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October 10 TN News Digest

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

Tennessee business tax climate ranks 15th best among states (C. Appeal/Locker)

Tennessee has the 15th best tax climate for business out of all 50 states and the second best in the South, according to the 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index released Wednesday by the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan fiscal policy research organization that generally favors lower taxes. The index collects data on over 100 tax provisions for each state and synthesizes them into a single score. The states are then compared against each other, so that each state’s ranking is relative to actual policies in place in other states.  REPORT: http://taxfoundation.org/article/2014-state-business-tax-climate-index 

Report: Tennessee ranks well in tax climate (Nooga)

Tennessee’s tax climate ranks better than most states at No. 15, according to a new report from the Tax Foundation. “The evidence shows that states with the best tax systems will be the most competitive in attracting new businesses and most effective at generating economic and employment growth,” according to the report from the nonpartisan research organization. The report looks at tax burdens in each state, and Tennessee ranks the same as it did last year in the overall ranking. But taking into account only sales tax, Tennessee ranks at No. 43, according to the report.

Report: Tennessee taxes among most business friendly (Knoxville News-Sentinel)

When it comes to taxes, Tennessee continues to be one of the most business-friendly states in the country, according to a Tax Foundation report released today. Tennessee ranks 15th on the 2014 State Business Tax Climate Index, unchanged from a year ago. The index reflects the tax climate of each state as of July 1, 2013. The Volunteer State has a more business-friendly tax climate that all neighboring states and in the southeast region, only Florida ranks higher at No. 5. Wyoming has the nation’s most business-friendly tax structure, followed by South Dakota, Nevada, Alaska, Florida, Washington , Montana, New Hampshire, Utah and Indiana.

Governor Haslam names Seven Islands as Tennessee’s newest state park (WRCB)

Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam has named Seven Islands Wildlife Refuge as a new state park. Seven Islands State Birding Park will be the 56th state park in Tennessee. “Our state parks offer residents and visitors unique ways to get outside and experience Tennessee, and Seven Islands is a great addition to our parks system,” Haslam said. “Seven Islands is a special place in Knox County and East Tennessee, sitting along the migratory path of many bird species, and I am pleased that it will become Tennessee’s first state birding park.”

Tennessee AG gives Haslam go-ahead to fill judge vacancies (TFP/Sher)

Tennessee Attorney General Robert Cooper gave Gov. Bill Haslam the legal go-ahead Wednesday to fill judicial vacancies, despite the expiration of the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission this summer. In the legal opinion, dated Wednesday, Cooper said that following a 2009 change in state law, the governor “has the authority to appoint any qualified person to fill a judicial office that becomes vacant after the termination and wind-down of the Judicial Nominating Commission.” Lawmakers ended their session last spring without extending the Judicial Nominating Commission. The panel accepts applications for vacant judgeships and screens applicants.

Tennessee attorney general: Governor can appoint judges (C. Appeal/Locker)

Gov. Bill Haslam has authority to appoint trial and appellate court judges in Tennessee even though the state’s Judicial Nominating Commission ceased to exist on July 1, the state attorney general said Wednesday. Atty. Gen. Robert E. Cooper’s advisory opinion was in response to a request by the governor over whether he has authority to fill judicial vacancies after the nominating commission terminated under the Tennessee Governmental Entity “Sunset” Law, which requires state agencies, boards and commissions to be periodically reviewed and renewed by the General Assembly or they cease to exist.

TDOT: Henley Bridge to partially reopen next week (News-Sentinel/Jacobs)

State officials announced on Wednesday a partial reopening of the Henley Bridge on Oct. 17, but authorities aren’t ready yet to incorporate the bridge into game day traffic patterns at the University of Tennessee. And all those detour signs for the bridge closed since Jan. 3, 2011, will remain in place, said Kristin Qualls, Tennessee Department of Transportation project supervisor. TDOT Commissioner John Schroer announced one lane in each direction on the bridge will be open to traffic at 12:01 a.m. That will be two days before the UT football team hosts South Carolina at Neyland Stadium.

Tennessee Highway Patrol warns motorists of deer on roads (Associated Press)

The Tennessee Highway Patrol is warning motorists about deer-related crashes during the fall and winter. THP Col. Tracy Trott is urging drivers to be aware and cautious in areas where deer are found. Trott says the chances of striking deer are considerably higher during hunting and mating season, especially in November. The THP says three people were killed in crashes involving deer last year in the state. There were 5,911 deer-related crashes in 2012, an increase of 4.2 percent from the 5,670 crashes involving deer the previous year.

Gallatin man faces third TennCare fraud charge (Tennessean/Cross)

A Gallatin man is facing his third charge of TennCare prescription drug fraud in less than three months, the state’s Office of Inspector General announced last week. John P. Lamb, 42, was indicted by a Sumner County grand jury in August for trying to illegally obtain prescriptions for hydrocodone earlier this year. “He had been doctor shopping from one county to another and from one doctor to another,” Sumner County District Attorney Ray Whitley said. Lamb also faces prescription drug fraud charges in Davidson and Wilson counties dating back to July.

State Representative Charles Curtiss Not Seeking Re-Election (Associated Press)

State Representative Charles Curtiss said he will not seek re-election. The 66-year-old Sparta Democrat didn’t give a specific reason for his decision but said Wednesday he wanted to give candidates considering running for his District 43 seat plenty of time to plan. Curtiss was elected in 1994 and will have served 20 years when his current term ends. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said Curtiss will be missed. The Ripley Democrat, who was elected at the same time as Curtiss, called him a leader on worker’s compensation, insurance and utility matters, who is “always looking out for the regular working people.” 

Election finance register tosses out Forrester’s complaint against Haslam (TN/Sisk)

The board responsible for policing the state’s campaign finance laws ruled Wednesday that former Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester had failed to show that Haslam had acted illegally by hiring Ingram as a consultant and not disclosing it. Joseph “Woody” Woodruff, an attorney representing Haslam, presented an affidavit in which Ingram said he had been paid to offer policy advice since the governor’s inauguration in January 2011. The registry also rejected Forrester’s request to give him more time to file emails that he said would show Ingram had done campaign work.

Tennessee Registry of Election Finance throws out Haslam complaint (TFP/Sher)

Political advice isn’t necessarily campaign consulting, according to the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance, which on Wednesday tossed out a complaint over Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s secret payments to lobbyist and campaign consultant Tom Ingram. The panel, which oversees campaign financial disclosures, voted 3-1 to boot the complaint filed by former state Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester, who said Haslam should have disclosed the payments. The three yes votes came from Republican members.

Registry Dismisses Campaign Complaint Against Haslam (WTVF-TV Nashville)

A complaint against Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, accusing him of breaking state law with his payments to a prominent lobbyist, was dismissed Wednesday by the state board that regulates campaign finance. The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance threw out the complaint filed by former state Democratic Party chair Chip Forrester. He had alleged that Haslam broke state law when he did not disclose payments to lobbyist Tom Ingram. “Everything that a consultant like Tom Ingram does is political and is campaign related,” Forrester told reporters.

Yes, TN Governor Can Pay For Political Advice Without Disclosing It (WPLN)

A campaign lawyer for Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s says the state’s top official has every right to pay a political advisor out of his own pocket without disclosing it. And on Wednesday, the state panel over campaign finance agreed. Democrats filed a complaint after the governor admitted he paid high-profile lobbyist and campaign strategist Tom Ingram from his personal funds for two years. He has since put Ingram on his re-election campaign payroll. Haslam’s attorney – Joseph Woodruff – argues that not everything that’s political can be characterized as campaigning.

Nash considers downtown ‘fee’ to recruit Music City Center events (TN/Garrison)

Metro soon may tack a “fee” onto many goods sold in downtown Nashville as a way to build a new fund to help recruit major conventions to Music City Center. A proposal headed to the Metro Council Tuesday would authorize the city to impose a 0.25 percent fee — a quarter of a penny — on the sales price of services, retail, food, beer and other goods sold within Nashville’s Central Business Improvement District, which includes most of downtown. Collections, estimated at around $1 million annually, would go toward a pool that would enable the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp. to underwrite the rent that convention groups pay to use the center.

Corker likely to oppose Janet Yellen as Fed chairman (TFP/Flessner)

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Wednesday he is likely to oppose the nomination of Federal Reserve Vice Chairwoman Janet Yellen to become Fed chairman. But the Chattanooga Republican still expects she likely will be confirmed by the Democrat-controlled U.S. Senate as the first woman to lead the U.S. central bank. Corker, a member of the Senate Banking Committee who opposed Yellen’s nomination to the Federal Reserve Bank in 2010, has criticized Yellen for being too dovish in supporting easy monetary policies at the Fed.

Tuition At Risk As Gov’t Shutdown Continues (WTVF-TV Nashville)

As the government shutdown enters day 10 some 300,000 students who are also active service members are no longer receiving tuition assistance from the federal government. “I hope that when they do come to a solution, it’s a solution that can be implemented as quickly as possibly,” said Cadet Cynthia Stinnett who’s enrolled in Austin Peay’s ROTC program and is also a senior business major. Cynthia and most of her fellow Cadets get up to $4,500 in tuition assistance every year but the Pentagon has temporarily suspended that money leaving students to have to look elsewhere for funding.

Will shutdown impact grants? TN agencies for poor watch and wait (Tenn/Hall)

Agencies that help Middle Tennessee’s poor have a new battle cry: Let’s hope it’s over by Oct. 31. They’re talking about the federal government shutdown and, along with it, the flow of federal dollars that trickle down to fund milk for babies through Women, Infants and Children; education for preschoolers through Head Start; and houses for families through Section 8. All of those programs’ grant cycles ensure they’ll keep going across the state at least until the end of the month. After that, it’s unclear who is going to get what — although it’s certain Americans who are struggling the most will be hit the hardest.

Risk to Food Safety Seen in Furloughs (New York Times)

The government shutdown is endangering what America eats, food safety experts said this week, as all inspections of domestic food except meat and poultry have halted and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recalled furloughed workers to handle a salmonella outbreak that sickened hundreds of people in 18 states. Offices are dark across the federal agencies charged with making sure that the fruit, vegetables, dairy products and a vast array of other domestically produced food are safe to consume.

Food stamp funding dwindles as demand swells (Tennessean/Wadhwani)

Just west of downtown Nashville, a few blocks to the north of a gourmet marshmallow store, craft distillery, coffee shop and art galleries in Marathon Village, a long line of mostly women and young kids waited on a hot afternoon to fill up cardboard boxes with fresh greens, fruits and canned goods. The food giveaway by nonprofit Second Harvest Food Bank of Middle Tennessee came during the last week of the month — a few days after Kara Bellenger’s September food stamp allotment had run out. The 21-year-old mother is attending a community college program to become a crime scene investigator and said she hasn’t been able to find part-time work to support her 2-year-old son.

‘Gateway to the Smokies’ No More (Metro Pulse)

Paul Angell didn’t think much of Knoxville at first. Angell is the head of a Greeneville, S.C., company called Checkpoint Tracker, which stages an annual adventure race—a wilderness sufferfest for superfit endurance freaks who team up for 30 straight hours of mountain biking, trail running, paddling, and climbing. It’s essentially a mountain-sports version of capture the flag for professional outdoor masochists. When a couple of people—including Susan Whitaker, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Tourist Development—recommended Knoxville as a location for the 2013 race, Angell shrugged. His previous three races had been held in areas known around the world as first-class adventure destinations.

Petition drive against UAW yields support from nearly 600 workers (Nooga)

Proponents on both sides of the Volkswagen unionization issue have continued pushing to get their way. A few days after Volkswagen employees who oppose the United Auto Workers union turned in more than 500 petitions to local management, VW AG Works Council Chairman Bernd Osterloh said he will continue talking with UAW leaders. Reuters reported Osterloh said that having a works council is important to producing a second vehicle in Chattanooga. “We know how important that vehicle is for Chattanooga,” Osterloh said, according to Reuters.

Volkswagen German Labor Leader Says Tenn Workers Should Vote on UAW (WSJ)

A German union leader on Volkswagen AG VOW3.XE +2.53% ‘s supervisory board says union representation at the company’s Chattanooga, Tenn., assembly plant shouldn’t come without a vote—a position that could complicate the United Auto Workers’ effort to gain a foothold at the factory. The UAW, as part of a broader effort to organize nonunion auto factories in the southern U.S., says it has collected signed union cards from more than half of the 2,000 production workers at the VW plant. The UAW has signaled it would prefer Volkswagen management to accept the union as its bargaining partner without a secret ballot election by workers, a path allowed under U.S. labor law.

Tenn Teachers Don’t Hate The New Evaluations As Much As They Used To (WPLN)

Tennessee’s public school teachers are finding that a new evaluation system isn’t as bad as they once feared. Vanderbilt Peabody College has collected feedback from thousands of teachers since the ramped-up observations began in 2011. The latest survey was released Wednesday. There’s been a big jump in the number of teachers who perceive the observations as fair. And more instructors are starting to see the evaluations as helping them improve instead of simply judging their skills. “I guess you can say we’re more relaxed with it now,” says Rutherford County elementary school teacher Emily Mitchell. “The problem is, it’s still very subjective.”

 

OPINION 

Editorial: To boost quality of education, raise pay of teachers (News-Sentinel)

Gov. Bill Haslam said last week that Tennessee needs to pay its teachers better and set a new goal of raising salaries faster than any other state over the course of his term. Haslam said boosting pay is appropriate because there is “no question that we are asking more of teachers than we ever have.” Improving pay also is important because some studies show a correlation between higher salaries and higher student achievement. Hiring and retaining superior teachers is one of the most important attributes of a high-achieving school district. According to the National Education Association, Tennessee ranks 40th among all states and the District of Columbia in teacher pay.

Columnist: Teacher salaries should reflect needs of schools (Tennessean)

Last week Governor Bill Haslam indicated his desire that Tennessee teacher salaries should grow at the fastest rate in the nation. Governor Haslam pointed to several consecutive years of gains on TCAP scores, with more students performing at grade-level in math and science, as justification for rewarding teachers. He also acknowledged higher expectations for teacher performance in light of the state’s ambitions for continuing to improve student achievement. Haslam did not offer specifics about how he plans to support increases in teacher salaries, which are also determined by the state legislature as well as individual districts.

Roy Herron: Why Tennessee should expand Medicaid (Times Free-Press)

If you have health insurance, why should you care that Gov. Bill Haslam and Republican legislators have refused federal funds to insure 330,000 working Tennesseans? Because their decision will have major consequences for you. Here are 10 reasons you should care whether 330,000 Tennesseans get health insurance — or don’t. 1. The rejection of a billion dollars a year will severely impact caregivers. Hospitals near you may close, cut services or fire workers, as at least four hospitals near my rural Tennessee home have done. 2. Without the hospital, your doctor may move — and other doctors won’t come to a county without a hospital, leaving you with fewer options and farther to drive for care.

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