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Lame Duck Lawmakers Ring Up $13K Tab at Chicago Junket

As a parting gift before leaving the state Legislature, five outgoing lawmakers spent more than $13,000 of taxpayer money to go on a four-day junket to Chicago, according to state records.

Taxpayers are covering the costs for everything from airfare and mileage to staying in $227-a-night hotels and taking $40 taxi cab rides during the trip. The registration fees were as high as $615 per person for the National Conference of State Legislatures annual summit in August. Some of the lawmakers, who had been defeated at the ballot box or announced their retirement, claimed five and six days’ per diem at $173 per day.

For lawmakers who knew at the time they would leave office after the November election, those bills amount to a taxpayer-funded “retirement party,” one critic said.

“People who serve in the Legislature for long periods of time tend to get a sense of entitlement about what the taxpayers owe them,” said Ben Cunningham, spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt, a taxpayer advocacy group.

What’s worse, he said, is that the speakers of both chambers signed off on the $13,388 worth of expense reports.

“To have the approval of leadership makes it doubly bad. They should have been leaders and said the taxpayers don’t need to be paying for this,” said Cunningham.

The outgoing lawmakers are House Education Committee Chairman Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, and Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, who lost their primaries on Aug. 2, four days before the conference, and retiring lawmakers Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill; Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap; and Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington.

“Technically, they still serve a constituency up to that point,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner told TNReport when asked about the lame duck lawmakers getting reimbursed for the Chicago getaway.

“Now, one could argue, is that the best way to spend state dollars? But technically they are still elected up to that time. There are a lot coming back who chose not to go on that trip. That says a lot, too,” he said, adding he also attended the trip entirely on his own dime.

TNReport revealed that outgoing lawmakers were planning to attend the conference shortly after it kicked off.

Since then, House Majority Leader General McCormick has called for his chamber to change the rules on who can get reimbursed for legislative trips if they already have one foot out the door.

“They’re on the way out. They’re not going to have much time to use their experience to benefit the taxpayers and their constituents,” he said in August. “But the ones that are there now, they did it under the old rules.”

Attempts to reach the five lawmakers for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

In August, Richardson told TNReport she was attending the conference despite her re-election defeat because she sits on an NCSL standing committee.

“These are working committees where we share what we’ve done and find out what other states have done and make policy recommendations for states,” she said. “So, because I represent Tennessee on the Health Committee, I still need to come to the meeting.”

That committee has about 300 members. Montgomery served on the association’s Education Committee, Faulk, on Labor and Economic Development. Both panels are similarly large and also met during the conference.

All told, more than 50 Tennessee legislators or staffers attended the gathering on the taxpayer dime. Twenty-three lawmakers asked to get reimbursed for some if not all of their trip expenses, as did 33 members of legislative staff. The total cost amounts to more than $109,000, based on expense reports submitted by the 56 to the office of Legislative Administration. The figure represents the overwhelming majority of the expected costs, though a few additional expense requests could trickle in, said Connie Ridley, director of Legislative Administration.

On average, taxpayers coughed up $1,945 to send each person to the conference.

Here is a list of outgoing lawmakers and how much taxpayers spent sending them to the NCSL annual summit:

Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, $2,404.43

Rep. Bill Harmon, D-Dunlap, $2,757.79

Rep. Richard Montgomery, R-Sevierville, $2,739.61

Rep. Jimmy Naifeh, D-Covington, $2,759.34

Rep. Jeanne Richardson, D-Memphis, $2,726.74

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Featured

State Monitoring of Dead Parolees Draws Lawmakers’ Ire

Legislators hammered corrections and parole officials Wednesday for running a system that allowed officers to waste time and tax dollars “monitoring” 82 dead criminal offenders. The revelation raises many questions, among them is how closely tabs are being kept on former inmates who’re actually still among the living, they said.

“Its troubling enough to find out that we have employees who are supervising dead people. But those dead people aren’t exactly a menace to society today,” said outgoing Sen. Kerry Roberts, R-Springfield, during the Government Operations joint subcommittee on Capitol Hill.

“So my greater concern is what about the employees who are claiming to supervise people who are a threat to society, who are a menace to society. How do we know how much of this is taking place, that we have people who are claiming to check on folks and they’re not actually doing that?” he said.

The issue, one of eight highlighted in a damning state report released this week, prompted lawmakers to set a one-year deadline for the state Department of Correction and the Board of Probation and Parole to fix the problems. Pending approval from the Legislature, both agencies will be under the microscope of auditors in a year with a report due back to the Legislature in 2014.

But state officials say the timeframe is not realistic.

“It would take Superman to do that, and we don’t have Superman. He’s a great commissioner, but he’s not Superman,” Charles Traughber, chairman of the Board of Probation and Parole, said of DOC Commissioner Derrick Schofield, whose department is taking over monitoring parolees. Previously, the probation board did that.

The findings were “egregious” and “of such a magnitude that they require an immediate and urgent response,” Speaker Pro Tempore Bo Watson, R-Hixson, said.

The state report found that Probation and Parole Board workers were still checking in on parolees who had died, some 19 years ago. The report by the Comptroller’s office also found that 80 percent of GPS-monitored offender alarms “appear unmonitored.”

Assistant Correction Commissioner Gary Tullock said the agency fired two parole officers responsible for much of the faulty reporting on dead offenders, but Schofield said other employees likely contributed to the high number of erroneous reports.

According to the Department of Correction, the state monitors 13,000 offenders on parole and 56,000 people on probation. The state also supervises 7,500 people in community correction, a program that keeps less violent offenders out of prisons.

Overall, that’s 3,175 more offenders under state observation this year than last year, though the number of parole officers has not increased, Tullock said.

However, Schofield said it’s too early to say whether he’ll ask the governor to add to his department’s yearly budget.

“The first thing we say is we’re short-staffed. If you look at and examine how we supervise and how we do things, there’s always opportunities to find resources. If we need those resources, we will present that to the governor,” he told reporters.

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Featured Transparency and Elections

‘Easily Avoidable’ Errors Cost 3K Shelby Co. Residents Their Votes: State Review

Some 3,000 Memphis area voters’ ballots in the Aug. 2 primary were not counted because of “poor judgement and mistakes” by the Shelby County Election Commission, the state Comptroller’s office concluded in a report released today.

The review found that those Memphis voters were given the wrong ballots because election officials were slow to redraw district and precinct lines, as is required every decade to reflect population changes and ensure the districts represent roughly the same number of people. Oversight of the election administrator by the county elections board was nonexistent, and staff failed to quickly identify and correct inaccuracies, which were “easily avoidable and detectible.”

There was no pattern to the errors, the comptroller’s office found.

“Our review identified no discernible evidence of intentional misconduct or other actions intended to affect or influence the election process or election outcomes in Shelby County,” reads the report from Rene Brison, assistant director of the Division of Investigations for the Comptroller’s office, which audits state and local government agencies.

Still, the office failed to live up to its core mission.

“The primary responsibility of the SCEC is to conduct elections in Shelby County, yet SCEC has demonstrated an inability to conduct elections without significant inaccuracies, including those identified in the 2012 elections,” according to the report. The review was conducted at the request of Secretary of State Tre Hargett.

State elections coordinator Mark Goins called the errors “unacceptable.” Election results for Shelby County were certified Aug 20.

The redistricting errors in Memphis add to problems for voters this year, most notably in Nashville, where several high-ranking Democrats complained that their voting machines pulled up Republican primary ballots by default.

The Comptroller’s office has been looking into those issues for weeks, said spokesman Blake Fontenay, but does not expect to issue a formal report.

“We have been working with Davidson County officials to determine what went wrong and how similar problems can be avoided in the future,” he said.

The machines were programmed wrong, according to local election officials. The Davidson County Election Commission has decided against using the machines for the November election.

 

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Business and Economy NewsTracker Tax and Budget

If HCA Falls Short, Taxpayers Could Get Money Back

A $7.5 million state economic development deal with HCA is one of the first such pacts with a provision for recouping taxpayer money if the company falls short of its promise of 1,000 new jobs.

The deal with Hospital Corporation of America will cost state taxpayers through so-called Fast Track grants and an undisclosed amount of tax breaks. Combined with incentives from Metro Nashville, the total package will cost taxpayers at least $59 million.

“This is a game-changing project for a company that’s been a game changer for Tennessee and Middle Tennessee for a long time,” Haslam said after the announcement.

The relocation, largely from Williamson County, means the development of two 20-story buildings just west of downtown Nashville, structures that will be full of employees and amount to an estimated $200 million private investment.

Tennesseans will reward a healthcare company $7,500 for each new employee it hires in its new Nashville headquarters, for a state total of $7.5 million, Gov. Bill Haslam announced last week.

Haslam admits that this project looked particularly juicy to warrant the state sinking its teeth and millions of dollars into.

“When we as a state look at what we’re going to jump in, the truth is not all jobs are created equal,” Haslam said. “These are numbers which are going to average near six figures with highly technical jobs and just the kind of jobs that any state or city would want. Because it was HCA and because those jobs were very high-paying, we thought it was something that we want to make certain would happen in Tennessee.”

Instead of waiting for each time HCA hires an employee to cut a check, the state is issuing much of the money upfront to Metro Nashville, which will handle its disbursement. The money is meant to defray costs involved with moving offices and retrofitting equipment.

If HCA fails to deliver on the 1,000 jobs in five years, the state will now have the power to ask for some of the seed money back through a “clawback” clause in the contract, said Clint Brewer, spokesman for the Department of Economic and Community Development.

“It’s just our department’s desire to implement best practices and safeguard taxpayer money, but it’s not a comment on any specific project or company,” he said, adding the state has full faith the healthcare provider will come through on all the promised jobs.

Economic development officials in July said they were working on such language to give the state leverage to recoup taxpayer dollars from companies who fail to deliver promised jobs.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, a Republican, was critical of the state for not exercising those tools during Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s tenure after the state issued $101 million in handouts to Electrolux in exchange for 1,250 jobs. Under the contract, the state would not get any money back if the company falls short on job projections.

This year, lawmakers agreed to more than double the FastTrack program to $80 million. Since 2006, the state has allotted an average of $38.5 million in tax dollars annually to the FastTrack program.

The program offers businesses grants or loans for expenses like job training, infrastructure improvement, equipment, and temporary office space related to relocation or expansion. The taxpayer money is funneled through local governments or their economic development branches to companies.

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NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Gas-Tax Talks Not on Administration’s Immediate To-Do List

State transportation officials say the state needs to start thinking about how to charge drivers for using state roads, but the governor says there’s no consensus to tackle that issue this year.

While the state transportation department says the issue is squarely on the administration’s radar, Gov. Bill Haslam says the topic won’t be among those he’s interested in come 2013.

“We definitely won’t be addressing that this year,” Haslam told reporters Thursday following an economic development announcement in Nashville, adding that both he and Transportation Commissioner John Schroer believe it’s “inevitable” that the state will have to address that issue down the road.

“The way we’re paying for roads and bridges now won’t work long-term. And I think John’s acknowledging that. That being said, there’s not much consensus about how you do fix that problem,” he said.

Schroer is in the middle of a fall tour to various transportation projects across the state. The department has $9.5 billion worth of projects under development, but only has about $900 million to work with this year.

The issue is nothing new to Tennessee. Schroer told the governor and other high-ranking officials during budget hearings last year that the state will need to reconsider how it collects money for roads as people shift to vehicles that guzzle less gas.

Tennessee charges 21.4 cents a gallon for gasoline, ranking in the bottom third of state gas tax rates in the country, according to the American Petroleum Institute. The state tax on diesel is 18.4 cents a gallon. That’s on top of a federal tax of 18.4 cents a gallon on gasoline and 24.4 cents a gallon on diesel.

The Beacon Center suggests the state consider other options besides simply raising the tax on fuel. The free-market think tank released a report this week analyzing the state’s various options, like charging taxes based on miles traveled, emissions or installing toll roads.

Not all the money from the gas tax is spent on highways. Across the country, the gas tax has been diverted for other projects, including schools, parks and beautification.

Haslam last year said it’s possible he’ll put off serious talk about rejiggering gas taxes until a possible second term.

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Education News NewsTracker

Haslam Expects Voucher Dialog in ’13 Regardless If He’s On Board

Expect lots of discussion about whether taxpayers should send students to private schools on Capitol Hill next year, Gov. Bill Haslam said Thursday.

The governor said the state needs to have a serious discussion about a school vouchers program, but said he’s still undecided whether he’ll throw his full support behind a proposal due to him later this fall. A Haslam-appointed task force stopped short of firming up details of a proposed plan Wednesday.

“A lot of it depends on what it looks like. Let’s get the very best form, see what it looks like for Tennessee, then we as an administration will decide where we’ll be on that,” Haslam told reporters after a Nashville economic development announcement.

The state task force is still torn on key aspects of a proposal to use taxpayer money to pay for students to attend the private, parochial, charter or non-zoned public school of their choice. Major sticking points range from when the system would kick in to which students could cash in.

“You can get the policy right but still screw things up on the ground,” said Chris Barbic, a task force member and superintendent of the state’s Achievement School District, an arm of the state Department of Education charged with turning around failing schools.

Barbic, who founded a successful charter school in Texas before joining the Haslam administration in 2011, said he knows the state is juggling a handful of education reforms right now but said there’s no use in waiting to come up with a voucher plan.

“Parents get to figure out where they buy bread and toothpaste, and we’re going to limit their options on where they send their kids to school?” he said. “I have a hard time with that.”

The Republican-led General Assembly is anxious for the recommendations of the task force after the governor put off the issue of offering “opportunity scholarships” this year in favor of more study about what a voucher program would look like in Tennessee. Speakers of both chambers say they, too, expect vouchers to be a key issue in the 2013 legislative session.

Adopting a voucher concept would further the school choice movement in Tennessee, piggy-backing on a handful of charter school reforms over the last few years that lifted the cap on the number of allowed charter schools and opened enrollment beyond low-income and academically struggling students.

Choices are good, said Indya Kincannon, vice-chair of the Knox County Board of Education, who also sits on the task force. But the goal needs to be improving educational outcomes rather than simply offering choice, she said.

A teachers’ union representative said the state may be biting off more than it can chew, given this month’s fallout between the Department of Education and the second largest school district in the state over the high-profile denial of a charter school. On Capitol Hill there has been more talk of the state bypassing local school districts and taking over the entire approval process for new charters.

“The education reform plate right now is quite full,” said Jerry Winters, chief lobbyist for the Tennessee Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union. “To be moving in the direction of trying to take more money from public schools, subsidize wealthy people for private school tuition, it’s definitely moving in the wrong direction.”

Among issues up for debate within the task force are:

  • Should students be eligible for vouchers based on their family’s income, their academic record or the performance of their school or district?
  • Which private schools could students attend? How long would such schools have to be operation to be eligible to accept vouchers? And how would they test students and report their progress to the state?
  • Should the state limit the number of vouchers issued? How many should the state permit?
  • Is there enough time to implement the plan for the fall 2013 school year? And should the program go statewide or launch as a pilot program?

The panel expects to meet again in late October to firm up recommendations to hand to the governor in November. Haslam has said the results of the proposal must show more than an “incremental difference” in education outcomes in the state to win his approval. The governor told reporters Thursday he’s not sure how to measure that, yet.

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Education NewsTracker

Dems Say GOP Rejecting Local Gov’t Control In Charter Moves

Democrats on Capitol Hill Tuesday accused Republicans of abandoning their mantra of local government control in their handling of a proposed charter school for Nashville.

Fired up over the Haslam administration’s fining Metro schools because its school board rejected the charter school application, Democrats said GOP leaders had adopted for the “big government” mindset they purport to detest. Still, Democrats say they, too, are no stranger to falling back on government oversight.

“I’m not saying there’s not some times when the federal government should step in or the state government should not step in and overrule local government, but they’re doing it on a pretty consistent level up here now when one time that was something they were really opposed to,” said House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner, of Old Hickory, following a press conference with four other local Democratic legislators and candidates.

The state Department of Education last week slapped Metro Nashville Public Schools with what amounts to a $3.4 million fine for ignoring the state Board of Education’s order to approve a charter school application from Arizona-based Great Hearts Academies. The Metro schools board voted twice against the state board’s order to OK the proposal, saying that the school planned for the affluent West End neighborhood lacked a diversity plan.

Members of the minority party — which has little pull on Capitol Hill — said they’d like to see the state continue to meet and work with the school district in hopes of dodging the fine. Joining the press conference were Rep. Sherry Jones, Rep. Brenda Gilmore, Rep. Mike Stewart and Phillip North, a Democratic candidate for state Senate.

Stewart, of Nashville, said he takes issue with how the administration has carried out the charter school law. He said the Legislature never meant to give the state the power to ultimately approve charter schools against a local school district’s will.

But the section in law giving the state such authority predates Haslam and was passed in 2002 when Democrats still had control of the House of Representatives.

According to the Tennessee Charter School Act:

“If the state board finds that the local board’s decision was contrary to the best interests of the pupils, school district, or community, the state board shall remand such decision to the local board of education with written instructions for approval of the charter. The decision of the state board shall be final and not subject to appeal. The (local school district), however, shall be the chartering authority.”

Turner asserts that the Metro school board followed the state law to a “t,” and says the charter school operators never produced a satisfactory diversity plan, as outlined by the state Board of Education.

The state Board seems to disagree. The board sent out a statement backing up the Haslam administration’s decision after news broke of the state fine.

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Featured Liberty and Justice News

Fight Over Justices Charges Up Judicial Selection Lawsuit

Parties in a lawsuit challenging how high-ranking Tennessee judges are selected are presently more wrapped up in who will rule on the case than the merits of the case itself.

Gov. Bill Haslam last week appointed three new members to a Special Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit against him challenging the constitutionality of how the state has picked judges over the past four decades. Haslam’s earlier appointees stepped down after John Hay Hooker, a longtime political gadfly behind the lawsuit, pressured them to recuse themselves for having ties to an organization that lobbies against popularly electing judges.

Now, another special justice, W. Morris Kizer, has revealed that he donated to Haslam’s campaigns for Knoxville mayor in 2003 and governor in 2010. Kizer’s household gave $3,000 to Haslam’s gubernatorial campaign, according to campaign records.

Kizer insists his political donations don’t “constitute a basis for disqualification,” but Hooker contends every link is suspect.

“It’s like a football game between the University of Tennessee and Vanderbilt,” said Hooker, an 82-year-old former Democratic Party gubernatorial candidate who today is asking the Special Supreme Court to take up his case. “Do you want the referee to be a graduate from the University of Tennessee or Vanderbilt? That’s a no-no.”

He isn’t the first person to use a football analogy to attempt to influence debate about judicial selection.

In 2011, then-Supreme Court Justice Cornelia Clark tried to convince members of the Tennessee Press Association that electing judges would be just as bad as electing referees for a football game.

Referees would say they will still call a fair game if one team contributed more money to their election campaign than the other, Clark said.

“And I’d say I’d be willing to believe they’re probably going to try to do that,” she said. “But I’m not sure perception would be right.”

Like Clark, the governor openly opposes judicial elections. Haslam maintains that members of his Special Supreme Court may have opinions about whether judges should be popularly elected, but that shouldn’t interfere with their ability to render an impartial judgement. The newest members of the special court are Shelby County criminal court Judge J. Robert Carter Jr., retired East Tennessee U.S. Attorney James R. Dedrick, and Monica N. Warton, chief legal counsel for Regional Medical Center at Memphis.

“If you ask anybody if they’re alive and human, they have an opinion about things,” Haslam said last week before naming the three new members to the panel. “That’s different than having a conflict. I think anybody that we will appoint will understand that difference and will make sure there’s no conflicts.”

Appeals judge Alan Glenn, chairman of the Judicial Ethics Committee, said the governor’s interpretation is correct. The tricky part, he said, is defining what conflicts can “reasonably” be questioned.

“Like defining what’s fairness and what’s beauty, everyone has their own ideas,” he said. “What is reasonably questioned impartiality? Everyone has their own views on it.”

Supreme Court and other appellate judges are appointed by the governor, then face yes-no retention elections every eight years under a policy known as the Tennessee Plan. The Legislature has for the last few years debated whether the practice aligns with the state Constitution, which some say clearly calls for popular elections.

The Constitution declares, “The judges of the Supreme Court shall be elected by the qualified voters of the State.” It also states, “The judges of the Circuit and Chancery Courts, and of other inferior Courts, shall be elected by the qualified voters of the district or circuit to which they are to be assigned.”

While Hooker awaits the Special Supreme Court’s official decision to take up the case, he is also itching for a chance to officially question justices on whether they can impartially rule on the case, a right he insists he’s given under the state Constitution.

The governor in July picked the initial members of the Special Supreme Court. The state’s five Supreme Court justices recused themselves from hearing the case because they will be directly affected by the ruling.

Political insiders and onlookers are paying close attention. The Tennessee Plan is scheduled to sunset June 30, 2013, when lawmakers will decide whether to renew it.

Lawmakers will also have to decide whether to give final approval to a bill that would amend the Constitution to allow appellate and Supreme Court judges to be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature. The judges would still face retention elections. If approved by lawmakers, the amendment would go before voters in the 2014 general election.

“It’s an interesting case, I’ll say that. All of us are looking at that closely,” said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who is also a named defendant. Ramsey has said he believes the Tennessee Plan in its current form is indeed unconstitutional — although he, like the governor, opposes direct judicial elections.

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Business and Economy NewsTracker Tax and Budget

Watchdog Group’s EBT Abuse Probe Appears to Spark Bipartisan Support for Reform

Gov. Bill Haslam says the state should consider tightening rules for where welfare recipients can use their taxpayer-funded benefits.

“One of the questions people always have about benefits is, are they being used in the right way? I think, obviously, that’s part of our responsibility,” Haslam told reporters on Capitol Hill Thursday.

A recent report from the investigative arm of The Beacon Center found that some people benefiting from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program were using their allowances at venues including a strip club, bar, tobacco shop, high-end clothing stores and Graceland.

The free-market think tank reviewed thousands of transactions using electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards, which work like debit cards. The investigation examined usage in MemphisChattanooga and Knoxville.

Unlike other programs for the needy that are restricted to food products, TANF benefits, as much as $500 per month, can be used in whatever way the beneficiary sees fit.

Haslam said he knew nothing about the reported use of EBT cards but said he would inquire as to whether there is something the state can do to restrict where funds are accessed.

Top House Democrat Craig Fitzhugh agreed that the state may need to tighten the reins on how those dollars are used, although he said the state should stick using the EBT cards because they’re safer than using paper checks.

“I don’t have any problem with tightening those regulations up so the few don’t abuse,” Fitzhugh said. “It certainly gives the whole a bad name.”

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Featured Health Care

GOP Leaders Still Undecided on Obamacare

Top Tennessee state leaders are more undecided than ever about how to approach two major decisions tied to the federal health care overhaul.

Gov. Bill Haslam met with Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell in Ramsey’s legislative office Thursday morning to discuss the pros and cons of embracing key pillars of the health care law. The policy decision is also a political one, with GOP leaders contemplating how closely they should attach the deep red state to President Barack Obama’s healthcare reforms.

For months, the three leaders have hinted that if they must usher in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, they would want to do it, as Ramsey puts it, “the Tennessee way.”

For example, they had said they like the idea of running a so-called health insurance “exchange,” a government-controlled “marketplace” for people and businesses to comparison shop for health care plans. If Tennessee decides against running the “exchange,” the federal government will manage it instead. The state has until Nov. 16 to decide.

“I don’t want to turn it over to the federal government and allow them to do it, and yet at the same time, I think this thing is doomed to disaster eventually, and do we want to put our fingerprints on it? So, it’s a catch-22 situation,” Ramsey told TNReport after the meeting.

Haslam, who has leaned toward running the exchange, said he, too, isn’t so sure.

“I think there are certain advantages to running something ourselves,” Haslam said. “We definitely have not made a decision on that.”

The other issue is whether to expand TennCare, an option that arose after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Obamacare as constitutional but determined that states cannot be forced into expanding their Medicaid programs. The expansion would cost the state $1.5 billion over five years, according to a Commercial Appeal review of federal data.

“It’s a pretty complex decision,” Haslam said. “I think at this point in time, all we’re trying to do is to help (legislators) understand all the different ramifications of the decisions.”

A handful of southern states have already washed their hands of much of the Obamacare program, saying they’ll have nothing to do with assembling the exchanges and will refuse to expand their Medicaid rolls.

Top lawmakers have lately toned down their rhetoric of exercising state control in implementing Obamacare in favor of waiting out the general election to see if former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney defeats President Obama and follows through on promises to repeal the health care law.

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said Haslam is meeting with top Democrats soon to review the state’s options. He said he already favors the idea of expanding TennCare and running the health care exchanges and called both options “foolhardy” to pass up.