April 18 TN News Digest

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

Gov. Haslam Gives Crime Fighting Advice To Memphis (WHBQ-TV Memphis)
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is no stranger to fixing crime. He did it as mayor of Knoxville and he is offering advice to leaders in Memphis after the wave of crime in the past week. The Republican governor has made more trips to Memphis in his more than four years in office than preceding governors Don Sundquist and Phil Bredesen. Gov. Haslam is fully aware of the Bluff City’s strengths, but he’s not oblivious to its problems of poverty and crime and he’s willing to help, if asked. In 2007 Gov. Haslam helped to put the brakes on a crime rate in Knoxville that had soared to the eighth highest in the Volunteer State.

UBS to add more Nashville jobs (Nashville Post)
Nashville is in line to land dozens more UBS back-office job as the Swiss banking giant boosts its compliance and operations risk control teams. Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung reported this morning on a memo from UBS executives details plans to add 350 compliance staffers in Nashville and Krakow, Poland. The workers will monitor various aspects of UBS’ employees work, including documentation, data management and financial crime, and grow UBS’ compliance group by 30 percent to about 1,500 people. It is not yet clear how many of the 350 positions are destined for Nashville. Adding dozens of compliance workers would add another dimension to UBS’ support operations, set up after a mid-2013 announcement that it planned to hire 1,000 people.

Tennessee ranked as innovation leader by CES (Knox News-Sentinel/Harrington)
A new report released this week gave Tennessee high marks for being an innovation-friendly state, but improvements in some areas are needed if it’s to be designated a champion of business innovation. The Consumer Electronics Association has issued an inaugural “innovation scorecard” that measures pro-innovation policies and achievements of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each state was graded on 10 criteria, including right-to-work laws and an educated workforce. “I think Tennessee scored pretty well,” said Walter Alcorn, vice president of environmental affairs and industry stainability for CES.

Tennessee unemployment ticks down in March (Memphis Business Journal)
The state unemployment rate ticked down to its lowest level since the summer of 2008. The Tennessee Labor & Workforce Development announced that the state’s preliminary unemployment rate was 6.3 percent. The rate for February stands at 6.6 percent. That’s the lowest level since May 2008, when the state rate was 6.1 percent. The biggest gains were in the health care and social assistance industries, which added an estimated 1,600 jobs in March. The biggest losses were in the transportation, trade and utility sector, which shed 2,200 jobs in March.

Longevity pay deal grandfathers in state employees (Tennessean/Boucher)
State executive branch employees will continue to receive longevity pay under the latest version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to change the pay structure for the state’s employees. Anyone hired by an executive branch agency after July won’t be eligible for the benefit, according to the bill approved by the state Senate this week. “This now amends the bill to say that all executive branch employees who are currently receiving the longevity supplement as a benefit will continue to,” said Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville.

Legislature Sends Budget to Governor (TN Report)
The Tennessee General Assembly has approved a $33.8 billion budget, which includes a state appropriation of $13,778,481,400. By comparison, the state appropriation for last year’s $32.4 billion budget was $14.9 billion, Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent told TNReport following the vote. “Last year (the breakdown) was 45 percent state, 40 percent federal and about 14 percent other services,” the Franklin Republican said. Thursday afternoon, the state Legislature completed its main task for the 2015 session in moving a budget forward to fund the state for another year.

Divorcing Memphis: De-annexation bill gathers momentum (CA/Bailey, Poe)
A Cordova-powered bill is gaining steam in the General Assembly, making it much easier for Tennessee neighborhoods annexed over the last 17 years to divorce themselves from their city, supporters and interested observers said Tuesday. “We feel very, very, very confident,” said Josh Fox, who co-founded with his brother Joseph Fox the campaign called Cordova’s Voice. The siblings, both Shelby County sheriff’s deputies, have led Cordova’s fight against annexation — first to keep away, then to break away — since 2006. Conventional wisdom is that cities would oppose the loss of residents and their property taxes; the Tennessee Municipal League and the city of Memphis are fighting the bill. But a think tank embraced last year by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration, called Strong Towns, sees deannexation as good for core cities and a future national trend.

Local legislators: Keep Insure Tenn. alive (Jackson Sun)
The three state legislators from Jackson met Friday morning and announced their continued support for Gov. Bill Haslam’s Insure Tennessee bill. Rep. Johnny Shaw, a Democrat, Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, a Republican, and Sen. Ed Jackson, a Republican, met in front of Jackson-Madison County General Hospital to announce their “last ditch effort” to keep the bill alive. “We really want to keep Insure Tennessee alive,” Shaw said. “I think this morning we set a prime example of what the rest of the state of Tennessee could do if they wanted … all of us stand and believe we should pass Insure Tennessee.”

Rural hospital, town leaders worried without Insure TN (Tennessean/Fletcher)
Four rural hospitals have closed in Tennessee in the last year. Dozens more are struggling as health care, demographics and technology change — fundamentally altering how they provide care. What doesn’t change, according to community and hospital leaders, is that the people who live and work in the state’s countryside need care. Without Insure Tennessee, rural hospitals will face “more severe financial challenges that could lead to more limited access to care,” said William F. Carpenter, III, CEO of LifePoint Hospitals. The Franklin-based company owns rural and non-urban hospitals around the nation, including 10 hospital campuses in Tennessee.

Don’t give up yet on Insure Tennessee, supporters say (Commercial Appeal/Moore)
Local supporters of Gov. Bill Haslam’s failed Insure Tennessee program say there is still time for the Tennessee Legislature to give the proposal a full hearing. Keith Norman, vice president of government relations with Baptist Memorial Health Care and state Rep. Joe Towns say there is still one week left in the legislative session and constituents who want Insure Tennessee passed should call Nashville and make their wishes known. “Turn up the pressure,” said Towns, who noted that Haslam could also call a special session this summer.

Alexander suggests Corker for secretary of state, treasury (Tennessean/Garrison)
U.S. Sen. Bob Corker has made it clear he won’t run for president in 2016. But could he be in the running for a high-profile Cabinet position in the next presidential administration? His Tennessee Senate colleague calls him an “obvious choice.” In this week’s Time magazine, which named Corker one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People, Alexander glowingly wrote about Corker. He traced the junior senator’s recent deals on debt, financial regulation, immigration and Iran, calling Corker “a conservative who prizes results over speeches.”

TVA seeks input on its 20-year energy plan (Tennessean/Wilemon)
The Tennessee Valley Authority will present its energy plan for the next 20 years at a public meeting Tuesday in Nashville. The agency has posted its Integrated Resource Plan and the plan’s accompanying environmental impact statement online. People can review the documents and give input during the meeting from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Kirkland/Calhoun Room at Loew’s Vanderbilt Hotel, 2100 West End Ave. TVA said the plan follows the agency’s mission of providing low-cost, reliable power, performing environmental stewardship and promoting economic development. The plan, which at this point is still in its draft form, shows different scenarios based upon future economic conditions.

TVA completes gas plant buy (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)
The Tennessee Valley Authority has purchased a 700-megawatt natural gas plant in Ackerman, Mississippi. According to the utility, TVA has bought electricity from the plant since 2008. The board of directors voted in February to pursue purchasing the plant itself from Quantum Choctaw Power, and that transaction was completed on Tuesday. The high-efficiency plant uses two gas turbines and one steam turbine to produce energy. It is the sixth combined-cycle gas facility TVA has built or purchased since 2007, with two more under construction.

McIntyre’s contract provokes legal dispute (Knoxville News-Sentinel/McCoy)
A clause in Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre’s contract has raised some eyebrows and put two sets of lawyers on opposite sides of its legality. As part of his contract, the school board must evaluate McIntyre’s performance at least once a year. His next evaluation is in December. But as the clause is written in McIntyre’s contract, the specifics of how he’s evaluated must be agreed on by the superintendent and the board. Knox County Law Director Bud Armstrong has opined that clause violates state law.

OPINION

Editorial: Governor: Call new special session on Insure Tennessee (Tennessean)
The Tennessee General Assembly is expected to end its business in less than a week. After several weeks of debating policy and passing laws, they are getting a break to return to their districts and resume their daily lives among their neighbors. When they look into the eyes of their constituents, many of whom have health needs but no insurance, they should remember to give Insure Tennessee the consideration it deserves. Their work on what some consider the most important legislation in decades in Tennessee did not get finished during the special or the general legislative sessions.

Times Editorial: State lawmakers forget where money comes from (TFP)
It’s really hard to find good things to say about Tennessee’s General Assembly, of late. Now the bullies among our GOP lawmakers are using their clout to strike back at school boards in Hamilton County and six other counties — Bradley, Polk, McMinn, Grundy, Marion and Coffee — that have sued the state over its consistent underfunding of the state’s Basic Education Program. The counties’ suit charges the BEP formula, which distributes state education money for everything from teacher salaries to chalkboards, is deliberately underfunded by hundreds of millions of dollars and thus violates the Tennessee Constitution, which provides the state will offer a free system of public education .

Free-Press Editorial: Alexander’s legislative feat stands as tall as Corker’s (TFP)
It is possible for the United States Senate to work in a bipartisan way, and two Tennessee Republican senators showed just how it could be done this week. Earlier in the week, Sen. Bob Corker crafted a bill that passed unanimously out of the Foreign Relations Committee that would allow Congress to put eyes on the very important agreement being negotiated by the U.S. and other countries on Iran’s nuclear program. Late in the week, less heralded but just as important, Sen. Lamar Alexander put together a bill that passed unanimously out of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that would fix the George W. Bush-era bipartisan No Child Left Behind bill.