April 19 TN News Digest

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

Auto-related jobs boosting pay of ET workers (Knoxville News-Sentinel/Williams)
Automotive manufacturing is not the dirty job it used to be, says Randy Boyd, the longtime Knoxville business executive who’s now Tennessee’s commissioner of economic and community development. “Rather than sweating on an assembly line, today’s new auto-plant worker is more likely to be carrying a clipboard and operating robots,” he said. “These are not grimy factory jobs — they are high-tech, high-paying manufacturing jobs.” The auto industry is bringing the most — and some of the best — new jobs to Knoxville and East Tennessee, with the average industry pay now $66,646 a year in the Knoxville Metropolitan Statistical Area, said Boyd, who took over as the state’s top business and industrial recruiter in December.

Haslam hints he’ll sign cannabis oil bill (Tennessean/Boucher)
Nothing is official yet, but Gov. Bill Haslam recently hinted he’ll sign a bill that would allow the limited use of cannabis oil for medicinal purposes. Haslam wouldn’t definitely say what he’ll do with the bill, but pointed out the administration hasn’t lodged any complaints about the legislation all session. “We’ve been kind of deferred to the will of the legislature on that. We haven’t registered any objections,” Haslam told The Tennessean last week. “Like everything else I want to wait until it gets to us, but it’s worthy of note that we haven’t had an issue with it the whole time.”

Counting the days: Tenn Legislature in final sprint before adjournment (TFP/Sher)
Tennessee lawmakers on Monday will begin their annual rush toward adjournment, racing through dozens of bills on issues ranging from new restrictions on abortion to school vouchers. Despite passing a $33.8 budget — the only thing the General Assembly is constitutionally required to do — and resolving major controversies like guns in parks [it passed] and making the Bible the official state book [it didn’t], lawmakers still have plenty of unfinished business. The House has 110 bills on its Monday calendar and the Senate has 40. That doesn’t count bills still in committees and measures passed by both chambers with differences that have to be sorted out.

Shelby County chipping away at what was once $1.89 billion debt (C. Appeal/Moore)
New schools and new roads cost money. And when the money isn’t in the bank, it must be borrowed. That was the path that led to a pile of bills for Shelby County, allowing debt to peak at $1.849 billion by Dec. 31, 2006. It was a wake-up call that began an assertive plan to reduce the debt, which since 2010 has fallen by $500 million. County officials say lowering debt frees up money that can be used to give employees raises, reduce taxes or fund programs like the $3 million for prekindergarten education included in the fiscal 2016 budget.

Taking the slow lane to the super-fast Internet may suit Memphis (CA/McKenzie)
In Chattanooga, a broadband network built by the city’s electric utility can deliver the Internet to residents at about 10 times the top speed available from the cable company in Memphis. That 1 gigabit speed has attracted worldwide attention to “Gig City” Chattanooga, an East Tennessee marvel where President Barack Obama in earlier this year said “a tornado of innovation” has been unleashed by that community’s government-built broadband. In Nashville, tech giant Google earlier this year announced that it will expand its Google Fiber with its 1 gigabit speed to the Nashville metro area, as well as Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham.

State fights rage over ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion (The Hill)
The fight over ObamaCare’s Medicaid expansion is heating up, with one state mounting a fresh legal challenge against the administration and others embroiled in debates over how to handle the thorny issue. In Florida, one of the biggest prizes for expansion advocates, a dispute between the state and the federal government intensified Thursday, when Republican Gov. Rick Scott announced that he would sue the administration over what he calls attempts to force participation. In other states, notably Utah, Tennessee, and Wyoming, Republican governors in favor of expansion are trying to get their statehouses to go along with the program. The Koch brothers-backed group Americans for Prosperity has been running ads in districts of targeted members in different states to fight the expansion effort.

TVA: Safety outweighs recreation, business for Boone Dam (Johnson City Press)
Businesses and property owners on Boone Lake will be inconvenienced this summer by the Tennessee Valley Authority’s decision to keep reservoir levels low as repairs are being made to the dam, but an official working for the agency said the precaution was necessary to ensure the safety of those downstream. A sinkhole found at the dam and repaired in October led to the discovery of sediment and water seeping from the earthen embankment of the dam, through the porous limestone and into the river below.


Editorial: De-annexation bill would cause harm to cities (Knoxville News-Sentinel)
Amid the Bible thumping, gun waving and furtive committee meetings that have marked this session of the Tennessee General Assembly, a bill that has the potential to wreak havoc on some cities has quietly progressed toward passage. The bill would allow portions of cities annexed over the past 17 years to vote to secede without the input of the affected municipalities. Last year the Legislature passed a law preventing city councils from annexing property by passing an ordinance without regard to the wishes of the residents in the affected areas.

Chuck Fleischmann: Regular order helps government be fiscally sound (N-S)
Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a budget that will get America back on a fiscally responsible path. I was proud to support that bill. However, just like in your home, a budget is just a blueprint. No matter how strong and responsible your budget may be, if you do not follow those guidelines when you actually start spending, then the budget isn’t worth the paper it was written on. That is where the Appropriations Committee, on which I serve, comes into play. While the budget lays out the plan, the appropriations process is where those plans have to be enacted.