May 11 TN News Digest

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

Editorial: Cirrus lands in Alcoa thanks to region pulling together (Daily Times)

Gov. Bill Haslam was smiling Wednesday. He had good reason. He was basking in sunshine at McGhee Tyson Airport while announcing a deal to establish an economic beachhead in a high-profile industry destined to grow as technology evolves. We’re talking innovation. We’re talking aviation. We’re talking the sky is the limit. Cirrus Aviation is establishing its airplane delivery center in Alcoa at McGhee Tyson. That means a $15 million investment — to start. That’ll bring 170 jobs — to start. This could jump-start a new industry in Tennessee. Remember how the automobile industry got going when Gov. Lamar Alexander convinced Nissan to build its U.S. plant in Smyrna.

To Help Students Graduate, Colleges May Change Pricing Structure (WPLN)

The board that oversees most of the colleges in the state is again discussing how it charges students for classes. The Tennessee Board of Regents wants to encourage students to take more credit hours— without reverting a decision it made in 2009.  Back then, students only paid up to 12 credit hours, about four classes. Any additional classes would be free. TBR decided that pricing structure was unfair to part-time students, because they were basically subsidizing the full-timers who took extra courses for no charge. So it started charging students extra to take those fifth and sixth classes. But there was an unintended consequence to that change, officials say: Because of the cost, many students have simply stopped enrolling in more than 12 hours a semester.

Black listens to Mt. Juliet small business owners (Wilson Post)

Taxes, extensions, regulations and workforce education were several topics of discussion when U.S. Congresswoman Diane Black visited Mt. Juliet business owners Wednesday during National Small Business Week. Several of Mt. Juliet’s movers and shakers attended the Small Business Roundtable held at Cedarstone Bank. Black visited a number of cities Wednesday to “spend our time together to hear from small business leaders on issues they feel are important and deserve consideration.”…. They also discussed Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s education initiative Drive 55 to encourage technology school education, as well as new tax changes that could affect ESC, according to Buckley. “If we can’t meet the new standards there will be a major impact and possible layoffs,” he said.

Revised tax sale law another tool in the fight against blight (C. Appeal/Moore)

And then there is 2584 McAdoo. It’s one of any number of vacant properties that litter Memphis, this one in Binghamton, across the street from a well-used and well-maintained Binghamton Park. Still early in the growing season, weeds in front of the 1920 frame house with a wraparound porch are already waist-high or taller. Governmental notices warn people to “Keep Out” and that the building “must not be occupied.” “It’s been vacant as long as I can remember,” said Robert Montague, executive director of the Binghamton Community Development Corp. Binghamton is no stranger to blight, a nearly citywide affliction manifested by empty, boarded-up houses, and overgrown lots cluttered with trash and debris. And fighting that blight has been a much-discussed political topic of late.

Duncan: Presidential libraries should disclose donors (News-Sentinel/Collins)

U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. has been on a crusade for years to force presidential libraries to make public their lists of private donors. So far, he has come up short. But for the first time in a long time, there are signs the Knoxville Republican’s luck may be about to change: The foundation that has been planning President Barack Obama’s library, museum and presidential center is set to announce Tuesday that the complex will be built on the South Side of Chicago, the city the 44th president calls home. Construction is expected to cost $380 million and will be financed by private donations. Recent reports the Clinton Foundation accepted foreign donations while Hillary Rodham Clinton was secretary of state — and questions about whether the Clintons lived up to their promise to avoid conflicts of interest between the foundation and her government post — have underscored what government watchdog groups say is the need for public disclosure of such donors.

ACT online test taking is expanding (Associated Press)

ACT test takers take note: The No. 2 pencil is losing its cachet. Greater numbers of high school students will be able to take the college entrance exam on a computer next year. The ACT announced Friday that computer-based testing will be available next year in the 18 states and additional districts that require students, typically juniors, to take the ACT during the school day. About 1 million students could be affected. But don’t throw away those pencils yet. Participating schools provide the computers for testing, and ACT officials say it’s too early to predict how many schools will be ready next year to offer the online testing. Even where computer-based testing is available, ACT officials said the traditional paper test will still be an option.

ORNL heads effort to produce plutonium for space-bound power (N-S/Munger)

Oak Ridge National Laboratory is heading the government’s effort to re-establish a domestic supply of plutonium-238 for the U.S. space program over the next decade, using the High Flux Isotope Reactor to produce the unique isotope of plutonium and a series of shielded hot cells and special labs to separate and purify the intensely radioactive material. During test operations over the past couple of years, ORNL has generated a small amount of Pu-238 — about 130 grams — and demonstrated the production capabilities needed for the program. The goal of the NASA-funded program is to annually produce an average of 1.5 kilograms of plutonium per year. Initial production could begin as early as 2019, depending on funding levels, and gradually ramp up in the years that follow.




Columnist: Politics gets in the way of what could be great government (TFP)

Like so much from this legislative session, the decision to increase the retailers’ cut on tobacco products was tepid. It was a decision made with good intentions, and supported by doctors across the state. All too often, politicians fail to consider the opinions of medical experts on medical issues. Think about insurance decisions or social measures that involve health, and try to remember how much weight the views of doctors are given. That’s a narcissistic shame. Doctors by nature are going to support all measures to curb smoking. Even doctors who smoke will be on board with this. So consider the new law this paper’s Andy Sher told us about in Sunday’s Times Free Press, a positive in the fight against cancer. And consider it a negative for misguided consequences.

Bob Corker: Giving Americans a voice on any Iran deal

It is hard to recall a time in history when pragmatic U.S. leadership around the world mattered more to our nation’s security and prosperity. From the brutality of ISIS as they recruit foreign fighters, seize swaths of territory, kidnap innocent civilians, and murder Christians; to the appalling acts of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad killing his own people with barrel bombs and chlorine gas; to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unlawful invasion and occupation of Ukraine; to China’s aggressive behavior in the East and South China Seas; the challenges we face are vast. But there is perhaps no greater geopolitical issue facing the world today than preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. A nuclear Iran is a threat to every nation and would lead to a less safe and secure world. It also could create a dangerous arms race with the possibility of a nuclear weapon falling into the hands of terrorists. That is why the stakes are high as the United States and other world powers negotiate to try to dismantle Iran’s nuclear weapons capability.