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Press Releases

TN Comptroller’s Office Reports on State’s Credit Status

Email from Tennessee Comptroller Executive Assistant Jason Mumpower to Members of the Tennessee General Assembly, Oct. 3, 2011:

Honorable Senators and Representatives:

On behalf of Comptroller Justin P. Wilson, Treasurer David Lillard and Secretary of State Tre Hargett I am writing to share the good news we have received from the various rating agencies in regard to Tennessee’s status.

We have received a AAA rating from Fitch Ratings. The Fitch representative said that the credit rating agency is very impressed with the way Tennessee manages its business.

We have received an Aaa rating with a negative outlook from Moody’s Investors Service. The negative outlook is tied to the United States government rating previously received from Moody’s.

In addition, we have maintained a AA+ with positive outlook from Standard & Poors. This reflects no change from our previous rating.

We wanted you to have this good news as soon as possible. We appreciate your partnership in making Tennessee a state with well managed finances and a positive future.

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Featured News Tax and Budget Transparency and Elections

State’s ‘Money Cop’ Up For Reelection

The constitutional officer responsible for policing government finances and checking departments for effectiveness says he expects the new gubernatorial administration will be more transparent than the outgoing one.

But Comptroller Justin Wilson, a Republican who is expected to win reelection by the Legislature on Wednesday and continue running the state auditing office for the next two years, declined to shed any additional light on what kind of new openness Tennesseans should expect out of state government.

The comptroller’s primary responsibilities include auditing state and local governments and helping manage the state’s finances, a job Wilson once said makes him the state’s top “money cop.” His office also examines government’s execution of policy initiatives — for example, the federal weatherization program, the effectiveness of state-funded Pre-K and the accuracy of the state’s budget books.

Wilson, who has served two years as comptroller, recently hired a noteworthy new addition to his office. Former House Republican Caucus Leader Jason Mumpower, a powerful member of the GOP who stepped down from the Legislature last year, is now Wilson’s executive assistant.

But will the direction and focus of the office shift now that it — and Tennessee government in general – has a stronger Republican face to it? What kinds of changes should taxpayers expect in the way of transparency in state government? And how does he continue to ensure integrity in his office? TNReport recently sat down with Wilson and asked him a few questions.

TNReport: You’ve been working with Gov. Bredesen for a while.  What’s your take on his tenure and legacy?

Wilson: I think first of all, it’s fair to say that Tennessee has a full, operating government. Our doors are open, we are functioning fully as a state government in providing essential services. And I believe the governor is a large part of that happening. He gets credit for that, because we could easily get off track.

TNR: What faith do you have that the next governor can keep the state on track?

Wilson: You don’t know what the future holds, but every evidence we’ve seen so far is that Bill Haslam will be an excellent governor. He’s got the experience and credentials to do a splendid job and I believe that he will.

TNR: When it comes to your office specifically, what things are important to you?

Wilson: The overriding issue that we have is the integrity of state government. That is the principal issue and the one that we are most concerned about. We are also concerned that we maintain a full financially responsible government. And every evidence is that Mr. Haslam meets those qualifications.

TNR: Your job is to be the impartial auditor?

Wilson: We attempt to look at the data and to give an impartial analysis, yes.

TNR: So, to what extent is it fair to be calling in question your audits?

Wilson: I think that is entirely appropriate to question our work. I have no problem with that at all. In fact, I encourage that. You can draw different conclusions from the data we gave. It’s very interesting, many proponents of pre-K say that our reports supports their position, and many opponents also say that it supports their position. That’s not our job. Our job is not to be involved in political aspects of it but to give impartial, objective analysis and I believe we’ve done so.

TNR: What was the philosophy behind Jason Mumpower’s hire?

Wilson: I’m very pleased with this. He is a very talented man, he really is, and his background, if you look at the General Assembly, is exactly what this office needs – budget, financial responsibility, ethics, integrity. This is what he did in the General Assembly, and I’m happy to have him here.  He’ll also help us very much with the General Assembly, and we’re involved with a lot of legislation, and we’ll review most of the legislation for the General Assembly.

TNR: So, is he kind of the liaison between you guys and the General Assembly?

Wilson: That is one of his duties, yes.

TNR: What are some of his other duties?

Wilson: He is an administrative officer who will deal with the entire administration of this office. To say we have a lot of things going on is an understatement. And I think it’s very appropriate to have an executive assistant, and that’s exactly what he is.

TNR: Are you at all concerned with the fact that he has had such a close allegiance to Republicans?

Wilson: We’re not going to operate this office that way. That’s not what we are.

TNR: I think the reason why it was of interest to me is that he was a very prominent Republican.

Wilson: Well, so am I.

TNR: In the last couple of months, there’s been a lot attention around Gov. Bredesen, Revenue Commissioner Reagan Farr and Matt Kisber. Gov. Bredesen said at one point you guys were looking into Reagan Farr. What are you guys looking into at this point?

Wilson: Oh, I can’t get into what we may be doing and not doing. I can’t do that.

TNR: Gov. Bredesen had mentioned that you guys were looking into it.

Wilson: I know that he has, and I can’t get into it.

TNR: The lack of public information that’s available for determining how Economic and Community Development has been able to determine which groups can get some sort of business tax breaks…is that something that you guys can even audit because it’s not quite public information?

Wilson: Yes, we can. I think that it’s fair to say that I have a bias towards disclosure. We can review it. We may not be able to make what we find available to the public and you know, if we see anything wrong, we will take whatever steps are appropriate.

TNR: Do you expect any of that to change under a new administration? A new Legislature?

Wilson: I don’t know what the new administration will do about this. My belief, and this is based on my meetings with Governor-elect Haslam, is that he is absolutely determined to have complete integrity in government.

TNR: What does that mean to have full integrity in government? Does that mean more disclosure?

Wilson: I think Governor-elect Haslam has to answer that question.

Editor’s note: TNReport’s interview has been edited for brevity.

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Featured NewsTracker

Meet the New Bosses

Tennessee House Republicans spent Wednesday afternoon choosing who’ll lead them into the uncharted waters of undisputed political dominance in the 2011-12 legislative session.

Already the caucus selected Rep. Beth Harwell as their nominee for House speaker. Republicans have now assigned Chattanooga Rep. Gerald McCormick to take the reins as House majority leader, with Hendersonville Rep. Debra Maggart getting the nod to serve as caucus chairwoman.

McCormick and Maggart replace former Rep. Jason Mumpower of Bristol and sitting Franklin Rep. Glen Casada, respectively. Casada lost his bid for the House speaker nomination last month and chose not to run for another caucus leadership post this year.

Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, won the nomination for speaker pro-tempore. He’ll be charged with taking up the gavel in the Speaker’s absence.  If elected — a near certainty given the party’s numerical superiority — he will replace Rep. Lois DeBerry, D-Memphis, who has held the post for 24 years.

McCormick said after the vote that he’s excited about working with a speaker that has the support of the majority party — a dynamic that, as a result of quirk and intrigue during House leadership elections in 2009, has not been the case for the past two years.

Both he and Maggart said doing what they can to get behind Gov.-elect Haslam’s job creation efforts will be a primary focus.

“The Legislature doesn’t really create jobs, we just pave the way for job creation,” said Maggart.

Added McCormick: “I think the Legislature’s role is to provide an environment that is attractive to businesses to make investment — not so much to go out and be in on the details of the deals, and the tax breaks, and those kinds of things. But to provide a good, solid, predictable environment for business people, so that they will feel comfortable making long-range, long-term investments.”

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Press Releases

Former House GOP Leader Mumpower to Join Comptroller’s Office

Press Release from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury, Dec. 3, 2010:

Mumpower to Serve as Executive Assistant to Comptroller of the Treasury

Tennessee Comptroller Justin P. Wilson announced today in Bristol the addition of former House Majority Leader Jason Mumpower to his staff. Mumpower will serve as the Executive Assistant to the Comptroller. His duties will include serving as a liaison to the General Assembly, representing the Comptroller on several boards and commissions and dealing with the overall management of the Comptroller’s office.

“I am honored to join Comptroller Wilson, serving alongside him to protect the interests of Tennessee taxpayers,” Mumpower said. “This opportunity will allow me to work with the department to reduce waste, fraud and abuse of taxpayer money, while also protecting the fiscal well-being of the state.”

Mumpower will join the office Dec. 14, before the General Assembly reconvenes in January.

“We are delighted that Jason will be joining our staff,” Comptroller Wilson said. “He will bring an invaluable level of expertise and a wealth of knowledge of state finances and operations. Due to the challenging budget year we face, this is perhaps more important now than ever before.”

Mumpower previously served 14 years as the state representative for Sullivan and Johnson counties in the General Assembly. During his tenure, he also held the positions of House Majority Leader and House Minority Leader. He served in key roles on the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee and the House Budget Committee. He is a graduate of King College with a major in economics and a minor in political science. He is also an Eagle Scout and is active in many community organizations and projects, including the Rotary Club of Bristol, TN/VA and the chambers of commerce in Kingsport, Bristol and Johnson County.

The Comptroller of the Treasury is a constitutional officer elected in a joint vote of both houses of the General Assembly for two-year terms. State law prescribes the Comptroller’s duties, which include the audit of state and local government entities and participation in the general financial and administrative management and oversight of state government. The Comptroller also is a member of various committees, boards and authorities.

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News NewsTracker

Republicans Surprised By Their Own Success

Republicans across the board say they knew they’d gain some seats this election, but they had no idea they’d win almost all the races they targeted this year.

Here’s what a few Republicans had to say during their celebration at Union Station in Nashville Tuesday night:

Categories
Featured News Tax and Budget

Ramsey Now Open to Granting Williams’ Fish Wish

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he is on board with a plan to build a $16.9 million fish hatchery in upper East Tennessee, a project that just a few months ago he said was perceived by voters and GOP lawmakers as “purely pork.”

He approved a motion to move forward with more than a quarter million dollars worth of planning for the project at a State Building Commission meeting in Nashville Thursday, later telling reporters he always supported the fish hatchery but just didn’t think last spring was the right time to fund it.

“It was just getting the cart before the horse from the very beginning,” Ramsey said. “That’s what I’ve argued from the very beginning. I’ve never, ever said I was against the project. Ever.”

If state revenues perk up by the next legislative session, Ramsey said he’d support adding the remaining costs of the fish hatchery to the 2011-2012 fiscal year budget.

The hatchery drew controversy earlier this year during contentious state budget negotiations.

House Speaker Kent Williams pushed for funding the facility, to be located in his hometown of Elizabethton. Senate Republicans and Ramsey stood firmly against the project. “Fish,” GOP lawmakers became fond of saying, “is the new pork.”

At the time, Ramsey denied speculation that his opposition to the hatchery was a move to punish the Republican-turned-independent Williams for voting with Democrats in 2009’s infamous House Speaker election in which Williams edged out GOP-favorite Jason Mumpower.

Rather, Ramsey said the project was simply an unacceptable example of out-of-control government spending.

“This is a symbol of running things the Tennessee way, not the Washington way,” Ramsey said at the time.

He made the comments in May as the legislature scrambled to wrap up the year’s legislative session in time for campaign season. Earlier this month, Ramsey lost in the primary election to Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam. However, he still holds the top leadership position in the Senate.

The State Building Commission, which includes both Ramsey and Williams, authorized the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to move forward with $290,000 worth of pre-planning work on the hatchery. Blueprints for the facility will be ready by January, according to Dwight Hensley, TWRA Chief of Engineering and Real Estate.

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News

Lawmakers Blast Bredesen’s Guns-in-Bars Veto

Both barrels of the General Assembly are loading up and aimed at overriding Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s veto of legislation allowing firearm permit-holders to pack heat in any Tennessee establishments that sells beer or firewater.

Under the legislation, SB 3012, any bar or restaurant could post signs banning guns. If the owners do not, permit carriers would be allowed to enter with their pieces — so long as they don’t partake in drinking alcoholic beverages.

The vote on the final 2010 version of the bill in the House was 66-31. In the Senate, it passed on a vote of 23-9.

But the prohibition alone against booze consumption while possessing a weapon isn’t good enough for the governor. In his veto message released Tuesday afternoon, Bredesen indicated he believes allowing citizens to even bring guns into an establishment that serves wine, beer or liquor violates the general rule of thumb that “guns and alcohol don’t mix.”

Bredesen, who says he is a gun owner himself, observed in his veto statement that the legislation passed by both chambers of the Tennessee General Assembly this year is little different than the legislation passed in 2009. That law was later was ruled unconstitutional by a Nashville judge, who said the provisions of the measure dictating where patrons could or couldn’t legally carry were too confusing for the average citizen to understand or figure out on their own.

Bredesen said he values “the constitutional right that allows me to protect my home and family.” But the governor indicated he believes the bill violates “common-sense.”

Referring to government-imposed bans on guns in places that serve alcohol, the governor wrote, “These rules don’t diminish our collective freedom, but ensure that this fundamental right is exercised in a common-sense manner that ensures the survival of the right itself.”

Legislators of both partisan stripes however promise that it’s the governor’s veto that won’t ultimately survive.

Dickson Democrat Doug Jackson, the chief Senate sponsor of the legislation this year and last, said the governor’s veto “was expected,” and that he recognizes the issue is an emotional one.

Jackson added, though, that he hopes people who believe in the democratic process will take solace in the assurance that “supermajorities” of Tennessee’s elected representatives “have looked at this very carefully,” and determined the general public has little to fear.

“During the time that the law was in effect, I didn’t hear one complaint from restaurant owners or patrons,” Jackson said. “The concerns perpetuated by opponents of this legislation were unfounded, and they will be proven so again.”

The House sponsor of the bill, Rep. Curry Todd, a Collierville Republican, was unavailable for comment, but in a press release issued by the House Republican Caucus he said, “This bill passed by two-thirds in both bodies, indicating that there is strong support for this measure.”

In a telephone interview with TNReport.com, House Republican leader Jason Mumpower of Bristol, said, “I think we will probably override it faster than a speeding bullet.”

Mumpower said he believes the vote on the override in the House will come next week. That is likely the same time the Senate will vote on the matter, since that chamber is not meeting in session this week.

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey weighed in as well, saying he is “confident we will override his veto, just as we did last year.”

“The legislation simply expands the ability of law-abiding permit holders to defend themselves and others in establishments which serve alcohol,” Ramsey said of the guns-in-bars bill. “It also allows owners to ban all weapons from their establishments and prohibits permit holders from consuming alcohol. Tennessee citizens who undergo the education and training required to obtain a permit should not be forced to relinquish their right to self-defense and the defense of their loved ones.”