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Democrats Continue Hammering Republicans on Lack of ‘Jobs Plan’

Democrats in the Legislature went after Republican Gov. Bill Haslam and their Republican legislative counterparts from all angles Monday in a plea for more substantive attention to jobs.

What Tennesseans have gotten instead, the Democrats say, is Haslam giving pay raises to his top officials and spending money on what the administration calls “career coaches,” three large vehicles designed to help people find work.

“He’s bought three RVs using more than half a million dollars in federal stimulus money to teach people how to create a resume. The problem is once they create the resume, they don’t have anywhere to send it,” said Sen. Lowe Finney, D-Jackson, chairman of the Senate Democratic Caucus, at a press conference at the Capitol.

The Democrats instead compiled a loosely connected “top ten” list of jobs bills of their own they say directly address the issue of unemployment. They are getting little attention with those bills from the Republicans, the Democrats say.

“It’s almost like they’re embarrassed that we’re doing something and they’re not,” said Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “And it’s unfortunate they’re trying to kill our bills, not help pass them but kill our bills.”

Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said Republican-led efforts on tort reform, education reform and cutting red tape are producing the environment for job creation.

“I think jobs are being created,” Ramsey said. “This has more to do with the national atmosphere than it does in the state of Tennessee. We are one of the leading states in the nation, I believe, in creating jobs. This can only get better.”

But that’s not quite the picture painted by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development. The state recently announced figures that showed Tennessee’s unemployment rate for February was 9.6 percent, an increase of .2 percentage points from January. Meanwhile, the department said the national unemployment rate for February was 8.9 percent, which was .1 percentage point lower than the rate in January.

Democrats seized on those figures in a press release on Monday, noting that Haslam’s pay raises for his commissioners were 11 to 20 percent increases, although those positions were already paying six-figure salaries.

Rep. Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, the House Republican leader, said Democrats are only playing politics.

“It’s unfortunate they want to make this yet again a partisan issue,” McCormick said. “When Democrats controlled the governorship, Republicans in the Legislature worked with the Democratic governor to create jobs in Tennessee, and we worked to create a good business environment, and it was very successful in a lot of areas.

“It’s a disappointment to see them politicizing this.”

McCormick said tort reform, education reform, keeping taxes low and regulations down were the best way to create jobs.

Much of the discussion has come down to the state’s megasites, the large economic generators which hit home runs in the time of Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen. Volkswagen invested $1 million to make cars at a megasite in Chattanooga, and Hemlock Semiconductor made a similar investment in Clarksville for its solar plant. The state’s megasite for West Tennessee in Haywood County has not yet produced those kinds of results.

“In my counties, in West Tennessee, people haven’t seen a jobs plan from the majority in this Legislature. But they watched as the governor released his budget with no mention of the West Tennessee megasite, which is the single biggest jobs creator we have in the West Tennessee region, and the governor hasn’t funded it this year,” Finney said.

Finney noted that Haslam said as a candidate for governor that Tennessee needed job creation strategies for each of the state’s 95 counties.

“How are we supposed to create a county-by-county plan when we’re not including the biggest pieces of the plan?” Finney asked.

Rep. Johnny Shaw, D-Bolivar, recently complained about a lack of attention to the West Tennessee megasite. Ramsey has strongly rejected the idea that the state is holding up funds for the site.

Rep. Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, the House Republican Caucus chair, said it might take time to compare performance under Bredesen, who served two four-year terms, and Haslam, who was sworn in Jan. 15.

“Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Maggart said.

“I guess we could go back and look at Gov. Bredesen’s track record. I don’t know how long it took him to create jobs, but he was here for eight years, and I know Volkswagen and Hemlock and those things came in the last couple of years of his time here.”

The list of initiatives Democrats presented Monday include two measures sponsored by Sen. Jim Kyle, D-Memphis. One, SB1886, would create credits where the higher unemployment in a county the greater the tax credit would be for companies that located there.

Kyle also has proposed SJR0096, which calls for a constitutional amendment to establish a tax credit system to incentivize projects that stimulate economic growth.

Kyle noted Monday that the fiscal review staff said more than 200 businesses would take advantage of his tax credit proposal. He acknowledged the cost it would mean, but he pointed out that the bill got a negative recommendation in the finance subcommittee.

Maggart had a take on the tax-credit proposal.

“Democrats and tax credits? You jest,” she said. “Usually Democrats want to raise taxes, so I’m delighted to see they are interested in giving tax credits instead of raising taxes.”

Mike McWherter, the Democratic nominee last year against Haslam, made a tax credit proposal for job creation the cornerstone of his campaign. Haslam was elected overwhelmingly.

Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, the House Democratic leader, complained about the time element in addressing jobs, but he acknowledged that Republicans have the upper hand with their strong majorities in both Houses.

“We are three-quarters of the way through the session, and we haven’t passed bills we think Tennesseans want us to pass,” Fitzhugh said. “We’re not just trying to upset anybody or anything like that. We’re talking factually here.

“We’ve got a month left in the session. There’s still time for bipartisan action, for them to take the lead because they have the votes, and we will support job creation in this state. There’s nothing more important we can talk about from now until the end of the session.”

Other bills the Democrats presented as job creators were:

  • SB592/HB313, which calls for a small business sales tax holiday
  • SB1385/HB1676, which calls for block grants for Tennessee contractors with the lowest bids in most circumstances
  • SB0279/HB1957, which requires the board of education to develop a green jobs program
  • SB1170/HB1863, which exempts new limited liability corporations from initial filing fees
  • SB1548/HB1866, called the “Tennessee Small Business Job Tax Credit Act”
  • SB1549/HB1864, the “Tennessee New Entrepreneur Tax Credit Act of 2011”
  • SB1981/HB2102, which gives preference to Tennessee bidders if the cost of service is not 10 percent greater than those of others
  • SB2013/2014/HB1765/1764, the “Tennessee Reemployment Act of 2011,” which offers tax credits for employers equal to portions of wages paid to new full-time employees.
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Press Releases

TN Dept of Labor to Give Over $8 Mil to Laid Off GM Workers

Press Release from the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development and Gov. Bill Haslam; March 23, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Karla Davis today announced $8,397,127 to assist General Motors workers affected by layoffs in the automotive industry.

In addition to former General Motors employees in Spring Hill, the U.S. Department of Labor award aids workers at these supplier companies: Johnson Controls, MAPA Spontex, Penske Logistics, and Premier Manufacturing Services.

“The goal of this grant is to provide these workers the necessary training to find other career opportunities that will place them in new and permanent jobs,” said Haslam.

Examples of kinds of training workers can receive through the grant are Solar Photovoltaic (PV) Technology; Green Jobs Technology; several healthcare areas, including Licensed Practical Nursing; Automotive Technology; Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning, and Refrigeration (HVAC); Residential Wiring and Plumbing; Electronics; Computer Operation and Networking; and Hospitality Arts. Most of the courses are offered at the Training Center at Northfield.

“The layoffs have been a blow to workers in the ten counties surrounding the Spring Hill plant,” said Commissioner Karla Davis. “This grant allows us to serve more people affected by this closure, continue existing programs, and provide these workers the in-demand skills they need to get back to work.”

The grant is awarded to the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development and operated by the South Central Tennessee Workforce Board.

Jan McKeel, Executive Director for the South Central Tennessee Workforce Alliance, said the grant will not only focus on classroom training, but also on paid internships and on-the-job training.

“We are thrilled the emergency grant will enable us to offer these dislocated workers specialized training opportunities not currently available,” said Jan. “We will continue the great work we’ve started.”

Affected workers must apply at the Career Center at Northfield or one of the Tennessee Career Centers serving the following counties: Giles, Hickman, Lawrence, Lewis, Marshall, Maury, Perry, Wayne, Rutherford, and Williamson.

A number of the workers covered by the grant also are certified as eligible for Trade Adjustment Assistance. For those workers, this grant will provide access to “wrap-around” and supportive services, such as dependent care and transportation assistance, which are not available through the TAA program. Workers who are not eligible for TAA will have access to the full array of training and employment-related services available under the grant.

Of the $8,397,127 amount of the grant, $4,851,182 will be released initially. Additional funding up to the amount approved will be made available as need is demonstrated.

National Emergency Grants are part of the U.S. Secretary of Labor’s discretionary fund and are awarded based on a state’s ability to meet specific guidelines.

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Press Releases

Unemployment Rate Continues to Rise in TN

Press Release from Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development; March 17, 2011:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Commissioner of Labor & Workforce Development Karla Davis announced today Tennessee’s unemployment rate for February was 9.6 percent, up 0.2 from the revised January rate of 9.4 percent. The national unemployment rate for February 2011 was 8.9 percent, 0.1 percentage point lower than the January rate.

“Tennessee had 15,400 who entered the labor force — more than 10,000 of whom were able to find jobs,” said Commissioner Karla Davis. “The unemployment rate increase is largely attributable to the remaining 5,000 workers who were unable to find work.”

“As another positive sign, the business survey shows we’ve added 35,000 jobs since last February across a diverse range of industries. The year-over-year growth rate of 1.4% shows Tennessee’s employers are beginning to regain jobs lost during the recession,” Davis added.

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

January 2011 to February 2011

According to the Business Survey, government increased by 4,600 jobs (state and local educational services); private educational and health services increased by 4,400 jobs; and leisure and hospitality increased by 3,100 jobs. Major employment decreases occurred in retail trade, down by 3,500; transportation and warehousing declined by 800; and accommodation declined by 500 jobs.

Major Changes in Estimated Nonagricultural Employment

February 2010 to February 2011

Year-over-year increases occurred in private educational and health services, up by 11,700; professional and business services gained 9,900; and mining and construction was up by 7,800. Year-over-year decreases occurred in nondurable goods manufacturing, down by 2,500; retail trade lost 2,100; and information decreased by 1,400.