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December 11 TN News Digest

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

Haslam: State Will Not Run Health-Care Exchange (TN Report)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday the state will not operate a state-based healthcare exchange under the federal Affordable Care Act. Haslam made the following statement on the issue: “Tennessee faces a decision this week about health insurance exchanges created by the Affordable Care Act. “I’m not a fan of the law. The more I know, the more harmful I think it will be for small businesses and costly for state governments and the federal government. It does nothing to address the cost of health care in our country. It only expands a broken system. That’s why I’ve opposed it from the beginning and had hoped we would be successful in court and at the ballot box this year.”

LETTER: https://tnreport.com/2012/12/11/haslams-exchange-rejection-letter-to-feds/

Haslam Decides Against Health Insurance Exchange (Associated Press)

Gov. Bill Haslam has decided not to create a state-run health insurance exchange, leaving the operation to the federal government. Haslam announced his decision during a speech Monday, Dec. 10. The Republican governor, who had until Friday to decide, said the lack of information from the federal government was “scary.” The exchanges, part of the federal health care overhaul, create new online markets where consumers will be able to buy individual private health insurance coverage. Haslam previously said the state likely could run an exchange more efficiently but acknowledged getting legislative approval would be difficult.

Haslam Rejects State-Run Exchange (TN Report)

Siding with Tea Party activists and GOP lawmakers, Gov. Bill Haslam said today that Tennessee would not run its own insurance exchange under the federal health care law. But Haslam said he wasn’t bowing to political pressure. “Believe me, the politics haven’t changed,” the Republican governor said after a speech at a Rotary Club of Nashville luncheon held at the Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue. “I knew what the politics were of this decision seven or eight months ago. I can assure you: while we listen to everybody, in the end we made what we think is the right decision.”

Haslam: Tennessee will not run health exchange (Nashville Business Journal)

Tennessee will let the federal government set up a health insurance exchange in the state as part of Obamacare, Gov. Bill Haslam announced today. Haslam, who opposed President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, had previously said that the state running its exchange would be the “lesser of two evils.” Today, however, he said he has become “more and more” convinced that federal officials are making things up as they go along. Haslam made his remarks during a meeting of the Rotary Club of Nashville downtown.

Haslam decides to pass on state-run health insurance exchange (CP/Zelinski)

Tennessee will pass on running health insurance exchanges and instead hand off those duties to the federal government, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday. The governor, who has faced months of mounting pressure from Republican lawmakers and phone calls from the public, said the federal government hasn’t given him enough confidence to buy into the idea of running the exchange. Haslam informed U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius of his decision in a letter dated Dec. 10.

Haslam says Tennessee will not set up health care exchange (Tennessean/Sisk)

Tennessee will not set up its own health insurance exchange, leaving the task to the federal government and joining a push by Republican governors to deliver at least a symbolic blow to health care reform. Gov. Bill Haslam told the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday that Tennessee will not create the online marketplace where the state’s residents will be able to shop for health coverage required by the Affordable Care Act. The governor announced the decision in a lunchtime speech to the Rotary Club of Nashville.

Haslam says no to health insurance exchange (Times Free-Press/Sher)

After finally saying no to a state-run health insurance exchange, Gov. Bill Haslam now has an even bigger decision to make when it comes to the federal Affordable Care Act. That would be whether to extend the state’s TennCare program to as many as 330,000 low-income Tennesseans under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. He said he has not made up his mind on the issue, and a decision may not be made until next year or later.Earlier Monday, Haslam said he had rejected creating a state-run, online marketplace where as many as 558,000 Tennesseans who have no health coverage easily could find federally subsidized insurance.

Haslam says no to state-run health insurance exchange (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

In rejecting creation of a state-operated health insurance Exchange in Tennessee Monday, Gov. Bill Haslam said he was making a business decision without considering the political popularity of his move among Republicans and the disappointment of Democrats. “If you take the politics out of the decision, what you’re left with is this: As the CEO of the state of Tennessee, I’m being asked to make a significant business decision based on information that’s only now dribbling out of Washington and that we appear to have little influence over,” the governor said.

Haslam defers to federal government on health insurance exchange (CA/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision Monday to keep state government out of the health insurance exchange business and defer to a federally run exchange was politically popular with conservatives but may end up costing Tennesseans more in the long run. The governor notified U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius that “Tennessee will not be pursuing a state-based insurance exchange” — a one-stop marketplace for consumers and businesses to compare competing commercial health insurance plans and buy the plans they choose.

Haslam Says No to State-Run Health Exchange (Memphis Flyer)

Maintaining that he was making a “business” decision, not a political one, Governor Bill Haslam ended several weeks of suspense by announcing Monday that Tennessee would not operate its own healthcare exchange under the Affordable Care Act. The governor’s decision does not mean that the elements of the Act will not be accessible in Tennessee, only that they will be operated exclusively under federal auspices and under federal regulations.

Haslam says decision on health care exchange not politically motivated (Nooga)

Tennessee will have a health care exchange, but it won’t be run by the state. That was the line delivered by Gov. Bill Haslam Monday afternoon, as he announced his decision to defer responsibilities for creating and implementing a key component of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act to the federal government. Facing a Friday deadline, Haslam said he spent the last several months wrestling with the decision.

Haslam Stiff Arms State Exchange (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee will not create it’s own health insurance exchange as envisioned under President Obama’s Affordable Care Act. Governor Bill Haslam says he really did want to, telling the White House in a letter he “did not come to this decision lightly.” Haslam was one of only a handful of Republican governors giving a health exchange a long, hard look. Just before announcing his decision, Haslam said he still thinks Tennessee could run an online marketplace of health plans better than the federal government. But he says the state doesn’t have enough information to fairly weigh the options.

Access America Expands Adding 450 Jobs in Chattanooga (WDEF-TV Chattanooga)

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Bill Hagerty along with Access America Transport officials today announced the company will expand its Chattanooga and Knoxville facilities and create 550 jobs during a five year period – 450 additional jobs at the Chattanooga facility and 100 additional jobs at the Knoxville facility. “I want to congratulate Access America Transport on the expansion of both its Tennessee facilities and the creation of more than 500 new jobs in the Chattanooga and Knoxville areas,” Haslam said.

Access America Transport to bring 450 new jobs to Chattanooga (TFP/Smith)

Here’s a riddle: two friends in a garage come up with an idea. Within a decade they’ve grown the venture to $385 million in sales and are well on their way to employing 1,000 workers. Hint: it’s not a Silicon Valley startup, it doesn’t make iPhones and the name doesn’t rhyme with grapple or frugal. The answer is Chattanooga-based Access America Transport, a logistics company that’s on track to double its workforce and break the $1 billion sales barrier in five years, said president Chad Eichelberger.

Access America adding 100 jobs in Knoxville (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

Access America Transport, a Chattanooga-based transportation company, will add 100 jobs to its facility in Knoxville and 450 jobs in Chattanooga. According to a news release issued by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, the company will add the jobs over a five-year period. “I want to congratulate Access America Transport on the expansion of both its Tennessee facilities and the creation of more than 500 new jobs in the Chattanooga and Knoxville areas,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in the news release.

Farmers Look Into Crystal Ball (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Tennessee farmers are being asked to contemplate their future. State agricultural officials have announced a soul searching exercise. At the Tennessee Farm Bureau meeting last week, Governor Bill Haslam broadly outlined a plan to harvest feedback from the state’s food and commodity growers. Kentucky launched a similar effort in 2007 to develop a strategic plan. Julius Johnson is Tennessee’s commissioner of agriculture. “We know the change is inevitable and everything is going to change. Our consumer that we’re producing for is going to change. We need to try to determine what the consumer wants 10 years down the road.”

November Revenue Collections Higher Than Last Year (Associated Press)

Tennessee Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes says the state’s overall revenue collections for November are slightly more than they were this time last year. Emkes said Tuesday that November collections were $768.2 million, which is 0.35 percent above last November. He said November collections for this year were $17 million less than the budgeted estimate, and the general fund fell short by $13.6 million. Emkes said the numbers continue to indicate this will be a “moderate growth year.”

Tennessee tax collections: November growth, but not much (N. Biz Journal)

State officials are repeating that familiar refrain about the economy — “cautiously optimistic” — but the numbers aren’t as encouraging as they have been. In a release out today, Commissioner Mark Emkes of the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration reported that overall state tax revenue grew by less than one percent in November. The numbers — $768.2 million in total revenue — actually reflect October collections, and don’t include the ramp up in holiday spending that would boost segments like sales taxes.

Huffman Brings Leverage to Possible Mediation (Memphis Daily News)

Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman would bring lots of political leverage with him should he mediate the coming merger of schools in Shelby County. Tennessee Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis, who suggested Huffman as an “honest broker” between countywide school board leaders and suburban leaders, said Huffman has leverage in the state’s role as the major funder of public education. “The question we have in this community is how do you educate 150,000 people in an efficient effective and an accountable way? What is the structure that can do that?”

TN takes small steps on health, including obesity, smoking (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Tennesseans appear to be pushing back from the table more, but they’re spending too much time in the easy chair. While Tennessee has made gradual improvement in reducing obesity to the point that it is no longer among the 10 fattest states, it ranks near the bottom for folks living a sedentary lifestyle — 48th, according to United Health Foundation’s 2012 American’s Health Rankings. The state ranks 35th for obesity among adults. The annual report looks at determinants of health such as high school graduation rates, and outcomes such as the percentage of people with diabetes.

TN, GA and AL still among unhealthiest states in U.S., ranking finds (TFP/Carroll)

The latest set of health rankings won’t surprise anyone expecting Southern-fried numbers. While Tennessee and Alabama have become slightly healthier over the last year, both states remain national cellar dwellers in cardiovascular deaths, obesity and sedentary lifestyle, according to a study released today. Out of America’s 50 states, Georgia finished 36th, Tennessee came in 39th and Alabama ranked 45th in overall health. All three states showed a slight improvement from 2011.

Manufacturing challenges education (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Over the last 10 years, states have shifted the cost of higher education from uni-versities to students, East Tennessee State University President Brian Noland said during a manufacturing conference Monday. At the same time, manufacturing companies are looking for workers with more post-secondary training than in previous generations, officials said. Across the country, three million jobs are not being filled be-cause companies cannot find workers with the right skills.

TDOT holds public hearings on State Route 126 (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Department of Transportation is holding two public hearings in Sullivan County to gather input on the proposed improvements to State Route 126 and to share modifications to the plan. The hearings will be held at 11:30 a.m. at the Kingsport Civic Center and at 6 p.m. at the Sullivan Central High School in Blountville. TDOT published a Draft Environmental Impact Statement on the plan to improve about 8.4 miles of the road that connects Kingsport and Interstate 81.

First Lady Crissy Haslam Will Visit Linden Library (Buffalo River River)

Tennessee First Lady Crissy Haslam will visit the Perry County Public Library in Linden next Monday, December 10. Mrs. Haslam is scheduled to arrive at 1:45 p.m., for a 45-minute visit to discuss the Imagination Library of Perry County and her “Read 20” initiative. The Imagination Library provides to registered children a free, high-quality book each month. You can learn more about this program—and sign up—at both local libraries. The First Lady’s “Read 20” program hopes to give Tennessee families of elementary-aged children a fun goal of reading together for 20 minutes every day.

‘It’s a business bill’ (Bristol Herald-Courier)

Vintage Collections owner Mike Hilton is mad at Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who sup-ports a bill to legalize wine sales in Tennessee grocery stores. “With all the things that are going on doesn’t he have something else to worry about?” Hilton asked. Hilton’s Volunteer Parkway business sells wine and spirits as a state-licensed store. Right now, wine can only be sold in state liquor stores in Tennessee, but Ramsey and other legislators are proposing a law that would lift that ban. Hilton estimates that 40 percent of his sales are wine and he is concerned about the future of his business if the legislation is approved.

Corker open to higher taxes on wealthy Americans (Memphis Business Journal)

Republican Senator Bob Corker told Fox News Sunday he was open to higher taxes on the nation’s wealthiest earners if it meant avoiding a plunge off the fiscal cliff, The Hill reports. Corker conceded that he felt Democrats have a post-election advantage but added that he was optimistic both sides would reach a deal before the end of the year. He also said agreeing to an increased tax on the wealthiest Americans would position deficit talks around entitlement reform. Corker is a member of the Senate Banking Committee.

FBI looking for new home in Memphis (Memphis Business Journal)

The Federal Bureau of Investigation is on the lookout in Memphis for about 96,000 square feet of real estate space to inhabit once its East Memphis lease expires in 2015, the Commercial Appeal reports. Records filed by the General Services Administration, which handles real estate leasing for the FBI, indicate the government is after a long-term lease in a building that is “professional and prestigious” or in a “modern” development with a “campus-like atmosphere,” the report indicated.

Tax plan huge for small business (Tennessean/Ohelmacher)

President Barack Obama’s plan to increase taxes on top earners would have only a small effect on the nation’s economy, according to congressional budget experts. But don’t tell that to small business owners facing a tax hike.Obama’s proposal would hit about 940,000 people who report business income on their individual tax returns — about 3.5 percent of people who report business income, says the Joint Committee on Taxation, the official scorekeeper for Congress. That’s only 3.5 percent of the people who report business income, but those business owners are projected to earn 53 percent of the $1.3 trillion in business income that will be reported on individual returns next year.

Health overhaul includes $63 fee (Commercial Appeal)

Your medical plan is facing an unexpected expense, so you probably are, too. It’s a new, $63-per-head yearly fee to cushion the cost of covering people with pre-existing conditions under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul. The charge, buried in a recent regulation, works out to tens of millions of dollars for the largest companies, employers say. Most of that is likely to be passed on to workers. Employee benefits lawyer Chantel Sheaks calls it a “sleeper issue” with significant financial consequences, particularly for large employers.

TVA board’s CEO would get more power if panel lacked quorum (AP/Johnson)

The Tennessee Valley Authority’s board voted Monday to delegate certain authority to the utility’s new chief executive in case five of its vacancies aren’t filled before Congress adjourns this month. The board is made up of nine members and five seats are pending congressional action, including one that’s up for reappointment. Whenever five or more of the seats are vacant, the board lacks a quorum. The authorizations and delegations approved at a special meeting Monday would go into effect only if the panel lacks a quorum because of vacancies.

TVA board delegates more authority to CEO (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Sohn)

TVA’s incoming leader will have some authority previously not afforded to a TVA chief executive, thanks to some partisan bickering. Five Tennessee Valley Authority board members on Monday approved delegations of authority to Bill Johnson, who will take over the reins of TVA on Jan. 1, to enable TVA to do business while Congress considers new board nominees. “We’re making these authorizations and delegations today as contingencies, in case the board does not have a quorum in the coming weeks,” Chairman Bill Sansom said.

Without Board Quorum, Incoming TVA CEO Gets New Powers (WPLN-Radio Nash)

With little fanfare, the board of the Tennessee Valley Authority handed new powers to its incoming CEO today. The group didn’t have much choice. TVA’s board is supposed to have nine members; it’s already short three. Two more will go when Congress adjourns, leaving the board without enough members to do business. Ralph Rodgers is TVA’s general counsel. “TVA bylaws do provide substantial authority to the CEO, and the board members acting without quorum when necessary, to take those actions necessary to continue continuity of operations.”

TVA board grapples with quorum issue (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Marcum)

The TVA board of directors took a step Monday to solidify the board’s legal basis for making business decisions in the event it lacks a quorum. Six members of the board voted unanimously to delegate authority to the federal utility’s CEO to act on issues that the Tennessee Valley Authority might face in the coming months. TVA Chief Legal Officer Ralph Rodgers told board members that TVA bylaws give them the authority to carry out their responsibilities even if they do not have the required five-member quorum, but it would be a good idea — while the board still has a quorum — to specify how these issues would be handled.

Federal trial of Y-12 protesters reset for May 7 (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Munger)

Because of new charges in the high-profile case, the federal trial of three Y-12 protesters has been reset for May 7. The trial of Michael Walli, Greg Boertje-Obed and Sister Megan Rice — known as the Transform Now Plowshares group — had been scheduled to begin Feb. 26. However, things changed after a federal grand jury returned a superseding indictment earlier month, adding a felony sabotage charge that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

Nashville surges to No. 18 in monthly economic ranking (Nashville Biz Journal)

Nashville has surged on Nashville Business Journal affiliate On Numbers’ monthly ranking of economic vitality across the country. Nashville ranks No. 18 on the index for December, up from No. 28 in November and No. 33 in October. On Numbers analyzes 18 statistical indicators each month, providing a snapshot of conditions in the 102 major metropolitan areas with populations above 500,000. Among the factors are private-sector job growth, unemployment, earnings, housing-price appreciation and construction and retail activity.

Home Sales Up 16 Percent (Memphis Daily News)

The Shelby County housing market continued to improve last month with year-over-year increases in home sales and average prices, and industry experts say those are just two of the signs that local residential real estate has stabilized. There were 1,187 home sales registered in November, up 16 percent from the 1,024 sales tallied in November 2011, according to real estate information company Chandler Reports, www.chandlerreports.com. Average home sales prices for November were $123,756, a 5 percent bump from $117,342 during the same month last year.

SAIC to cut jobs in Oak Ridge (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Flory)

Move will affect some 50 workers A government contracting firm will lay off some 50 workers in Oak Ridge as part of a broader reduction in force. Science Applications International Corp., a publicly traded company based in McLean, Va., had nearly 900 employees in the Oak Ridge area as of September. The Oak Ridge office is focused on transaction-based functions associated with human resources, finance and corporate purchasing. Melissa Lee Koskovich, a spokeswoman for the company, said in an email that the company had decided to restructure its workforce, “including a reduction of approximately 700 individuals.”

Cleveland, Bradley schools agree on taxes (Chattanooga Times Free-Press/Leach)

Cleveland has accepted payment terms offered by Bradley County Schools in regard to $1.42 million in disputed sales tax revenue. On Monday, the Cleveland City Council voted 6-0 to accept a 30-month payment schedule starting in July 2013 at the beginning of the next fiscal year. Councilman Richard Banks was absent. “It’s an amicable way to settle the matter,” Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland said. “It’s a great solution presented by the Bradley Board of Education.” “It’s tough, but we do what we have to do,” said Johnny McDaniel, director of Bradley County Schools, as he thanked members of the Cleveland City Council.

Search for school chief at six (Jackson Sun)

Three superintendents, an assistant superintendent, a principal and education program officer round out the slate of six finalists presented to the Jackson-Madison County School Board during its called meeting Monday night. Board members met with BWP & Associates partners Ron Barnes and George McShan to review the candidates and discuss the next steps as the interviews are scheduled to begin Wednesday evening. “We spent this past weekend meeting with our candidates and we feel we have a good slate,” Barnes said.

Michigan: Michigan unions say no right to work (Washington Times)

Lansing, Michigan is bracing for an onslaught of protestors following Republican Governor Rick Snyder’s indication that he would sign “Right to Work” legislation currently making its way through the state legislature. President Obama and Harry Reid have both joined Michigan Democrats in denouncing the bill. As usual, both liberals and conservatives are already demonstrating their skewed perception of reality in weighing in on this debate. President Obama told workers at an engine plant outside Detroit that “what we shouldn’t be doing is trying to take away your rights to bargain for better wages,” as if the law would do any such thing.

 

OPINION

Editorial: Haslam right to let feds run exchange at this point (Jackson Sun)

Gov. Bill Haslam has opted to let the federal government run the health insurance exchange for Tennessee required by the Affordable Care Act beginning in 2014. Tennessee is one of the last states to make a decision on the insurance exchange issue, and Haslam has spent considerable time deliberating what to do. Given his cautious approach to managing the state, and the lack of details provided by the federal government, he was smart to let the federal government take over for now. Haslam’s chief concern was how much flexibility the state would have in managing its own insurance exchange. Unfortunately, the federal government came up short on details.

Editorial: Health care opportunity missed (Tennessean)

Usually, irony is a cause for smiles. Gov. Bill Haslam’s decision not to establish a state-run health insurance exchange drips with contradiction, but there is nothing funny about what this means for Tennesseans who are currently uninsured or underinsured. Now, Tennesseans will have a health-insurance exchange beginning in 2014, but thanks to the very politicians who insist that states’ rights have been trampled by the Obama administration that brought about the Affordable Care Act, the exchange will be run by the federal government. A growing number of states are seeing the common sense in administering their own exchange, as is preferred under the ACA; after all, the models for the exchanges began at the state and local level.

Lowe Finney: Reversal on health exchange hurts TN (Tennessean)

A new Tennessee General Assembly is just a few weeks from convening. Among the many challenges awaiting it have been whether to move forward with a state-run health insurance exchange, and whether to expand Medicaid to Tennessee’s uninsured population. Gov. Bill Haslam wisely sought input from stakeholders over the past two years and previously indicated his preference for Tennessee to move forward on both counts. It’s the best course for our state. Instead, he’s done a 180 and decided to let the federal government run Tennessee’s exchange, no doubt buckling under intense pressure from the tea party wing of his party. If the governor doesn’t have the votes for exchanges, expanding Medicaid doesn’t stand a chance.

Columnist: State exchange or not, insurance will cost more (Daily News Journal)

Rutherford County’s legislative delegation could prove its soothsaying prowess if the Affordable Care Act winds up in history’s trash heap. Otherwise, in two years or so they could be demanding that Tennessee be allowed to take control of the new bureaucracy because it can run it better. The typical mantra among our elected officials is that smaller government is better. In fact, last week state Rep. Joe Carr, a Lascassas Republican, said he believes the federal government has no business overseeing education, health care and transportation and that Tennessee “knows better how to run the affairs of our state than Washington does.” Yet, in nearly the same breath he said he opposed Tennessee setting up its own exchange to offer affordable insurance coverage.

 

Clay Bennett Cartoon: “HaslamCare” (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

David Hunter: Tennessee Legislature first in being the worst (News-Sentinel)

My column today is dedicated to the Tennessee Legislature for being named No. 1 by Mother Jones magazine on its list of “America’s 50 Worst State Legislatures.” The competition was stiff, but our people worked hard for the honor. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the infamous Sen. Stacey Campfield,R-Knoxville, who has been at the forefront of a semiliterate, willfully ignorant movement to bring back bigotry of all kinds that most civilized people laid to rest long ago. Also, my special thanks to Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, for whom I have had the pleasure of not voting during all his years representing my home district, for his recent and seemingly enthusiastic support of Campfield in his crusade back to the 19thcentury. Apologies to Dunn if he feels that I am mistreating him.

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