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Haslam: Claude Ramsey to Retire

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; June 19, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Deputy to the Governor Claude Ramsey will retire at the end of August to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren in Chattanooga.

Ramsey has been integral to Haslam on several key initiatives, including civil service reform, economic development efforts, workforce development training and improved operation of state government.

“Claude’s experience at the state and local levels of government and his common sense approach have been invaluable assets to our administration, and I am incredibly grateful to him and his wife, Jan, for their time in Nashville and commitment to the state of Tennessee.”

When he joined the administration in January 2011, Ramsey agreed to serve as deputy to the governor for two years but has stayed on past his original commitment. Before joining the Haslam administration, Ramsey was in his fifth term as Hamilton County mayor, having played key roles in educational and economic successes in Southeast Tennessee.

“It’s been a true pleasure to work with the governor on the important issues of job growth, education reform and making Tennessee the best-run state in the country,” Ramsey said. “The governor is a man of integrity with a clear vision for the state, and I will do anything I can to help him in the future as he continues to serve.”

Ramsey, 70, was elected to the General Assembly in 1972 where he served four years. He was the assessor of property in Hamilton County from 1980-1994 and was a county commissioner for two years. He served 16 years as Hamilton County mayor.

Ramsey’s last day on the job will be August 31.

New Amazon Deal Praised As Improvement On Deal, Not Backtracking

When all was said and done in the announcement Thursday that Amazon will collect sales taxes in Tennessee beginning in 2014, the state was in a different place from its original agreement with the online sales giant.

The original plan had been that Tennessee would get hundreds of jobs from two distribution centers in the Chattanooga area, so in return the state would let Amazon avoid collecting sales taxes on purchases. The deal was subject to debate almost from the time it became known.

Now, with a commitment that will bring the total number of Amazon jobs to 3,500 in the state, Amazon will have to collect sales taxes, although it is not soon enough for some critics of the deal.

So by negotiating a new deal with the company, taxes included, does that mean that in the big picture Tennessee went back on its word?

“No, absolutely not,” said Speaker of the House Beth Harwell, pointing to the efforts of Gov. Bill Haslam and Commissioner of Revenue Richard Roberts. “I’m proud the governor and the commissioner were able to sit down with Amazon and work out an arrangement that is pleasing not only to Amazon but also to the taxpayers of this state.

“I think it is a fair way to bring a large number of jobs to the state of Tennessee.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, called the announcement Thursday a “big win for unified Republican government on the jobs front.”

“The governor has negotiated a deal that promotes economic growth and jobs creation while protecting the interests of brick-and-mortar businesses who are the backbone of our economy,” Ramsey said in a formal statement.

“This is a good solution for the state of Tennessee, and I commend the governor for resolving this.”

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey said the deal simply means an improvement on what the state had before.

“It didn’t go back on its word. It just worked out a better deal,” Claude Ramsey said.

The deputy governor was asked if the new deal would in any way be detrimental to future negotiations with other companies.

“No, sir,” he said. “Because I think it shows that there is a solution. We worked to a solution.”

The original deal was struck by a Democratic governor, Phil Bredesen, who told Haslam of his plans and the reasons behind them: Get the jobs and collect no taxes, or lose the jobs and collect no taxes. Haslam, a Republican and newly elected when Bredesen told him of the deal, told Bredesen he would honor the agreement.

But ultimately, the Haslam administration engaged Amazon in an entirely new discussion. The result was an arrangement where Amazon not only would be collecting the sales tax but would be adding jobs to the point its total commitment had grown to 3,500 jobs and $350 million.

The entire scenario involved a Democratic administration sacrificing a substantial amount of revenue and a Republican administration doing everything it could to collect owed taxes — shifts from the stereotypical depictions of Democrats as tax-and-spenders and Republicans as advocates of revenue reduction.

Republicans did so in the name of tax fairness, yet other retailers were not satisfied that Amazon still gets until 2014 to start collecting and remitting.

In the Legislature, it was a Republican duo, Sen. Randy McNally of Oak Ridge and Rep. Charles Sargent of Franklin, who had contemplated legislation to force the tax collections.

Sen. Bo Watson, R-Hixson, speaker pro tem, said the new deal does not go against the original deal.

“I don’t think you can say it’s anything against the original agreement,” Watson said. “I think this is a continuation of dialogue that’s been going on between the administration and Amazon since the original agreement was discussed.

“All along, as this whole debate has been occurring, many of us, me being one, have been saying that conversations have been continuing, and this is just a continuation of that conversation.”

Democrats held a press conference Thursday, calling for $15 million toward a jobs plan. When they were asked about the Amazon deal, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh did what Haslam did and emphasized the part of the deal that was about jobs, not taxes.

“I think the primary focus is on the jobs, the jobs that the Bredesen administration brought here through Amazon, and through an agreement that has to do with the revenue, that there’s going to be another 2,000 jobs on top of that,” Fitzhugh said.

“So I think that’s the key thing we have to focus on in these times, which as everybody has said, is jobs.”

Mike Turner, the House Democratic Caucus chairman, said, “The law is already on the books. You’re supposed to be paying that tax as it is now.

“There’s no new taxes being added to the books because of what we’re doing.”

Andrea Zelinski contributed to this report.

Political Movement on Megasite

Gov. Bill Haslam presided over the first meeting of the governing body of the Haywood County megasite Monday in Jackson, but it was Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey who offered the most pointed advice to the new board.

He spoke from experience.

“You will have a lot of highs and lows,” said Ramsey, who was Hamilton County mayor as Chattanooga pursued the Volkswagen plant that ultimately brought a $1 billion investment to the megasite there.

“This is a very patient process that a lot of people will be impatient about. It’s hard work. There will be times people will say that nothing is happening. I’ve been called a lot of funny names. There will be those days when it’s a little bit slow.”

But the message was perseverance, and Ramsey encouraged West Tennessee leaders to weather the down times as the site seeks a client like Volkswagen or Hemlock Semiconductor, which made its own $1 billion investment at a megasite in Montgomery County and has already announced a substantial additional investment there.

After the meeting, Ramsey visited the Haywood County site, accompanied by Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, and Rep. Curtis Halford, R-Dyer, as well as other officials working on the project. The group included Haywood County Mayor Franklin Smith, whom the board elected chairman at its meeting on Monday. Haslam did not visit the site Monday but has been to the location on more than one occasion.

Haywood County is the last of the state’s three TVA megasites, designed to attract major business relocations, an issue that not only plays a role in the state’s economic future but has become a political football in its own right.

Haslam recently announced that the state will move away from the emphasis on attracting huge business re-locations and concentrate on feeding the growth of existing businesses in the state. But Haslam told board members Monday that the significance of the West Tennessee site has not diminished.

“I can assure you there are few things we care as much about as the proper development of the megasite,” Haslam told the group at a conference room at the McKeller-Sipes Airport in Jackson.

“I said back when I was campaigning, and I’ll say it again now, I think it is one of the best assets we have for the state when we look at economic development. We do not have a lot of pieces of property like this that are available.”

The site sits near Stanton, north of exit 42 on Interstate 40. At this point, the project remains only a conceptual plan. The site was originally certified to meet the potential needs of an automotive manufacturer. There is no indication that an auto maker will move into the site, but state officials hope a business will locate there that can attract numerous suppliers, as an automotive manufacturer would.

“We’re not pinning all of our hopes for job development on the megasite. We have some prospects right now in this part of the state we’re working hard to hopefully bring here,” Haslam said after the meeting. “But this is a great long-term project.”

Board members were briefed on where progress on the site stands now. It is in a vastly rural area, which creates challenges for infrastructure. Authorities told the board Monday the location would need 3 million gallons of water a day and that three wells are being dug into the Memphis aquifer to meet that need. Each well would draw 1.5 million gallons, and the board was given assurances Monday the amount of water would be adequate to meet the need. Waste water services will also be necessary.

The site will need a water treatment system, which will be on the property, and Highway 222, which runs through the middle of the site, will need to be re-routed. The board was told that while no specific funds were put into the budget just passed by the Legislature that flexibility is in place to make funding available if a client is found for the site. The state already has $34.7 million set aside in the Department of Economic Development for use on the Haywood County project.

The site includes 3,800 acres, with the core site comprised of 1,700 acres.

Democrats had criticized Haslam and other Republicans during the legislative session that ended Saturday for not putting more funds into the megasite at a time when the state is desperate for jobs. Several lawmakers from West Tennessee, including Democrats from the House and Senate, attended the meeting Monday in Jackson. But there seemed to be agreement and optimism among lawmakers from both parties that the project is on the right track.

Nevertheless, it still figures to be at least two years before a big business could be up and running at the site, the board was told Monday.

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, the House Democratic leader, Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, and Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, had been critical of Haslam’s lack of attention to the megasite in his budget earlier this year. But all three attended the board meeting Monday and appeared upbeat about the project.

Smith’s selection as chairman was noteworthy in that he has been an integral player in seeking support for the megasite and made a campaign ad for Haslam in last year’s gubernatorial race, although Smith is a Democrat.

“We’ve been patient. I’ve been working on this almost seven years,” Smith said after the board meeting in Jackson. “Patience is something we’ve got.

“What people need to understand is this is a state project. There is statewide support for this project. I want folks to understand this is not a Haywood County project. It will benefit everybody in West Tennessee.”

Tort Reform Bill Passes Senate

The Senate delivered for Gov. Bill Haslam on one of his primary legislative objectives Thursday, passing a tort reform measure that includes caps on non-economic damages in jury awards.

The vote was 21-12, with Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill, the only Republican voting against it. Faulk explained that he is a conservative and that that means believing in personal responsibility and less government, so he could not support legislating the change in the judicial system.

The measure, HB2008, still needs another trip through the House because of a minor Senate amendment before it goes to the governor, but there was a celebratory spirit among the Republican leadership and the Haslam administration outside the Senate chamber after the vote.

The bill is the second major legislative victory for Haslam, following his successful initiative on tenure reform for teachers. The House passed the tort reform bill earlier this week 72-24.

The legislation has been characterized as a jobs bill, with proponents saying it will help create an environment that would be attractive to businesses looking to relocate or expand in the state. It has been difficult to pin down lawmakers on how many jobs might be created because of tort reform.

“I believe this legislation will be an important piece of the puzzle — the mosaic as it were — that will make Tennessee more attractive for new and expanded business. I do sincerely believe that,” Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, the Senate majority leader who carried the bill for Haslam, said after the vote.

“How many jobs? Nobody can say. There’s no crystal ball for that. We’ve joined the majority of states in the nation that have put a number of these reforms in place. At least on the global scale we can remain competitive.”

The Senate used well over three hours of debate before the vote. Norris and Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, did most of the talking for the bill, while Sen. Roy Herron, D-Dresden, and Sen. Andy Berke, D-Chattanooga, made most of the arguments against it.

Herron was especially passionate, suggesting that caps on non-economic damages on someone who has been harmed for life could be calculated to be less than what lawmakers get in their per diem serving in the Legislature.

As advocates for the bill told individual stories related to the bill, Berke called the bill “legislation by anecdote,” which Norris said was not the case. Kelsey argued that the bill could bring certainty and predictability into the system of awards in civil suits.

The bill caps non-economic damages at $750,000. It does not cap economic damages. It also caps punitive damages at $500,000 or two times the amount of compensatory damages, whichever is greater — although those caps would not apply in cases where the defendant’s act resulted in a felony conviction, or if records in the case have been intentionally falsified or concealed, or if the defendant was under the influence of alcohol or drugs during the act.

Another key element of the bill is the establishment of a cap of $1 million in cases that are considered to be “catastrophic” in nature. That figure had been the point of adjustments throughout the legislative process. One Democratic amendment offered Thursday would have raised the caps on non-economic damages to $1.25 million and catastrophic damages at $2.25 million but was defeated.

The bill spells out which conditions are to be considered catastrophic, including spinal cord injury resulting in paraplegia or quadriplegia; amputation of two hands, two feet or one of each; third-degree burns over 40 percent or more of the body as a whole or third-degree burns on 40 percent or more of the face; or the wrongful death of a parent leaving a surviving minor child or children for whom the deceased parent had custody.

Several other attempts by Democrats to alter the bill failed, including one that would have tied caps to increases in the consumer price index and one that would have added brain damage to the list of conditions spelled out in the catastrophic category.

Herbert Slatery, Haslam’s legal counsel, said the administration seeks a better environment for businesses.

“As the governor said, the long-term impact hopefully will be to create a more predictable structure in which businesses can quantify what the risk is going to be,” Slatery said after the vote. “It’s one really important factor in how they decide to expand in Tennessee or relocate in Tennessee. It’s just a very, very important factor.

“I think that kind of structure and predictability will allow them to assume what we really want them to assume, and that’s the risk of placing capital in the marketplace. If they will invest their capital and sign guarantees and things like that to expand their businesses, and take the business risk without having to worry so much about the legal side of it, at least they will know what the risk is — more now than they did. Then they will expand and relocate, we hope.”

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey was also in the hallway outside the Senate chamber following the vote.

Slatery’s presence in the hall was noticeable for the absence of former U.S. Sen Fred Thompson, who had been a high-profile lobbyist against the measure. Thompson was in Washington on Thursday, where he joined a group advocating for a totally different type of reform — creating a popular vote tally to determine the outcome of a presidential election.

Thompson was named a national “co-champion” of the National Popular Vote campaign, saying in a formal statement, “This is an idea whose time has come.”

Democrats had lawyerly spokesmen, however, in Herron and Berke, among others, against tort reform in Tennessee.

“Those who have done the worst will pay less of a price,” Herron said after the vote. “Those who have been hurt the most will pay more of a price.”

Herron is still looking for the problem that brought on the legislation.

“When you look and see where Tennessee ranks in terms of site selection and business rankings, we’re right at the top of the list, right now, already,” Herron said.

Norris emphasized the need to compete with other states.

“Competitiveness is important. But holding the system together and improving it along the way are also important, and I think these changes will do that,” Norris said.

“And if they don’t we’ll revisit them and fix them.”

Norris was asked what he would say to a victim who had been seriously wronged.

“That if there were not caps in damages there might be no system from which they could recover at all,” he said.

As the debate went long in the Senate, stacks of pizza were delivered to the lawmakers, with a list of other items on the calendar creating a work session that ran close to six hours. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, made special mention of the length of debate on tort reform.

“It was an excellent debate,” Ramsey told the members. “That was four hours we spent on one bill, but it deserved four hours.”

Said Slatery, Haslam’s counsel, “I thought it was a very valuable exercise and was well-evaluated.

“I was proud of how the system worked.”

TN No Longer an Openness Leader on Financial Disclosures

Advocates for open government in Tennessee are expressing concern about whether Gov. Bill Haslam’s executive order relaxing income disclosure rules portends similar steps away from transparency, but there seems to be little out-and-out outrage over the governor’s move.

“The only thing that bothers me about the executive order is the tone that it sets and the signal that it might send,” said Frank Gibson, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government. “He’s not rolling back a law.”

Dick Williams, state chairman of Common Cause in Tennessee, had a similar reaction.

“I hope it’s not an indication of how we’re going to go from here, and I’d like to think it’s not,” Williams said. “But it’s just sad that his very first executive order, just a day or so after being sworn in, he takes a significant step backward.”

One fascinating aspect of the reaction, advocates for openness in government have said, is that the more demanding executive order that Phil Bredesen, Haslam’s predecessor, set as governor went largely unnoticed — until Haslam’s order loosened the requirements.

After being sworn in as the state’s 49th governor Jan. 15, Haslam’s first executive order was to declare that members of the executive branch must follow state law on disclosure, which brings the administration in line with the Legislature. The order means key administration officials including Cabinet members will have to divulge the sources of outside income but not the specific amounts they make. The step rolls back a Bredesen order, which called for disclosure of the amounts.

“Bredesen, to his credit, set a tone of openness by issuing that executive order in the first place,” Gibson said. “So I can’t slam him (Haslam) for doing it, because he’s basically doing what the law is for the Legislature.

“The thing that Bredesen did was far more disclosure than what Congress is required to do. Congress has to report the value of their investments in categories, from $50,000 to half a million dollars, and half a million dollars to a million, and a million to 5 million. So even members of Congress don’t have to report what their actual income is.”

Williams noted that the Haslam step presents a glaring change.

“It sticks out like a sore thumb at being a difference from what had been the precedent,” Williams said. “He (Haslam) is correct that the law doesn’t require it, but it’s kind of one of those things, once you’ve set the precedent, it’s definitely a step backward to not continue it.”

Haslam’s order caught the attention of the nonpartisan Sunlight Foundation, based in Washington, and its policy director, John Wonderlich, called the decision a “stunning disrespect for the role disclosure plays in democracy.”

“Governor Haslam’s executive order flouts the public trust embodied in that disclosure system, and places his personal and political concerns over the public interest and integrity of the very system he was elected to lead,” Wonderlich wrote.

A recurring refrain, however, is a call for a middle-of-the-road approach that would require ranges of income be reported, rather than none.

Robert Stern, president of the Center for Governmental Studies, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit research group, falls into that category.

“I guess my solution is a compromise, which is what we have in California and which I believe is recommended, which is ranges,” said Stern. “Over a thousand dollars. Over $10,000, over $100,000, over $1 million, and at that point who cares? You should have an idea.”

“We want to know what the conflict is and approximately if it’s a big conflict or a little conflict, but we don’t need to know the exact amount of the conflict,” added Stern, whose organization describes itself as promoting “innovative political and media solutions to help individuals participate more effectively in their communities and governments.”

Issue of Income Prominent in Gov’s Race

Common Cause’s Williams said the potential for conflict should be closely watched for department heads such as those in Economic and Community Development and Revenue, not because he has concerns specific to Haslam’s choices for those jobs but because of the nature of the positions.

Haslam named Bill Hagerty, founder and managing director of Hagerty Peterson & Co., a merchant bank and private equity firm, to the post of Economic and Community Development commissioner. Haslam picked Richard Roberts, director of Miller Industries, which makes towing and recovery vehicles, to head the Department of Revenue.

The issue of Haslam’s personal income rose prominently in the 2010 governor’s race, with opponents among Democrats and Republicans insisting that Haslam’s income from his family’s Pilot Corp. presented a conflict of interest. Ironically, one of Haslam’s harshest critics was his current commissioner of Safety, Bill Gibbons.

Gibbons ran against Haslam for the Republican nomination. He dropped out early but not before he proposed a plan for openness in government.

Gibbons, previously the Shelby County district attorney general, hit Haslam hard on the issue during the campaign and said every time the state widens a highway with a lot of commercial traffic Pilot has an interest with its truck stops. He said voters couldn’t know if it was a big conflict or a small conflict because Haslam would not reveal his income from Pilot. Haslam did divulge his income from investments outside Pilot Corp.

Haslam has also announced a blind trust for his holdings, but the trust will not include Pilot holdings or a real estate investment he has outside the state.

Among candidate Gibbons’ detailed plans for openness was a strengthening of disclosure laws by moving beyond the requirement of candidates and officeholders to disclose only the sources of income and require reporting of the amount of income from each source.

An effort to reach Gibbons this week for comment on Haslam’s executive order was unsuccessful.

Haslam consistently refused during the campaign to divulge the amount of his income from Pilot, as first requested by a consortium of the state’s largest newspapers. He reasoned that Tennesseans knew that his family owned Pilot and therefore knew all they needed to know. He has now extended that same principle to other members of his administration, and Haslam used the same consistent line of explanation when he addressed the executive order in a recent press conference as governor.

Deputy Gov. Claude Ramsey reiterated the explanation Haslam has given going back to the campaign.

“To the best of my knowledge the executive order was a follow-up to what he said all over this state to the people of Tennessee,” Ramsey said. “I don’t think the executive order was one period, one comma, different from what he had said for months.”

Haslam Order In Line With Other States’ Rules

Ramsey said to his knowledge there was no survey of what is done in other states to influence the decision.

There is little to suggest Haslam’s order is out of line with other states, although that doesn’t translate into a sparkling record on public disclosure.

The Center for Public Integrity, a journalistic research organization in Washington that promotes improving government openness and accountability, issued a report in 2009 in which Tennessee was among 20 states given a grade of “F” for its disclosure laws. Tennessee was given 57.5 points out of a possible 100, ranking 34th among the 50 states. Only Louisiana, Washington and Hawaii received a grade of “A.”

The report was an update to a report by the Center for Public Integrity issued in 2007. Tennessee received an “F” in that report as well.

Like all the surveys reviewed by TNReport, though, the center’s study focused on laws, not executive orders by governors.

Charts compiled by the Center for Ethics in Government for the National Conference of State Legislatures show a broad range of requirements on disclosure, with several states requiring reporting based on ranges of income.

The Center for Ethics in Government does not summarize its findings like the Center for Public Integrity, but Peggy Kerns, director of the ethics center, said, “I would think that most states do not require disclosure of the actual amount of income, just the source.”

Stern, the Los Angeles researcher, said he believes the work done by the Center for Public Integrity is a good measuring stick and that there has been “not much change at all” since the report was released.

The written report in 2007 did address more closely how state requirements affect governors than the more recent report.

“Requiring them to disclose their private financial ties could reveal possible conflicts of interest,” the 2007 report said. Only Washington received a grade of “A” in that report.

The 2007 study made specific mention that Bredesen, who was wealthy before his election, did not take a paycheck as governor, which put him in the company of then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger of California. Then-Gov. Jon Corzine of New Jersey drew a salary of $1 a year, the report noted. Haslam, like Bredesen, is not accepting a paycheck from the state.

The 2009 report noted that two southern states — Louisiana and Mississippi — made the biggest improvements since the earlier study, and it pointed to Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal pushing through an ethics reform package that bolstered requirements for all lawmakers to report their financial interests. That action, the report said, led Louisiana to the top spot in its rankings, with 94.5 points out of 100 in the center’s 43-question survey.

Guv Meets With Dem Lawmakers

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam met with members of the Democratic leadership of the General Assembly Wednesday night at the Tennessee Residence.

The meeting, which was closed to the media, came after a similar event with Republicans on Tuesday at the residence on Curtiswood Lane in Nashville.

Claude Ramsey, deputy governor and chief of staff to Haslam, described the event with the Democrats as an example of camaraderie and “getting to know each other.” First Lady Crissy Haslam participated in the event.

Democrats are at a decided disadvantage with Republicans holding control of both houses of the Legislature and the governor’s office for the first time since Reconstruction. The Republican majorities grew in the last election to a 64-34-1 advantage in the House of Representatives and a 20-13 majority in the Senate. But Ramsey said the meeting at the residence was upbeat.

“I thought it was very productive, and I hope we will be able to continue to do that sort of thing, much as we did with the Republicans,” Ramsey said. “We listened a lot. We talked a lot.”

Topics of discussion were no surprise.

“I think the budget is on their minds. I think education is on their minds. I’ve never seen a politician yet that didn’t want jobs in the state and in their districts,” Ramsey said. “Those are all goals in common.

“They understand that we are going to try to tighten up state government. They understand the last budget was tough, and it was made with some one-time money that’s not recurring, and we’re going to have to deal with that. That makes this a tough budget, but we’re going to work our way through that.”

The dinner with Democrats came one day before Haslam was scheduled to begin a series of regional “jobs roundtables” on Thursday in Memphis.

Haslam is scheduled to attend the opening of a solar plant in Jackson on Thursday at 1:30 p.m., with the roundtable at the University of Memphis Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law at 3 p.m. The governor is also scheduled Thursday for the swearing-in of Amy Weirich as Shelby County district attorney general, a post vacated by Bill Gibbons, who has become Haslam’s commissioner of safety.

Ramsey said the conversation with Democrats varied and characterized it as “sharing thoughts.”

“Some of it was philosophical,” Ramsey said. “We talked a little politics, and everybody has concerns about the budget. Everybody has concerns about the economy, and that’s not a Democrat issue. That’s not a Republican issue. That’s a Tennessee issue we all share.”

Ramsey said, at least while he was in the room, he did not hear discussion with the Democrats about any specific budget cuts.

Budget issues are at the forefront with the governor scheduled to begin budget hearings Monday. They begin with a hearing on Health at 1 p.m. Monday in the Executive Conference Room on the ground floor of the Capitol.

The budget hearings will be available on video online at www.tn.gov.

The Haslams are the first couple to live at the Tennessee Residence in eight years. The mansion went through a major renovation during the terms of Gov. Phil Bredesen and was a major project headed by First Lady Andrea Conte. Bredesen and Conte lived in their Nashville home during his time as governor.

Amazon.com Deal Final

State of Tennessee Press Release; Dec. 20, 2010:

Company Announces Commitment to Build Facilities in Hamilton, Bradley Counties

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Governor Phil Bredesen today joined Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber in announcing Amazon.com, Inc. has finalized its commitment to establish two fulfillment centers in Tennessee, one at the Enterprise South Industrial Park in Chattanooga and the other along State Route 308 in neighboring Bradley County. Amazon.com.dedc, LLC plans to invest a combined total of up to $139 million to construct the two new facilities, with up to 1,400 jobs expected to be created in the next three years, in addition to hundreds of additional seasonal jobs during peak season. The new fulfillment centers are expected to be operational before the 2011 holiday season.

“I’m pleased our discussions with Amazon.com have concluded with a positive result,” said Governor Bredesen. “This announcement means good job opportunities for Tennesseans with a great company and a strong endorsement of Tennessee’s business climate.”

“Amazon.com’s announcement is another example of the effectiveness of Governor Bredesen’s Jobs Cabinet and the strength of our partnerships with the local communities,” said Commissioner Kisber. “This is a significant investment by a highly respected global brand and we’re pleased to have Amazon.com in Tennessee.”

“We’re excited to be opening two new facilities in Tennessee to allow us to serve customers more quickly and efficiently,” said Dave Clark, vice-president, North America Operations, Amazon.com. “We’re thankful for the continuing cooperation of Governor Bredesen, Governor-elect Haslam, and the Department of Economic and Community Development, as well as the county and local officials.”

“We’re glad to formally and officially welcome Amazon.com to Hamilton County,” said Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, who will leave elected office in January to serve as Governor-elect Bill Haslem’s Deputy Governor and Chief of Staff. “I know many people think this has been a done deal for weeks, but I want to express my appreciation to the County Commission and City Council for their support in finalizing this investment. I’m proud of what we’ve done together.”

“Amazon.com’s investment is good for the people of our region not only because it represents new jobs, but also because it is a major investment by a world-class company that stretches across county lines,” said Chattanooga City Mayor Ron Littlefield. “Amazon.com is helping us keep our local economy diverse while demonstrating our ability to work together as a region.”

“The Chamber’s successful Chattanooga Can Do program continues to attract the attention of internationally recognized companies,” said Trevor Hamilton, vice president of economic development for the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce. “Seamless cooperation among our public and private partners drives our ability to win job creation projects. In particular, I think it’s important to recognize Volkswagen for coming to the table and working with us to make this project a win for Chattanooga, a win forAmazon.com, and a win for Volkswagen. This is another great example of our Chattanooga CAN DO community spirit.”

“I’m pleased Amazon.com has chosen Bradley County for one of two distribution centers in this area,” said Bradley County Mayor D. Gary Davis. “Our workforce, good schools, and quality of life combine to make Bradley County an excellent choice for the world’s largest internet retailer and this announcement is a good example of how counties and chambers of commerce can work together in a regional partnership.”

“We’re happy Amazon.com has finalized its decision to locate in our region,” said Ross Tarver, chairman, Bradley/Cleveland Industrial Development Board. “The jobs created by Amazon will be another major boost to the diversity of our local and regional economy,” Tarver also thanked Governor Bredesen, Commissioner Kisber and Doug Berry, vice president, economic development for the Cleveland / Bradley Chamber of Commerce for their work on the project.

Statements of thanks were also issued by Cleveland Mayor Tom Rowland and Charleston Mayor Walter Goode to the Bradley County Commission and state representatives Kevin Brooks, Eric Watson and State Senator Dewayne Bunch.

About the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development’s mission is to create higher skilled, better paying jobs for all Tennesseans. The department seeks to attract new corporate investment in Tennessee and works with Tennessee companies to facilitate expansion and economic growth. To find out more, go to www.tn.gov/ecd or www.investtennessee.org.

About Amazon.com

Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ: AMZN), a Fortune 500 company based in Seattle, opened on the World Wide Web in July 1995 and today offers Earth’s Biggest Selection. Amazon.com, Inc. seeks to be Earth’s most customer-centric company, where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online, and endeavors to offer its customers the lowest possible prices. Amazon.com and other sellers offer millions of unique new, refurbished and used items in categories such as Books; Movies, Music & Games; Digital Downloads; Electronics & Computers; Home & Garden; Toys, Kids & Baby; Grocery; Apparel, Shoes & Jewelry; Health & Beauty; Sports & Outdoors; and Tools, Auto & Industrial. Amazon Web Services provides Amazon’s developer customers with access to in-the-cloud infrastructure services based on Amazon’s own back-end technology platform, which developers can use to enable virtually any type of business. Kindle, Kindle 3G and Kindle DX are the revolutionary portable readers that wirelessly download books, magazines, newspapers, blogs and personal documents to a crisp, high-resolution electronic ink display that looks and reads like real paper. Kindle 3G and Kindle DX utilize the same 3G wireless technology as advanced cell phones, so users never need to hunt for a Wi-Fi hotspot. Kindle is the #1 bestselling product across the millions of items sold on Amazon.

Amazon and its affiliates operate websites, including www.amazon.com, www.amazon.co.uk, www.amazon.de, www.amazon.co.jp, www.amazon.fr, www.amazon.ca, www.amazon.cn, and www.amazon.it. As used herein, “Amazon.com,” “we,” “our” and similar terms include Amazon.com, Inc., and its subsidiaries, unless the context indicates otherwise.

Forward-Looking Statements

This announcement contains forward-looking statements within the meaning of Section 27A of the Securities Act of 1933 and Section 21E of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934. Actual results may differ significantly from management’s expectations. These forward-looking statements involve risks and uncertainties that include, among others, risks related to competition, management of growth, new products, services and technologies, potential fluctuations in operating results, international expansion, outcomes of legal proceedings and claims, fulfillment center optimization, seasonality, commercial agreements, acquisitions and strategic transactions, foreign exchange rates, system interruption, inventory, government regulation and taxation, payments and fraud. More information about factors that potentially could affect Amazon.com’s financial results is included in Amazon.com’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, including its most recent Annual Report on Form 10-K and subsequent filings.

Recap of Haslam Appointments Thus Far

Statement from Bill Haslam, Tennessee’s Governor-Elect, Dec. 10, 2010:

“The last couple of weeks have been incredibly busy, yet very exciting as we continue building our team and preparing to take office in the New Year. Since the election we’ve had a great response from citizens all across the state offering suggestions for better government and with interest in helping our administration.

“I’m encouraged by the quality and depth of the leadership team (listed below) we’ve recruited to date and look forward to announcing more appointments soon. To read more about our appointments, please go to our transition website at www.billhaslam.org.”

“And with the Inaugural approaching and a goal to have the most inclusive celebration possible, things are really starting to come together for the weekend of January 15th. The festivities will kick-off Friday night with a celebration event downtown. The Inaugural Ceremony will take place mid-morning Saturday at Legislative Plaza and the evening celebrations will be held at the newly renovated Opryland Hotel. We are also honored to invite Tennesseans to the Executive Residence on Sunday for an Open House. Details are still being finalized with many of the events free and open to the public. A separate website with all of this information and more is in the works. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the Inaugural Team at 615.690.8668.”

Hamilton County Mayor Named Haslam’s Top Administration Officer

Press Release from Gov.-elect Bill Haslam, December 3, 2010:

Ramsey Record of Success Indicative of Personnel Haslam Targeting

CHATTANOOGA – Tennessee Governor-elect Bill Haslam today announced Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey as his Deputy to the Governor and Chief of Staff.

A former state representative, Ramsey is in his fifth term as Hamilton County Mayor and played a key role in recent educational and economic successes in Southeast Tennessee. His experiences at the state and local level as well as his commitment to job creation and education improvement are indicative of the personnel Haslam is targeting for his administration.

“Claude Ramsey is exactly the type of person I’m looking for as we build our team,” said Gov.-elect Haslam. “I discussed throughout the campaign the idea of leveraging regional assets for job creation, and Claude brings a unique set of experiences and understanding to job creation in Tennessee.

“He understands how government works; he understands how businesses work; and he understands how to get things done,” Haslam added.

“Claude brings communities together to benefit the region, and he knows the incredible importance of providing a quality workforce, which means offering Tennesseans a great education,” Haslam said. “He’ll serve Tennessee well, and I’m proud to have him on board.”

During his time as County Mayor, Ramsey rallied the community around public schools, attracting more than 9,000 people to participate and build consensus on recommendations and goals. The area’s recent economic successes have made headlines across the state, and during his term, Hamilton County has achieved a Triple A bond rating.

“I’m humbled to have the opportunity to work for my state and with a public servant such as Bill Haslam,” Ramsey said. “We as a state have many opportunities, and with Bill Haslam at the helm, we’ll focus on maximizing our potential in job growth, education reform and conservative budget management.”

Before becoming County Mayor, he served as the Assessor of Property from 1980-1994 and served as a County Commissioner for two years. He was elected to the State Legislature in 1972 and served four years. Ramsey, 67, is married to Jan Fizer Ramsey. Claude and Jan have a son, Rich Balthrop, a daughter, Stacy Schorr, and five grandchildren.

Amazon.com Considers Opening Tennessee Shipping Centers

Press Release from the State of Tennessee, Nov. 29, 2010:

Negotiations Underway for Fulfillment Centers in Chattanooga and Bradley Co., TN

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen and Economic and Community Development Commissioner Matt Kisber today confirmed the state of Tennessee is in discussions with Seattle, Washington-based Amazon.com, Inc about locating two fulfillment centers in Tennessee, one at the Enterprise South Industrial Park in Chattanooga and the other along State Route 308 in Bradley County, Tennessee. If negotiations are successful, the two projects would represent a combined investment of more than $164 million dollars to create more than two million square feet of distribution space and up to 1,400 new jobs over a period of years.

We are working diligently with Amazon.com officials to work through outstanding issues on this project, said Governor Bredesen. It is my hope that we can bring these discussions to a successful resolution and create a large number of jobs for the people of Tennessee.

There has been lots of speculation in the media in recent weeks about who we might be working with on this project, said Commissioner Kisber. Because of the need to move forward at the local level on PILOT (payment-in-lieu-of tax) agreements in multiple communities, we felt it was important at this time for policy makers at the state and local level to know who were in discussions with.

Commissioner Kisber has been leading a team which includes Hamilton County Mayor Claude Ramsey, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield, Gary Farlow, president and CEO, Chamber of Commerce of Cleveland and Bradley County and Trevor Hamilton, vice president, Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce in discussions with Amazon.com, Inc. All parties have pointed out a number of procedural steps must be completed involving the state, the county commissions and the local city councils before the project is a go.

This is not a done deal, Mayor Littlefield said. In addition to the PILOT agreements, there are a number of other issues to work through at the state and local level, but we have high hopes of firming up Amazons investment in the next few weeks.

Amazon would make a great addition to our local economy, said Mayor Ramsey. This is a complex project. We couldn’t have gotten this far without Hamilton County, Bradley County, the city of Chattanooga and the respective chambers from both communities working together to make this much progress in a short period of time. Well keep working together to make sure the opportunity becomes a reality for our citizens.

Even though this is not yet a done deal, Bradley County is taking the necessary steps to finalize its local commitment to the company, said Gary Davis, mayor, Bradley County. I am very pleased the county commission decided in workshop session to place the proposed PILOT agreement, industrial access authorization and the FastTrack grant authorization on the consent agenda for next Mondays meeting. To my knowledge, this is the first PILOT agreement ever placed on the consent portion of the agenda and it clearly reflects the level of cooperation, understanding, and trust we have all worked hard to establish between the Administration, the Bradley County Commission, and the Industrial Development Board.

Amazons presence will mean important opportunities for good jobs, said Ross Tarver, chairman, Bradley/Cleveland Industrial Board. A project this far-reaching has many components and takes time to finalize. We could not have gotten to this point without a dedicated and focused regional team working together and our city, county, chamber and state are to be commended.

The Amazon project has come together very rapidly over the past couple of months, said Trevor Hamilton, vice president, Chattanooga Chamber of Commerce. The company has a very ambitious construction timeline, so reaching resolution on the remaining issues is very important if were to be successful in winning this project.