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July 25 TN News Digest

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

States ask help collecting Internet sales taxes (Associated Press)

More than 21 states have simplified how they collect taxes in hopes of recovering an estimated $20 billion in sales taxes that go uncollected by out-of-state online merchants every year. But the nation’s governors say they still need help from Congress. Speaking on behalf of the National Governors Association, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam told the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday it isn’t fair to local businesses that online sellers are not required to collect and distribute state sales taxes for purchases made where they don’t have a physical presence.

Gov. Haslam pushes Congress on online sales taxes (Nashville Business Journal)

Gov. Bill Haslam urged members of Congress Tuesday to pass national online sales tax reform, saying “real dollars” affecting fairness to businesses and strapped state budgets are at stake. Speaking before the House Judiciary Committee, the Republican governor gave the latest estimate of sales tax revenue Tennessee loses because of online retailers who don’t have to collect: $400 million annually. He said legislation to require collection by online retailers — a version of which U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., has crafted — would remedy a major problem in the regulation of the economy.

Haslam represents governors in urging online sales tax bill (Tennessean/Barton)

States lose $20B, he tells Congress Tennessee loses $400 million a year in sales taxes to online purchases involving out-of-state merchants who face no requirement to collect them, Gov. Bill Haslam told a congressional panel Tuesday. Haslam represented the National Governors Association in testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in favor of giving states the power to require out-of-state online vendors to collect and remit sales taxes on such items. “This discussion isn’t about raising taxes or adding new taxes,” Haslam said.

Gov. Bill Haslam urges federal fix for Web taxes (Times Free-Press/Sher)

Gov. Bill Haslam urged a congressional committee Tuesday to pass legislation allowing Tennessee and other states to collect sales taxes on items residents buy from out-of-state online retailers and catalog companies. “This discussion isn’t about raising taxes or adding new taxes. This is about states having the flexibility and authority to collect taxes that are already owed by their own in-state residents,” he told members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Haslam, who appeared on behalf of the National Governors Association, said Tennessee is not alone when it comes to losing out on substantial revenues that are owed but not collected by online retailers.

Haslam backs online sales tax collections (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Collins)

Uncollected taxes cost state $400M Gov. Bill Haslam told a congressional panel on Tuesday that states should be allowed to collect sales and use taxes on online purchases from out-of-state retailers. “I am a Republican governor that does not believe in increasing taxes,” Haslam said. But, “this discussion isn’t about raising taxes or adding new taxes. This is about states having the flexibility and authority to collect taxes that are already owed by their own in-state residents.” Haslam testified in favor of the Marketplace Equity Act, proposed legislation that would give states the power to collect taxes on online purchases, no matter where the retailer is based.

Haslam tells Congress that online sales tax not a new tax (C. Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam told a congressional committee Tuesday that it’s time for Congress to allow states to collect sales taxes from out-of-state catalog and online retailers on purchases by in-state residents. The governor said that would increase Tennessee tax revenue by $400 million per year, which he said the state could use to cut taxes and spend on infrastructure and higher education. “Let me be clear: I am a Republican governor that does not believe in increasing taxes. Tennessee is a low tax state to begin with, and we’ve been able to cut taxes over the past two years.

Haslam Goes to Congress for Online Taxing Authority (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam defended his record on taxes before a Congressional committee Tuesday. He’s trying to convince lawmakers in Washington that states need more power to collect sales taxes from Internet retailers. The state’s Department of Revenue estimates that it misses out on some $400 million in sales tax collections each year because of online shopping. If the store doesn’t have a physical presence in a state, it doesn’t have to collect the sales tax. Customers are supposed to pay on their own, though almost no one does. The federal Marketplace Fairness Act would give states the ability to require online retailers to collect the taxes.

Haslam to Congress: Internet Sales Tax Collections A Fairness Issue (TN Report)

Chairman Smith, Ranking Member Conyers and members of the committee, I am grateful to be here to testify on behalf of the National Governors Association. I believe I am uniquely positioned to be before you to talk on this issue today. I come from a family that founded and operates a national retail business based in Tennessee. I have served as chief executive officer of Saks Direct, Saks Fifth Avenue’s online and catalog retailer. I was Mayor of Knoxville, a city that’s budget depends on property taxes from both businesses and residents.

Haslam testifies before Congress in support of online sales tax reform (Nooga)

Four months after signing a bill that would require Amazon to charge sales tax by 2014 unless Congress acts beforehand, Gov. Bill Haslam testified before the House Judiciary Committee Tuesday morning and encouraged lawmakers to move forward on the issue. “This is the right time for Congress to act,” Haslam said. The governor, in Washington to testify on behalf of the National Governors Association, said that the issue was not about raising current taxes or adding new ones, but rather for states to recoup tax revenues to further fund state programs or cover federal mandates.

Gov. Haslam talks sales tax bill in D.C. (WBIR-TV Knoxville)

Governor Bill Haslam was in the nation’s capital Tuesday to talk about a tax bill involving online purchases in Tennessee. He shared the state’s experiences at a House judiciary committee. Governor Haslam says current laws are causing Tennessee to miss out on $400 million in sales taxes each year. He wants Congress to let states collect taxes from businesses, even if they don’t have a physical presence in the state. Tuesday’s meeting comes as federal lawmakers discuss a new bill. It would allow states to immediately collect taxes from online purchases, no matter where the retailer is located.

Governor Haslam Testifies About Online Sales Tax (WTVF-TV Nashville)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam was in Washington Tuesday to urge a Congressional committee to pass legislation requiring Internet retailers to collect sales tax. “This is an issue of fairness and I urge you to take up this issue at this time,” the governor implored the House Judiciary Committee. Haslam was quick to point out he isn’t for raising taxes or adding new taxes. He said the issue is about states having the flexibility and authority to collect taxes that are already owed by their own residents.

Haslam: Getting ‘best people’ to work for Tennessee is what matters (NS/Collins)

Gov. Bill Haslam defended his administration Tuesday against critics from within his own party, saying those who want him to rid state government of Democrats, gays and a Muslim don’t represent the views of most Tennessee Republicans. “Recent polls show that people who self-identify as conservative Republicans – 80 percent supported us,” Haslam said, referring to a Vanderbilt University poll released in May. “So I think you have to put it in that context.” Asked what might be motivating his GOP critics, Haslam said, “I certainly can’t get inside their heads to understand.”

Haslam asks whether Tennessee colleges are preparing future workers (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam will host a roundtable discussion with business and education leaders in Jackson Thursday about whether Tennessee’s public higher education system is adequately training students for the workforce. The 9:15 a.m. event in the student union building at the University of Memphis — Lambuth campus is open to the public but the governor’s office says the purpose of the series of discussions across the state is “to have a candid conversation with area businesses and local education institutions” about what public higher education is doing well and not so well in teaching students the relevant skills that employers need.

No DNA Collected from DUI Suspects Under ‘No Refusal’ Law: State (TN Report)

The blood samples collected from suspected drunk drivers under a new “No Refusal” law are not added to a national DNA database used by prosecutors, according to Tennessee state public safety officials. “Blood samples obtained by a search warrant from a suspected DUI offender are tested for blood alcohol content only,” Department of Safety Spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals said via email. “Those blood samples are not used for any other purpose and are NOT placed in a DNA database.”

Memphis wins TDOT grants (Memphis Business Journal)

Memphis has scored a hat trick of Tennessee Department of Transportation grants. The city applied for, and won, $1.5 million worth of grants for $2.35 million in improvements to Highway 61, Walker Avenue and the Wolf River Greenway. The Highway 61 (Third Street) project designates the street as a “Blues Trail,” complete with new signage. The Walker Avenue Pedestrian Safety Connectivity Project will improve the streetscape of the University of Memphis thoroughfare, while the Wolf River Greenway Trail’s segment four will also receive funding.

Oliver Springs woman facing TennCare fraud charges (Oak Ridge Today)

An Anderson County woman is charged with TennCare “doctor shopping” in nearby Roane County, after being on the run from authorities for the past nine months, according to WYSH Radio in Clinton. “Doctor shopping” involves using TennCare to go to multiple physicians in a short period to get prescription drugs. On Monday, the Office of Inspector General announced the arrest of Melissa Ann Adkins, 28, of Oliver Springs, WYSH said. She is charged with two counts of “doctor shopping,” obtaining the painkiller Oxycodone through visits to multiple doctors, paid for by TennCare, the radio station said.

11 of 12 appellate judges recuse themselves from selection case (Associated Press)

Eleven of Tennessee’s 12 Court of Appeals judges have recused themselves from a case concerning the state’s system for selecting appeals court judges. The Knoxville News Sentinel reports the legal matter is the latest effort by John Jay Hooker, a two-time Democratic Party nominee for governor, to invalidate the system. Hooker filed his first lawsuit against the system in 1996. Two years later, a specially appointed state Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the plan in a separate lawsuit with Hooker involved.

TN kids are healthiest in South, according to Kids Count ranking (TN/Gonzalez)

Despite gains, Tennessee lingered among the bottom 10 states for education Kids in Tennessee rank as the healthiest in the South — to the surprise of even some state officials — in the latest state-by-state comparison of the well-being of children. The 2012 Kids Count Data Book, released today by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, shows fewer teens abusing alcohol and drugs, fewer kids living without health insurance and fewer babies being born at low birth weights in the Volunteer State. Those measures placed Tennessee 16th in the nation in children’s health, one place ahead of Virginia and far above other southern states.

Report suggests Tennessee’s children are getting healthier but poorer (NS/Nelson)

When it comes to the “Overall Well-Being” of its children, Tennessee can say it’s moved up among the states. Last year, Tennessee ranked No. 39 in the Annie E. Casey KIDS COUNT National Data Book. This year, it’s No. 36 — higher than most other Southern states. Did life improve for Tennessee children? Yes, in some ways. But the nonprofit foundation also changed the way it ranks states. This year’s rankings center around four main categories: Economic Well-Being, Education, Health and Family and Community. In each category, the state looked at four “key indicators.”

1,000 ballots incorrect, but still count, Shelby Co election official says (CA/McMillin)

The chairman of the Shelby County Election Commission conceded Tuesday that nearly 1,000 voters received the wrong ballots during early voting for state and federal primary races in the Aug. 2 elections. But voters who received the wrong ballots won’t get to vote again with the right ballots, said commission chairman Robert Meyers. Meyers, a Republican, publicly thanked the Democratic nominee for a Shelby County Commission seat, Steve Ross, for identifying the glitch that caused the problem.

State Election Coordinator Confirms: Shelby Error Rate in Early Voting is 5 % (MF)

Mark Goins, the state Election Coordinator, confirms that allegations made by two local investigators concerning a 5 percent error rate in the assigning of early-voting ballots in Shelby County are accurate. Blake Fontenay, spokesperson for Goins,further acknowledged to the Flyer Friday that 1300, the number of erroneous ballots pinpointed as of Monday by Dr Joe Weinberg, “sounds about right.” Weinberg and blogger/candidate Steve Ross, both Democrats, have been independently checking into cases of erroneous ballot assignment.

Republican Voters Outnumbering Dems (Memphis Daily News)

U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen’s campaign sent out an email newsletter Monday, July 23, that summarized the partisan reality of early voting so far in Shelby County. “The Republicans are turning out to vote in massive numbers, and they are outvoting us,” read the lead line from the Democratic incumbent. Through Monday, 30,816 Shelby County voters had cast early ballots. Of that number, 53.4 percent – or 16,441 – voted in the Republican primaries and 44.2 percent – or 13,628 voted in the Democratic primaries. The remaining 747 voters cast early ballots in the non-partisan county general elections only.

Blood supply for TN region is at 15-year low (Tennessean/Haas)

The donation room was nearly empty Tuesday morning before lunch at the American Red Cross’ headquarters on Charlotte Avenue with just one woman there to give blood. And that’s the problem. The blood supply of the Red Cross Tennessee Valley Blood Services Region is lower than it’s been in 15 years. Red Cross workers say storms and overbearing heat are making donors even scarcer than usual during the slow summer months. Though hospitals have not had to stop providing blood for elective surgeries, regional and national Red Cross groups are worried.

A few years after shrinking, Commission ponders growing in size (NS/Donila)

Voters opted for fewer seats four years ago The Knox County Commission is again looking into whether it needs more members — just four years after voters shrank it. The proposal — if one is ever hammered out — would also have to go before voters. To get there by November, officials would have to move fast. The Knox County Election Commission would need the ballot language by the end of August, and the commission would have to twice sign off on the proposal and hold at least one public forum. Officials says it’s doable, but they’re not quite sure if they’re ready to pull the trigger this year.

City pension referendum takes one step forward (News-Sentinel/Witt)

Knoxville’s pension board approved of cost-saving terms in a referendum that city voters will likely see this fall, a ballot item intended to avoid a massive shortfall in the system from happening again. The current deficit in the city employees pension system cost $2.2 million more in the current city budget over last year, for a total of $14.4 million. That stopgap payment is expected to grow to $30 million a year in 10 years. A report approved Tuesday by the Knoxville Pension Board on proposed changes to the city pension next will be reviewed by the City Council, and marks a key step toward putting the item on ballots.

Zelenik colleague foots bill for ads targeting Rep. Diane Black (USA Today)

Two outside political action committees that have unleashed TV, radio and billboard advertising attacking Tennessee Rep. Diane Black’s congressional record are funded entirely by a businessman with close ties to her rival in next week’s Republican primary. Andrew Miller Jr., a Nashville health-care investor, told USA TODAY he has pumped more than $260,000 into the two super PACs — Citizens 4 Ethics in Government and the Congressional Elections PAC — running anti-Black ads. Miller previously served as finance chairman for the campaign of Black’s challenger, Lou Ann Zelenik.

Scottie Mayfield reception raises eyebrows (TFP/Carroll, Harrison)

It may have been just an hour of cookies and punch, but a recent reception sponsored by East Ridge city officials for a congressional candidate is drawing questions about how local taxpayer money may be used. About 25 East Ridge employees milled in the lobby of East Ridge’s City Hall on July 13, shaking hands and making small talk with Scottie Mayfield, a Republican running for Tennessee’s 3rd District seat. The reception took place while employees were on the clock, and about $80 was spent on snacks for the employees.

Ban on politicking at Northgate Mall pushes Weston Wamp off stump (TFP/Carroll)

From eminent domain to religious expression, Republicans usually jump to defend the rights of private property owners. But 3rd Congressional District hopeful Weston Wamp sees an exception when it comes to Northgate Mall and early voting. For four days this month, the 25-year-old son of former U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp stood outside Northgate’s early voting location, asking passers-by to choose him over his father’s successor — U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann — in the Republican primary. That didn’t fly with mall management after 10 complaints from voters, officials said.

Justice: Statesman needed (Jackson Sun)

Congressional candidate Annette Justice said Tuesday evening that she is a statesman and not a politician. “The government didn’t give us our rights,” she said. “Our rights were given to us by our creator. Our government was given to us to protect those rights, and our politicians are supposed fight for the ones they represent. That is what I aim to do.” Justice’s words fell upon the ears of six supporters who attended a town hall meeting at Baudo’s Restaurant in Jackson. She held the meeting to share her viewpoints with local community members and to hear their opinions.

The Semi-Private Lottery (Stateline)

Early this year, the Illinois Lottery trotted out a new commercial: A giant red ball rolled through the streets of Chicago, into small towns and then through the farmlands of downstate, while a sonorous voiceover intoned, “No one has small dreams, especially in Illinois. And this year, we’ll have more winners, and more millionaires, across our beautiful state… The new, bigger, better Powerball.” This is the revamped edition of the Illinois Lottery, under new management, promoted by new ad agencies, and, its managers hope, able to draw a new and much bigger stream of revenue.

TVA considering fuel made from nuclear weapons to power local plants (TFP/Sohn)

TVA was taking the pre-emptive route Tuesday when it released a set of talking points about its part in preparing an environmental impact statement on the use of MOX fuel made from surplus nuclear weapons to power Sequoyah and Browns Ferry nuclear plants. MOX, short for mixed oxide fuel, is a blend of plutonium and uranium, and the draft environmental impact statement is to be posted this week in the Federal Register, according to TVA spokesman Ray Golden.

Fewer Advertised Tech Jobs Left Unfilled (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The number of tech jobs advertised in Middle Tennessee has gone down over the last few months. One official with the Nashville Technology Council says that’s partly because its efforts to recruit tech workers are “beginning to pay off.” There were 728 advertised technology jobs in the region this past quarter – a 17 percent drop from earlier this year. John Kepley serves on the tech council’s Board of Directors. He says outside the recruitment efforts, a lot of businesses are holding off until after November. Kepley says many “have the capital to pull the trigger and hire people” but are waiting to see what happens in this fall’s elections.

School Board Committee On Consolidation Plan Calls It A Day (M. Daily News)

The countywide school board’s ad hoc committee to review the schools consolidation plan is about to disband without acting on the plan sent to the board by the schools consolidation planning commission. The school board will consider its next step at its voting meeting Tuesday, July 31. The original goal was to have a plan approved by August – a year from the merger of the county’s two public school systems at the start of the 2013-2014 school year. Board member Freda Williams, who chaired the ad hoc committee, told the board that the group is disbanding.

Wilson farmers forced into winter stockpiles (Tennessean/Ruf)

The rains have finally come, but is it too little, too late? The summer of 2012 is shaping up to be one of the worst droughts in memory, and stockpiles are dwindling as the sun burns up forage for Wilson County crops and farm animals. The quantity and quality of crops will suffer this year, said Ruth Corell, Wilson County agricultural extension agent. “Were they too far along, is the big question. This is just something we just don’t know.” Keeping livestock fed and watered is a major concern. The rains have helped soybean crops, but healthy corn, hay feed and water are running low. Grass is dead or dying.

Area farmers first face drought, followed by excess rain (Johnson City Press)

Walking around any farmer’s market can give customers a pretty good indication of just how the growing season has been, and the Johnson City Farmer’s Market Saturday was no different. There was plenty of produce to go around, but many farmers said the drought conditions, and even the surplus of rain, caused some major issues with either rotted produce or plants that had essentially died because of the extreme heat. Randy Shipley, of Shipley Farms, said the season started out fine, but the heat and lack of rain made it tough for some of his crops that are completely dependent on rainfall.

 

OPINION

 

Editorial: TN takes better care of kids (Tennessean)

Tennessee has typically ranked so low in measures of social well-being lately that it’s important to call attention to any success. And that’s just what has occurred in children’s health. Today, the Annie E. Casey Foundation released its annual Kids Count report (http://datacenter.kidscount.org/tn or http://mobile.kidscount.org), which assesses the well-being of children nationwide and state by state. This year, the report adopted a different methodology. So while it makes it difficult to measure this year’s results to previous years, it’s important to know that the new evaluation formula appears to be a more balanced approach to gauging what matters in the lives of children.

Editorial: Tennessee kids make progress but still have long way to go (J. Sun)

Tennessee continues to make progress in the area of child welfare. According to the 2012 Kids Count national data book on child well being, the state now ranks 36th in the nation. It also ranks better than most other Southern states. The status of child well being in Tennessee is largely the product of state public policies that address health, economic well being, education, and family and community factors. This is the 22nd year of the Kids Count report, a project of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The state’s greatest improvement in recent years is in the area of child health care. It now ranks 16th in the nation. This reflects a substantial increase in the availability of health insurance for children through TennCare and the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Editorial: Don’t pull lottery out from under students (Daily News Journal)

Inaction by the state Legislature this spring is turning out to be the right move for college students who need help paying tuition. While the Senate passed a bill that would have cut the number of students eligible for lottery scholarships, the measure stalled in the House when its sponsor couldn’t muster enough votes to send it to the governor. Sometimes failure to act is the best thing that can happen. In this case it would have made little sense to diminish a program that is recording record-setting revenues. Tennessee lottery officials reported recently that the program brought in more than $323 million for education this year, its eighth straight record year, which marked a 10.2 percent increase over last year’s $293.4 million.

Gail Kerr: State is on the hook for unanswered calls to unemployment office (TN)

Dawn Kingsley of Gallatin said she is at the “end of my rope.” Kingsley, who has a master’s degree and has worked for health-care corporations for 25 years, was laid off July 6. She applied for unemployment and was approved. But a simple glitch on an online weekly certification form has caused the state not to pay her benefits. No problem, right? She called the state number given on her form and held on through the lengthy instructions, only to hear: “We are unable to take your call now because of extremely high call volume. Please try your call later.” Which she did. Dozens of times. Same result. “It doesn’t give you a chance to get into a queue or leave a voice mail,” Kingsley said. She sent an email on July 16, “and there’s been no response to that at all.”

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