This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office.
As Gov. Bill Haslam looks ahead to the 2014 legislative session, he does so with one eye on his re-election prospects. Less than a year before Tennesseans take to the polls next November, Haslam does not face a serious challenge from the left or the right, a comfortable position that has many expecting that he’ll coast to a second term. But the Republican governor appears to be taking little for granted. In recent speeches and in private, Haslam subtly appears to be rolling out his bid for a second term. The Haslam campaign is preparing a major fundraiser in Nashville early next year with a top donor’s circle of $100,000, an escalation in the money battle even as Democrats struggle to find a credible challenger.
At Collierville Elementary, fourth graders weren’t grasping alliteration, repetition and simile in poems. On a computerized benchmark test of those literary techniques, some students had missed 12 out of 19. The three language arts teachers tackled the problem and came up with a lesson plan. Their evaluation didn’t end there. As Laurie Waycaster taught the lesson, teachers Lori Finney and Rachel Salyer sat in the back of a classroom taking notes. “Not everybody is responding,” Finney noted. “Do they get it? Or do some of them get it?” Three other fifth-grade teachers also sat in and watched.
A state commission is recommending that the state legislature extend a moratorium on municipal annexations of residential and agricultural property for another year, to 2015, while an in-depth study of annexation law continues. If approved by the legislature that convenes in January, the moratorium on annexation-without-referendums would be extended to May 15, 2015. Last year, lawmakers enacted the moratorium on such annexations by towns and cities that will expire next May 15. The restriction applies only to annexations of territory primarily used for residential and agricultural purposes unless the property owners asked to be annexed.
The Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations is recommending a statewide moratorium on city-initiated or “forced” annexations be extended by one year to allow commissioners more time to finalize its recommendations, if any, for improving current state annexation law. If approved by the Tennessee General Assembly, the new deadline would be May 15, 2015. Earlier this year, the state legislature imposed a one-year moratorium on all city-initiated annexations to allow TACIR time to complete a comprehensive review and evaluation of annexation laws and how the system has worked since the landmark “Smart Growth Law” was passed in 1999.
Holiday traffic mixed with construction caused traffic backups and delays of half an hour or more at the Interstate 40/240 interchanges in East Memphis Sunday. Delays are expected to continue Monday, when workers were scheduled to close one lane at a time on the ramp from I-240 to I-40 east in the evening. Construction crews worked on the side of that interchange ramp on Sunday, closing a right lane of traffic and backing up vehicles more than a mile. On the other side of the highway, the Exit 12C ramp from the I-40 north loop onto I-40 heading toward Nashville was completely closed Sunday, forcing drivers to take a detour of nearly two miles to Walnut Grove or seek other surface street routes.
State House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner has reversed course on previously announced plans to quit his leadership post and will remain at the helm through the 2014 election. “No, I’m not going to quit,” Turner said last week. “I’m going to serve out my term.” In early November the Nashville lawmaker said he planned to step down, citing differences with Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Roy Herron over political philosophy and campaign strategy. Fellow Democrats, including Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, urged Turner to reconsider.
The check is not in the mail — but the bill is in committee. That’s probably the best way to describe the situation facing the state of Tennessee as it waits to be reimbursed from the federal government. Tennessee and North Carolina, along with Sevier and Blount counties, paid $300,500 on Oct. 15 to the federal government to cover costs of reopening the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for five days during the October government shutdown. On Oct. 16, the U.S. Congress passed and sent to President Barack Obama legislation to avoid a national default and end the 16-day partial shutdown.
When news broke Wednesday that Sen. Lamar Alexander’s chief of staff, Ryan Loskarn, had been walked out of his home in Washington by law enforcement officials on suspicion that he had bought and distributed child pornography, Alexander moved quickly to fire him and express disgust publicly. “I am stunned, surprised and disappointed by what I have learned,” he said in a news release announcing that he was placing Loskarn on administrative leave without pay. By the end of the day, Loskarn had been fired. Later, after the horrifying case against him was laid out by federal officials in a legal document, Alexander put out another statement.
A longtime pollster for U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander says the Tennessean’s campaign isn’t worried about two new surveys showing his job-approval rating has dipped below 50 percent among state voters. “It’s not a re-elect number; it’s a job-approval number,” pollster Whit Ayres said of the surveys. “In a general election electorate in an era where politicians, particularly politicians who serve in Washington, are not particularly popular, I would not make too much of that.” The independent Vanderbilt University poll and the Public Policy Polling survey, which was commissioned by Senate Democratic hopeful Terry Adams, respectively put Alexander’s job approval rating at 49 percent and 37 percent.
A study has found that a planned rails-to-trails project in East Tennessee could have a $1.2 million net annual economic impact on surrounding communities. The Mountain Goat Trail Economic Impact Analysis looked at the impact that the completed trail would have on the Monteagle Mountain community and other cities along the 35-mile route. The project seeks to turn the abandoned Mountain Goat Railroad into a smooth trail that can accommodate bicycles from Cowan in Franklin County to Palmer in Grundy County. The first piece of the trail in Sewanee is complete.
Automotive parts maker Nelson Global Products is expanding operations at facilities in Tennessee and Illinois. The Stougton, Wis.-based maker of exhausts and tubular products is also closing a facility in Peoria, Ill., as it restructures its operations amid increasing product offerings and production. The company says the 34 workers at the Peoria plant will be offered similar positions at one of two plants in nearby Morton, Ill. About 10 new employees are being hired at the Clinton, Tenn., plant in Anderson County. Nelson’s products include high end mufflers and silencers and other components for both newly assembled and aftermarket vehicles.
As the Metro school board continues to raise alarm over the influx of charter schools in Davidson County, leaders of the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce believe its time could have been better spent. “There’s been a lot of time and effort wasted over this past year on the issue,” Marc Hill, the chamber’s chief policy officer, told The Tennessean’s editorial board last week after unveiling its 2013 annual Education Report Card in advance of a formal release today. In recent months, the school board has put increasing attention toward publicly financed, privately led charters.
All six suburban municipalities have signed agreements with Shelby County Schools that will define public education in Shelby County going forward — to a point. “I don’t want the media to report that we’ve adopted the final agreement and everything is smooth and the chapter has closed for the Shelby County Board of Education on this matter and there’s nothing left to do,” school board attorney Valerie Speakman said near the close of last week’s special called meeting on the matter, not quite banging her fist on the dais, but close to it.
State tax collections have fallen behind projections, throwing a pall of uncertainty over budget preparations. The bleak revenue outlook should not come as much of a surprise — states such as Tennessee that rely on sales taxes for the bulk of revenues often lag when recovering from a downturn — but are cause for concern. Last week Finance Commissioner Larry Martin reported that November state tax collections totaled $798.9 million — 3.99 percent more than in November 2012, but still $22.1 million less than projected when the current year’s state budget was enacted. For the fiscal year that began July 1, the shortfall is $123.2 million.