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Featured Tax and Budget

Lights, Camera, Spend: Tennesseans Boost Hollywood With Film Incentives

Did you enjoy ABC’s “Nashville” series? Good, because you’ll be paying for it to the tune of $8.5 million.

Millions of public dollars — in tax credits and, as of this year, via grants — have flowed into the state’s film incentive program to aid productions such as Larry the Cable Guy’s Christmas special, “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and promos for “Monday Night Football.”

In all, Tennessee is on track to fork over $22 million worth of handouts for Hollywood productions that are made in the state, a TNReport review of state records from 2008 to 2012 shows.

“This is one of the most insidious forms of corporate welfare out there,” Trey Moore, with the free-market think tank Beacon Center, said. “It’s hard to argue that this is a good deal for taxpayers.”

To put the amount in context: $22 million could pay for an additional 455 Nashville firefighters or five additional teachers in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties this year.

Tennessee film subsidies

Supporters of the state’s film incentive program say it boosts economic development, spurs job creation and is good marketing for Tennessee. The program is overseen by the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development.

Officials point to “Nashville,” ABC’s prime-time soap opera in which a 40-something country star must share the stage with a sassy young starlet.

“The program that’s had the most accolades is the recent film series ‘Nashville,’” Economic and Community Development commissioner Bill Hagerty said during a recent budget hearing.

Bill HagertyBill Hagerty

“The pilot was outstanding,” he said in November. “It still ranks number three in the ratings today, and we’re very optimistic that ‘Nashville’ is putting an important brand on the state and one that’s very positive for us.”

Over the past year, film incentives weren’t just teed up for the show “Nashville,” but to productions such as the faith-based drama “Unconditional,” and “Water for Elephants,” the circus-train romance/animal cruelty flick starring Reese Witherspoon.

Supporters of the incentives say that the program’s front-end money translates into economic benefits for the state, with “Nashville” alone bringing in $49.5 million in economic development. But for most of the program’s short history, the formulas for arriving at such numbers have been kept secret, and it’s still not clear exactly how the $49.5 million is estimated.

See all of the projects that have received public incentives from Tennessee here.

State officials say the program will be more transparent going forward. As of July 1, the state began administering all incentives as grants rather than tax credits — called “spurious” by one study.

There appear to be some benefits to this change, including greater transparency. Under former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who launched the incentive program, many of the presumed economic benefits were closed to the public. Benefits to film companies were in the form of tax credits, and a great deal of tax information in Tennessee is not public under state law.

But now, under Gov. Bill Haslam: “It is a more transparent process,” ECD spokesman Clint Brewer told TNReport. “The collapsing of the tax credit had several benefits, and that’s one of them. By and large everything we do in this department is an open record.”

It’s now easier for smaller and independent film productions to tap into the cash, too.

“The result is that we took a complicated, burdensome process that involved tax credits and a lot of paperwork and streamlined it significantly,” Brewer said.

But critics of the program doubt the benefits from the movies move the economic needle in Tennessee.

“This is just another example of corporate welfare,” said Moore, of the Beacon Center. “It’s rampant across the country when it comes to the film and movie industry, and, unfortunately, it’s hard to identify what’s really coming in the door.”

All these film incentives have Hollywood licking its chops: The Los Angeles-based Screen Actors Guild makes a web page available to all its members showing the film tax and grant benefits available in states across the U.S.

What of all those other states that have taxpayer-supported film incentive programs? Won’t jobs leave Tennessee and head there? Alabama, Kentucky, Mississippi and Missouri all have robust film incentive programs. And Louisiana is the granddaddy of film incentives in the U.S. — second only to California and New York — garnering the nickname “Hollywood South.”

“If giving away money is a good way to create jobs when you’re not getting anything in return, I would have a hard time believing that,” Moore said. “It’s a notoriously fickle industry. There’s no guarantee that even once we give them this money that this is going to stick around.”

It’s not just the fiscal conservatives who question grants to film companies.
The left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities conducted a national study on film subsidies and found that “in the harsh light of reality, film subsidies offer little bang for the buck.”

The study found:

+ Subsidies reward companies for production that they might have done anyway. Some makers of movie and TV shows have close, long-standing relationships with particular states. Had those states not introduced or expanded film subsidies, most such producers would have continued to work in the state anyway. But there is no practical way for a state to limit subsidies only to productions that otherwise would not have happened.

+ The best jobs go to non-residents. The workforce at most sites outside of Los Angeles and New York City lacks the specialized skills producers need to shoot a film. Consequently, producers import scarce, highly paid talent from other states. Jobs for in-state residents tend to be spotty, part-time, and relatively low-paying work — hairdressing, security, carpentry, sanitation, moving, storage, and catering — that is unlikely to build the foundations of strong economic development in the long term.

+ Subsidies don’t pay for themselves. The revenue generated by economic activity induced by film subsidies falls far short of the subsidies’ direct costs to the state. To balance its budget, the state must therefore cut spending or raise revenues elsewhere, dampening the subsidies’ positive economic impact.

And while Tennessee officials boast that film subsidies can lead to good public relations for the state, some states’ programs have backfired in the PR department.

Louisiana recently received a black eye when consultants determined the program wasn’t getting the results officials said it was.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Louisiana, for instance, estimates that for every dollar it paid out in tax incentives for film projects over the last three years, it got back tax revenue of 24 cents. Still, the state’s analysis shows that film jobs in the state rose from about 900 in 2001 to about 5,000 now, so although the Big Easy’s state loses money on every job, it presumably hopes to make it up in volume.

Iowa’s film program was rocked by a scandal when prosecutors charged the state’s former film chief with various felonies, including official misconduct over his handling of state film tax credits.

Michigan was hit with some ironic bad press after reporters found that the state had coughed up more than $831,000 in tax dollars for “Capitalism: A Love Story,” Michael Moore’s movie that, in part, is critical of companies that accept corporate welfare.

Tennessee film subsidies by year

Under Haslam, the state has accelerated spending on film incentives, with more dollars thrown at moviemakers in 2012 than in 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined.

“As part of Governor Haslam’s Jobs4TN economic development plan, the entertainment industry was identified as one of the key industries in which the state has a clear competitive advantage,” Hagerty said in a statement last year after legislation was passed giving the film incentive program a $2 million boost.

At the same time, the brass behind the show “Nashville” is not so subtly indicating that if they don’t get additional incentives, they’ll pack up their Dobros and go home.

“The show’s backers are saying additional incentives — the extension of a heightened state reimbursement and other possibilities — will likely be needed to justify the cost of continued filming in Music City,” the Nashville Business Journal reported. “The fact that the show, which has seen ratings drop since its premiere before regaining some ground (in November), has been picked up means there will be a full season for backers to tout and public officials to weigh.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

Categories
Featured Health Care

Long Shadow of TennCare Cuts Creeps into Medicaid Expansion Debate

There’s worry among critics of Obamacare that the federal government can’t be trusted long-term to faithfully fund its share of expanding state-run medical insurance programs for the poor, as presently advocated by the president.

This concern perhaps looms larger in Tennessee than in other states. It was not that long ago that Gov. Phil Bredesen, faced with ballooning health care costs, starting cutting Tennesseans from TennCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

In the first wave, 170,000 people were cut from the rolls. Over the course of Bredesen’s administration, the state eliminated coverage for another 100,000 people with disabilities. When you add the state’s eligibility restrictions that were put into place, ultimately 350,000 people in Tennessee were cut from TennCare.

Some state elected officials, such as House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, have said that embracing President Obama’s call to expand the TennCare/Medicaid program is the moral thing to do.

“It would be frankly nearly irresponsible — certainly, morally irresponsible — not to expand the Medicaid population, especially because it is in fact going to be cost effective to Tennessee and Tennesseans,” Fitzhugh said recently.

But others remember the long shadow of cutting so many people from TennCare. If Medicaid is expanded in Tennessee and, once again, the program becomes unaffordable, will state officials have to rip hundreds of thousands of people off the rolls again?

“We believe it’s immoral to expand,” said Justin Owen, president of the free-market Beacon Center of Tennessee. “If history is any indication, TennCare will become so bloated, people will have to be cut from the program.”

Owen fears making so many Tennesseans dependent on a program and then “pull the rug out from under them when they can least afford it,” he said. “Go talk to the several hundred thousand people who had to be removed, about the strife they went through. It’s not like we’re speaking about a theoretical.”

And even with the federal government footing the bill with the taxpayer dollars it collects, costs still may be an issue.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters last week that despite those who argue that expanding Medicaid seems like a “no brainer” given that the federal government is currently promising to to fund the lion’s share of the expansion costs, there is still the issue of how the state will pay its share.

“The problem is that our budget is slowly getting eaten up by TennCare,” said Haslam. “Prior to (Gov. Phil Bredesen) cutting the rolls, the TennCare budget was about 30 percent (of the state budget.) He did everything he could to try and reform the program, couldn’t, so he just had to cut the rolls. That process took it down to about 24 percent of the budget.”

“We’ve already crept back up to where it is 26 or 27 percent of the budget,” Haslam added. “When you do that, things get squeezed out.”

Haslam said $900 million to $1 billion the state will have to dig up for its share of of Medicaid expansion to match the federal government’s $10 billion will result in belt-tightening in other areas of state government, such as higher education, prisons and childrens’ services.

“I want to find out how much it’s going to cost the state,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga told TNReport. “I know for the first three years the federal government is supposed to pay for it all and if we can trust them to do that, that would be helpful.”

And President Obama’s expansion plan may not be the last.

History shows that Congress has expanded Medicaid in ways large and small since 1967 that required states to broaden and deepen coverage.

For example, in the 1980s, expansions included:

+ Medicaid covering children whose low-income families did not receive direct federal cash assistance. Pregnant women and their infants would get covered.

+ Undocumented immigrants and the homeless getting emergency care through Medicaid.

+ The Medicare Catastrophic Coverage Act, an expansion of Medicaid to cover long-term care for the elderly and disabled not already covered by Medicare.

Some expansions in the 1990s included:

+ Making it easier for nursing homes to recover payments from the estates of Medicaid beneficiary’s estates.

+ Requiring states to cover families under higher eligibility thresholds.

+ Allowing states to cover working disabled individuals with incomes above 250 percent of federal poverty level.

But it will be rural hospitals that will likely on the front line in the 2013 debate over Tennessee Medicaid expansion.

A University of Memphis health care study released last winter argued that Obamacare will produce an economic windfall to the state. Medicaid expansion advocates like Fitzhugh say more federal Medicaid dollars are needed to help financially sustain health care facilities outside urban population hubs.

“You’re talking about rural hospitals,” said Fitzhugh. “An expansion of Medicaid will allow people to have insurance, will allow them to know that if they get sick, they have some kind of coverage.

Haslam said he’s asking hospitals in Tennessee to estimate the costs and benefits of expansion — and of sticking with the status quo — to the operation of their facilities.

“Right now, if somebody walks into a hospital and they don’t have TennCare and the hospital takes care of them, they get reimbursed to a degree for that uninsured person,” said the governor.

Haslam said he isn’t likely to make a decision on whether support expanding the state’s low-income health insurance program, TennCare, until after his administration has more thoroughly investigated the pros and cons of the matter — and that decision may come after the legislative session.

“One of things that we want to do is make a thoughtful decision about the impacts,” Haslam said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter (@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

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Education NewsTracker

New Round of Education Reform Faces Uncertainty in TN House

House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh came out swinging against school voucher legislation in a press conference Tuesday, vowing to fight any legislation in 2013 and keep vouchers off the books in Tennessee  — certainly no surprise coming from the Ripley Democrat.

“It would be counterproductive and a road we should not go down,” Fitzhugh said. “We’ve done a lot of education reform and it’s time we stepped back and took a look and see what we’ve done instead of stepping out on some cliffs.”

But House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick also indicated that many on the GOP side of the aisle may not rush to press the issue.

“I think we have members who feel very strongly about vouchers, or opportunity scholarships,” the Chattanooga Republican told TNReport. “I think we have a lot of other members who feel like we’ve done a lot of reforms… I think there’s a sentiment among a number of people that we need to go slow when it comes to the vouchers.

Reforms McCormick pointed to include tenure, collective bargaining and teacher evaluation.

“We don’t need to be stampeded into anything too quick.”

Vouchers have been a contentious issue in recent years, with a growing number of legislations — many coming from the ranks of the Tea Party — who see vouchers as a way to fix ailing schools.

In the past, legislation enabling parents to access taxpayer-funded scholarships for sending their children to private schools has passed the Senate but stalled in the House.

Earlier this month, one of the GOP’s strongest advocates of school choice in Tennessee told TNReport that the political environment may be ripe for passing voucher or “opportunity scholarships” legislation next year.

Germantown Sen. Brian Kelsey said he hoped that a governor-appointed task force study report on the issue released late last month will provide the foundation for a policy that can gain support in both chambers of the Republican-run Tennessee General Assembly.

“House members were not familiar with this concept back in 2011 when we first presented it to them,” Kelsey told TNReport at the time. “House members are much more comfortable with the idea of giving low income children more options.”

McCormick’s statements raise questions about passage in the House. And Kesley is unlikely to find an ally in Fitzhugh.

“A program that would take public money and put it into private schools would just do nothing to help either one,” Fitzhugh told reporters.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

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Liberty and Justice NewsTracker

Haslam: Connecticut Massacre Won’t Push Tennessee to Adopt Tighter Gun Control Laws

Gov. Bill Haslam said today that he did not think that the “horrific” bloodbath in a Connecticut elementary school last week would move Tennesseans to think differently about gun laws. He dismissed any suggestion that he is interested in pushing for any new state-level gun control legislation.

“I think if you look at Tennesseans, they’re fairly comfortable with where our laws are now,” Haslam told reporters. “I think they mainly want us to go focus on what are we going to do bring more jobs to Tennessee and to address education and that’s what you’ll see us talking about.”

The only key piece of gun legislation the Republican governor saw coming from the legislature this year is one that would allow gun owners to keep firearms in their cars, even when those cars are in the parking lots of the employers of the gun owners.

“That’s not the first horrific incident that we’ve had in America, and there’s a recent poll in Tennessee that showed most people would be in favor of letting employees keep their weapons locked in cars on business property,” Haslam said.

The poll, conducted by Vanderbilt University, showed that 53 percent of Tennesseans were in favor of a state law mandating that employers be required by state law to allow their employees to keep guns in their vehicles.

While the poll was taken before the Constitution State’s schoolhouse slaughter, it certainly came after other horrific shootings in the US, including the 12 killings this year in an Aurora, Colorado movie theater and the dozen that were gunned down in 2009 at Fort Hood, a military base in Texas.

Indeed, a Washington Post-ABC News poll taken after the Connecticut shooting shows little change in how Americans feel about gun laws.

From the Washington Post:

[F]ew underlying opinions about gun control have shifted significantly in the immediate aftermath of the latest shooting.

The percentages of Americans supporting stricter gun laws and the relative preference for tougher enforcement over new laws are on par with previous surveys.

Haslam waved away any suggestion of gun and bullet bans in place in countries such as China.

“I think we’re a long way in this country from totally taking away bullets. I can’t imagine that being on a serious agenda on any legislature,” he said.

Haslam said he still believes schools should be able to bar their employees from bringing their gun to work. This is a position that has put him at odds with some in the state legislature, such as Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, although Ramsey has indicated he is open to compromise.

Haslam said he plans to hold a conference on safety and security in schools next month. One topic that Haslam said may be on the table: training teachers to use firearms.

It’s also unclear what might happen with gun laws at the federal level.

President Barack Obama said he wants to seek some stricter gun-control measures in the coming weeks to prevent mass shootings but was mum on details of what those measures might be.

“I don’t know a lot of legislation that I’ve seen would have stopped what happened there,” Haslam said. He added: “I think we’ll have a national discussion.”

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter(@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

Categories
Featured Tax and Budget

Conflicting Expert Economic Predictions Complicate State Budget Planning Process

How large will the Tennessee state budget be next year? That remains an open question.

A parade of experts with sometimes conflicting views appeared before the Tennessee Funding Board Friday to provide information to the board officials who will estimate how much money the state will bring in from taxes to spend next year on programs ranging from prisons to road building to health and social services.

But an answer may come as early as this week.

“It is extraordinarily difficult because we’ve heard a variety of estimates and a variety of views and they differ,” state Comptroller Justin Wilson told TNReport. “There are a lot of unknowns.”

It’s easy to see why.

Lee Jones, the regional executive of the Nashville Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, predicted a “bumpy, apprehensive recovery for the nation,” in a presentation he made before the Funding Board.

“Simply said,” Jones said, “the economy is stuck in a slow growth-mode.”

On the other hand, Albert DePrince Jr., an economics professor from Middle Tennessee State University showed an array of data pointing to an improving economy.

Reports he supplied showed that in Tennessee, unemployment claims are down, car and truck sales are increasing, new housing is being built and personal income growth increasing.

Finance & Administration Commissioner Mark Emkes has said this will be a “moderate growth year.” Also, Black Friday sales tax receipts haven’t yet been calculated, said Gov. Haslam’s chief financial officer.

“It’s important to remember we won’t see how after-Thanksgiving retail sales performed until this time next month, when we’ve seen collected revenues from November spending,” Emkes said in a statement.

Wilson said they will “give a range to the governor and the General Assembly of what we believe will be appropriate and responsible to budget; not too high, not too low.”

“It’s important to realize that this is a revenue estimating process,” Wilson said. “It’s important that we hit the right numbers.”

The Funding Board is one of the most powerful committees in Tennessee in signaling available revenues the governor and the legislature plan on spending.

Traditionally, Tennessee governors push for the highest possible estimate so they can create a robust budget with lots of projects — and goodies for political payoffs. The legislature, though, traditionally pushes for a lower estimate, knowing that if the revenue doesn’t come in as estimated, they will face the politically difficult decision to cut programs or raise taxes.

There was no discussion Friday about returning any money to the Tennessee taxpayer.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter (@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

Categories
Featured NewsTracker Transparency and Elections

Leadership Elections Reveal Pre-Session Democratic Caucus Divides

Political attention at the Capitol right now is mostly focused on potential splits and fracturing in the Republican supermajority. However, it’s become clear over the past week that all is not entirely harmonious within the conspicuously lesser ranks of legislative Democrats.

During House Democratic Caucus leadership elections Tuesday, the party’s lawmakers kept their top leadership in place, but House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory had to contend with a challenge from Rep. Johnny Shaw of Bolivar.

Turner won the day and retained his post. But the challenge showed that some members were not happy with retaining leaders who’ve overseen the House Democrats’ steady deterioration to an anemic “super minority.” Democrats now need not even be show up for House Republicans to achieve a quorum.

Intraparty fissures are apparent among the feeble Senate Democratic Caucus as well. Jim Kyle of Memphis, leader of the Senate Democrats, narrowly survived a challenge from fellow Memphian Sen. Reginald Tate.

Sen. Ophelia Ford of Memphis was the swing vote in the 4-3 contest, according to reports.

From the Memphis Flyer:

The vote was taken by secret ballot; so how the balloting went was subject to some guess work later on. Tate himself seemed fairly sure, though, of who the swing vote for Kyle was. At the Cannon Center in Memphis on Thursday night, where he made a brief appearance at the Memphis Music Hall of Fame induction ceremony, Tate was asked about his narrow loss.

“Yeah, it was Ophelia Ford,” he said, with a shake of the head sidewise.

Ford could not be reached for comment.

Senate GOP Caucus Chairman Bill Ketron said Tate spoke to him later and was “really shocked and hurt and mad” that he wasn’t elected caucus leader.

“He was depending on Ophelia Ford, and she voted for Senator Kyle. Senator Tate was very disappointed. And I was very disappointed because I get along fabulously with him,” Ketron said.

Shaw, too, believed his caucus could use an infusion of new blood at the top of the leadership ranks. While Rep. Turner is no doubt a colorful character, the pugnacious firefighter is known to have a short fuse on a combustible temper. Shrewd deal-making with a domineering GOP majority isn’t a political art for which he’s demonstrated a taste or convincing aptitude, Shaw intimated.

“I just felt like I could offer the caucus something where we are at this point in time, because you’ve got to know we’ve got 70 Republicans in the House and when you’re down, my friend, you’re down,” Shaw told TNReport. “You’ve got to find some way to negotiate to come back. You can’t curse the guy out that’s holding the gun on you.”

Shaw said he didn’t think the House Democratic Caucus was inclusive enough or transparent enough.

Shaw is a member of the Black Caucus and was asked if he thought it was also important to have a member of that caucus in one of the top spots. Both Turner, and Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley, who was re-elected Minority Leader with no opposition, are white.

“I didn’t want to run on race by any means,” Shaw said. “But I thought because half of the caucus now were people of color… we would see how important it was for us to have a seat at the table. But obviously some caucus members didn’t think we needed that seat at the table.”

Certainly, though, the ranks of the House Democratic leadership team is no all-white enclave. Examples include Rep. Lois DeBerry, of Memphis, who was elected deputy leader, a new position; Rep. Joe Towns Jr. of Memphis, who was elected assistant leader and freshman Rep. Harold Love, Jr., who was elected secretary.

See all the House Democratic Caucus leaders by clicking here.

Turner made the case for another two years as caucus chair pointing to gains made in the House against the GOP juggernaut.

He pointed out that the redistricting map voted on last year carved out 10 fewer House Democrats and “we won four of them back.”

“And that was the effort of the members of this caucus working together to win those seats,” Turner said. “And we beat an incumbent Republican. That’s the first time that’s happened in probably 12 or 15 years.

“Now’s not the time to be shy. Now’s not the time to shrink. Now is the time to be bold.”

Shaw did say he would be a team player during the next legislative session.

“I’m going to be a loyal caucus member, I’m going to be loyal to Mike, as always,” Shaw said. “I’ve always been loyal and I always will be and I consider him as my friend.”

Turner also said that Shaw is a friend.

As Republicans and Democrats mend fences in their own parties, the voting public appears to want them to get along with the opposing parties, too.

Regardless of party, a clear majority of Tennessee voters want their national and state legislators to work with members of the opposition party, according to a poll released yesterday.

“Tennesseans want problems solved. It is not just about ideology,” Vanderbilt University Poll Co-founder, John Geer said.

According to the poll: The support for compromise is highest among self-identified Democrats (86 percent) and independents (76 percent), but compromise is also supported by Republicans (58 percent) and self-identified members of the Tea Party (58 percent).

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter (@trentseibert) or at 615-669-9501.

Categories
NewsTracker

Beavers Booted from GOP Senate Leadership Post

Senator Mae Beavers was ousted from her role as Republican Senate Caucus Treasurer today in leadership elections. The other Senate GOP caucus elections kept leaders in their roles, including Ron Ramsey, who will be the GOP’s nominee for lieutenant governor and Mark Norris as majority leader.

The new treasurer will be Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin.

The caucus treasurer plays a key role, particularly in election years. That person has check-writing authority and can send campaign cash to key members fighting to keep their seats or snatch away Democratic ones.

Indeed, the Senate Republican Caucus was the number one campaign donor in the state in 2012, doling out at least $338,444 in key Senate races, according to FollowtheMoney.org. The largest recipient of that largess — $109,123 in all — was Mark Green from Clarksville who bested Democratic incumbent Tim Barnes in the State Senate District 22 race.

The Senate vote, in some ways, mirrors last month’s House Republican leadership vote. The only contested race in that race was for the Speaker Pro Tem, the House’s number two spot. Rep. Judd Matheny lost that race to Rep. Curtis Johnson.

Those losses may pull the curtain back a bit on what has appeared have been a united Republican Party since the GOP won supermajorities in both Houses. Both Beavers and Matheny endorsed Lou Ann Zelenik over incumbent US Rep. Diane Black in the 6th Congressional District race. Black has many friends in the General Assembly, where she served in the House from 1998 to 2005 and in the Senate from 2005 until her Congressional win in 2010.

Both Beavers and Matheny, too, defied their party’s leadership. Beavers was the only Republican still in the Senate who voted against the GOP-led redistricting map. Matheny considered challenging Beth Harwell for House Speaker because he said some conservative causes and issues seemed to be getting back-burnered by the House leadership.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

Categories
Health Care NewsTracker

GOP Lawmakers Voicing Opposition to TN Medicaid Expansion

Gov. Bill Haslam has said he will decide sometime next year whether Tennessee will expand its Medicaid program, but if he chooses to, he may face some stiff opposition.

Both House Speaker Beth Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said they lean against an expansion and the leader of the House Republican freshmen — one of the largest freshmen classes ever — says he doesn’t think expanding Medicaid is such a good idea, either.

That all comes as the Obama administration announced that states will have to expand their Medicaid programs all the way, or not at all, as part of a key element of the federal health law aimed at extending government-subsidized insurance coverage to millions of Americans.

Even without an expansion under Obamacare, Medicaid in Tennessee “will grow every year as our state population increases,” Rep. Jeremy Durham, R-Franklin told TNReport.

“We don’t need to increase the threshold to what the Affordable Health Care Act says,” said Durham. “If we grow it that fast, we won’t be able to sustain it.”

Durham may only be a freshman in a sea that swept in 18 conservative newcomers to the House and secured that body’s supermajority, but he holds some sway. He is the new assistant floor leader for the House, the role that also serves as freshman class leader.

Durham also raised campaign money for his colleagues and campaigned with many of them leading up to Election Day.

“I feel we can’t afford to expand Medicaid,” said Durham, who reiterated the widespread GOP’s worry that while the federal government says it will cover additional costs to the state now, that may change in the future.

“Relying on federal funds that may or may not be there seems an unwise position to take,” said Durham.

In a speech before the Rotary Club of Nashville, Haslam announced that Tennessee would not run its own insurance exchange under the federal health care law. In doing so he sided with Tea Party activists and GOP lawmakers.

During that speech he outlined the difficult decision he faces in deciding what to do with Medicaid.

On one hand, the rising costs of Medicaid uses all the new revenue coming into the state’s coffers, meaning there is nothing to spend on other issues, such as higher education or prison overcrowding. On the other hand, he said that hospitals, and largely rural hospitals, would suffer because they rely on Medicaid dollars to keep the doors open.

“The expansion decision is a bigger and potentially, to be honest with you, a lot more difficult decision,” Haslam said.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

Categories
Featured Health Care

Haslam Rejects State-Run Exchange

Siding with Tea Party activists and GOP lawmakers, Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that Tennessee would not run its own insurance exchange under the federal health care law.

But Haslam said he wasn’t bowing to political pressure.

“Believe me, the politics haven’t changed,” the Republican governor said after a speech at a Rotary Club of Nashville luncheon at the Wildhorse Saloon on Second Avenue. “I knew what the politics were of this decision seven or eight months ago. I can assure you: while we listen to everybody, in the end we made what we think is the right decision.”

Haslam said that as late as Friday he would have considered moving forward with a state-run exchange if federal officials “could soothe some of our fears.”

If Haslam had said yes to a state-run exchange, he would have been the only southern Republican governor so far to have done so.

But politics, Haslam said, “had zero to do with our decision.”

Until Haslam’s decision, a debate had been raging in Tennessee over whether state officials should support the federal health insurance exchanges outlined in President Obama’s healthcare overhaul or disavow state-level cooperation and let federal officials run the exchange.

The Tea Party held a rally last week urging Haslam to ‘Just Say No’ to Tennessee taking ownership of an exchange. Few if any GOP legislators have expressed any willingness to support a state-run exchange.

“As caucus chairman I helped get six new guys elected to the Senate, and the first bullet point on all their mail pieces was that they could not vote for or support Obamacare,” Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, told TNReport last week. “So you can’t expect them to come back in January and vote for it.”

Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, said he had little choice but to fight against a state-run exchange if he was interested in staying on the right side of popular opinion in his district.

“The overwhelming majority of my constituents is opposed to it,” said Yager.

The exchanges are supposed to be up and running by Jan. 1, 2014.

Haslam did say it’s possible that Tennessee might be able to take over its exchange at some point in the future.

“To work together with [the federal government] in this way we have to be convinced that they are literally ready to do it,” Haslam said. “In the last two or three weeks since the original deadline they gave us, they’ve issued us … 800-plus pages of rules — and those are just drafts. So just think about what that means: That was after the original deadline, they’ve given us 800 pages of something that was passed two years ago.

“I’m not being political. I honestly think they don’t have this planned out.”

Republicans legislative leaders applauded Haslam’s decision.

“It would be dereliction of our duty as public servants to take on as a partner a federal government that is clearly out of its depth,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, posted on Facebook. “I’m proud to stand with Governor Haslam as we continue to find ways to minimize the impact of this insidious federal law on the citizens of Tennessee.”

And House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, said in a statement: “As I have stated many times before, I am vehemently opposed to Obamacare and the mandates that come along with it. The decisions regarding health care are best left to each Tennessean and their doctor—not a massive bureaucracy that is sure to send this country further into debt.”

Democrats chided Haslam for foregoing the state-run exchange.

“I’m disappointed to see the Governor pandering to the far right of his party rather than doing what is best for the people of Tennessee,” House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh said in a statement. “I would hate to know that I had a 70 percent approval rating statewide and couldn’t get my own party to support my initiatives.”

See the letter Gov. Bill Haslam wrote to Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius by clicking here.

Trent Seibert can be reached at trent@tnreport.com, on Twitter at @trentseibert or at 615-669-9501.

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Little Data to Track Teacher Training Effectiveness

There is a lack of research data about teacher professional development in Tennessee, which makes it difficult to for taxpayers to know how tens of millions of dollars in Race to the Top stimulus funds are being spent, according to a recent state report.

Ultimately, that means that it’s impossible to know whether teacher training programs in Tennessee are having an impact on student learning, says the report, released by the Offices of Research and Education Accountability in the state Comptroller’s office.

Of the $500 million Tennessee received in Race to the Top funds, $148.2 million was allocated to train the state’s 63,000 public school teachers.

The report also points out that teachers are often not happy when it comes to professional development, either.

Teachers report that “professional development is not targeted to meet the individual needs of teachers” and “there is a gap between the professional development that teachers believe they need and what they are currently receiving. This may be an indication that school improvement plans are not aligned with the needs of teachers.”