomas Deakins, who helped come up with the last-minute proposal that passed, said the 7-4 decision made a statement. “What it does is it allows us to say that education is very important and it allows us to fund those classroom initiatives,” he said. “The good thing is that it allows us to continue that dialogue and put education in the forefront. So I’m very excited about it.”

Memphis city budget battle looming (Commercial Appeal/Maki)

Dueling tax rates among proposals before council Memphis City Council members say one outcome is certain when they debate today on a budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1: Memphis Mayor AC Wharton’s request for a 47-cent property tax increase will be turned down. “Dead” is how councilman Jim Strickland, chairman of the council’s budget committee, described the tax hike Wharton is seeking.

Council Looks to End Budget Season (Memphis Daily News)

Memphis City Council members are likely to end their budget season Tuesday, June 5, with final votes on an operating budget ordinance as well as a tax rate ordinance. But going into the week there was no single budget proposal or tax rate proposal that had the formal endorsement of a majority on the council. The council meets at 3:30 p.m. at 125 N. Main St. The council budget committee will meet one final time Tuesday at 8:30 a.m. with an attempt to come up with a committee recommendation for the full 13-member council.

Border status could be ‘game-changer’ for East Ridge (TFP/Harrison)

East Ridge officials are heralding a special state-granted tax designation as an “economic game-changer.” On Monday the city learned that several areas within the city had been approved as a “border region retail tourism development district” by the Tennessee’s commissioner of Revenue and the commissioner of Economic and Community Development. “It’s hard to quantify the impact this could have, and we probably won’t be able to quantify it till about 20 years down the road,” explained Mayor Brent Lambert, who said the designation could be “the single most significant event to occur in East Ridge” during his lifetime.

Move to change Memphis development rules sparks sharp criticism (CA/Bailey)

New development rules that encourage walkable neighborhoods and discourage sprawl face a threat in coming weeks, say proponents of sustainable communities. Memphis and Shelby County’s planning department proposes to weaken the 17-month-old Unified Development Code (UDC), say spokesmen for a group of planners, preservationists, architects, attorneys and others who’ve been poring over the dense details for five months. Planning Director Josh Whitehead countered that the existing code makes it too difficult to develop within the city.

Cohen Plans Rollout of Endorsements (Memphis Daily News)

There will be a Cohen ballot of political endorsements for the Aug. 2 and Nov. 6 elections. U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, opened his campaign headquarters Saturday, June 2, with a pledge to not only campaign hard for re-election but to campaign on behalf of President Barack Obama and several local Democrats in county general election and state legislative races. “We are going to run a full complete campaign looking for every single vote,” Cohen told a group of more than 100 on the parking lot of his Midtown campaign headquarters.

Scottie Mayfield rebuffs term limit critics (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Carroll)

Scottie Mayfield’s self-imposed term-limit pledge is attracting criticism from both sides of the political aisle, but the dairy executive appears to be standing firm. Mark Caldwell, a conservative blogger from Lookout Mountain, said Mayfield missed the point of term limits when the dairy executive promised to serve no more than 10 years if he unseats U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in Tennessee’s 3rd Congressional District Republican primary.

Filmmakers Shoot for Breaks (Wall Street Journal)

California Gives $100 Million in Rebates as Other States Poach From Hollywood In a conference room high above Hollywood Boulevard, California Highway Patrol Officer Miguel Luevano reached into a glass bowl holding 310 blue paper tickets representing proposed film and television projects. He selected one at random. That ticket, and the next 27 pulled by Officer Luevano last Friday afternoon, made those projects eligible for some of the $100 million in tax rebates awarded by the California Film Commission.

BlueCross Tests Bundling Payments to Doctors (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee is testing a different way of paying doctors. Instead of a piecemeal series of bills following a medical procedure, BlueCross is experimenting with bundling those bills into one. The reason you get all those separate bills is because each provider bills your insurance separately. But with bundling, the insurance company cuts a single check to cover everyone. Supporters say bundling will reduce costs and improve care, since it forces different health providers to coordinate with one another.

75 jobs lost in Dalphis America closure (Memphis Business Journal)

Dalphis America LLC has laid off 75 employees as the company — which recently came out of Chapter 11 bankruptcy — and its assets are reportedly being put up for sale. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development , the layoffs were effective May 18. A story by The Commercial Appeal indicated the company was unable to compete against foreign competitors in Canada and Mexico despite having received financial backing from an Atlanta-based group of investors.

Customer service called key to Chattanooga’s tourism industry (TFP/O’Neil)

Persuading a stranger’s 7-year-old kid not to touch museum artwork can be a difficult task. Pulling that off without ruffling any feathers and promoting a family friendly atmosphere is even harder, but the Hunter Museum of American Art’s security manager can’t stress enough the importance of overcoming that challenge. “It’s so hard to get the families in,” Lynn Hicks said. “If they have a good experience, they’re going to come back or tell somebody about it.”

Great Hearts Must Soon Decide On Charter Appeal (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

A controversial charter-school operator could soon announce whether it will try again for permission to launch in Nashville. Last week the Metro school board rejected an application from Phoenix-based Great Hearts, prompting calls for an appeal, and criticism from the mayor. Great Hearts’ application ran into trouble amid questions over location, as well as the racially-charged issue of student transportation. Some had speculated Great Hearts would use public money to teach students from rich families who would otherwise turn to private schools.

Commissioners say schools are getting raw deal in land swap (TFP/Haman, Hardy)

A proposed three-way land swap among the city of Chattanooga, Hamilton County Schools and Chattanooga Housing Authority has county commissioners fuming and feeling as if they’ve been “hoodwinked.” The proposed deal involving cash and three properties — East Brainerd Elementary School, the old Maurice Poss Homes site and Dogwood Manor Apartments — appears to short the schools, according to seven of nine county commissioners.

 

OPINION

 

Tre Hargett: Summer reading can help (Jackson Sun)

We all know how important school is to a child’s development, but learning outside the classroom is extremely important, too. In fact, students who don’t continue to learn after school lets out for the summer run the risk of falling behind their classmates. Studies show that students who don’t read over the summer lose up to a month of the instruction time they received during the previous academic year. Students who fall behind during the summer often don’t catch up after the school year resumes.

Editorial: Metro Council should be resolute in support of mayor’s budget plan (TN)

When members of the Metro Council prepare to vote tonight on the second of two readings on Mayor Karl Dean’s $1.71 billion budget for 2012-13, some of them undoubtedly will be sweating it. After all, the outcry over the proposal to increase property taxes by 13 percent has often been angry and emotional, and it’s easy to see how an elected official could feel singed by the heat of the response. So it will be a test for Davidson County’s legislative body to see if they can calmly consider all the pros and cons — and then vote in favor of the mayor’s plan.

Guest columnist: Keep, reward local teachers in Metro (Tennessean)

When I talk to our best and brightest new teachers, I am impressed by their strong desire to serve where they are truly needed. For them, it’s all about outcomes, not income. In fact for many, the tougher the challenge, the more they want to dive in and meet it! To borrow an oft-used phrase, “Teaching isn’t for sissies!” Unfortunately, some of the toughest teaching challenges in Nashville are also among the lowest-paid. Teachers are already candidates for burnout and turnover based on the work they do, but when they see how their work is valued by our city vis-á-vis other options, it is doubly discouraging.

Editorial: Filling open jobs crucial to success in schools (Daily News Journal)

We’ve said it before. We’re pleased with the selection of Don Odom as director of Rutherford County Schools. He is phasing into the job this month as Harry Gill phases into retirement. He has a huge task ahead. But often the most important part of the job for any CEO, or schools director, is surrounding himself or herself with the best staff. And Odom has already had plenty of opportunity to start on that as the retirements of principals such as Siegel High’s Ken Nolan and Andra Helton at Thurman Francis Arts Academy put into motion a game of musical chairs.

Sam Stockard: Technicality a veil for religious battle (Daily News Journal)

Mosque foes finally got the technical ruling they were looking for to derail construction of the Islamic Center on Veals Road. Too bad it won’t do them any good. Chancellor Robert Corlew’s ruling last week did little more than show the county failed to provide enough notice of a Regional Planning Commission meeting in May 2010. Corlew’s decision stated that the planning commission needs only to re-advertise the meeting, provide more notice and take another vote on the matter. The county doesn’t even have to hold a public hearing since the mosque site plan didn’t require rezoning, he determined.

Editorial: Putting off work on infrastructure is not an option (News-Sentinel)

The nation’s infrastructure — the roads, bridges, water lines and sewer systems that make modern life possible — is crumbling. Tennessee is in better shape than most other states in keeping bridges in good repair, but still there are nearly 1,000 bridges in the 23-county area around Knox County that either are functionally obsolete or functionally deficient. On the national level, Republicans and Democrats trying to hammer out a long-term transportation and infrastructure compromise remain far apart. Keeping infrastructure in good repair should be just as high a priority in Washington as it is in Nashville.

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