Monthly Archives: December 2016

Tennessee became home for 2,051 refugees in past year — 30% increase

Tennessee accepted 2,051 refugees in the last fiscal year, nearly a 30 percent increase from the number of refugees who came to Tennessee in the prior year, reports The Tennessean.

The increase comes with a pending lawsuit – authorized by the Legislature during the past session — challenging resettlement in Tennessee. A private law firm will represent Tennessee in the lawsuit after Attorney General Herbert Slatery declined to do so.

Sen. Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said he is committed to following that lawsuit through, even with (President-elect) Trump’s pledge to shut the doors to refugees.

Refugee advocates say they are equally committed to ensuring the nation’s refugee program remains open.

“In the weeks following the election, we have been overwhelmed by an unprecedented outpouring of support for immigrant and refugee communities,” said Stephanie Teatro, co-executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights..  “We will continue to expose and challenge elected officials who undermine the refugee resettlement program for political gain. We cannot let politicians exploit the fears and uncertainty Tennesseans face at the expense of our values. We deserve better and must demand greater leadership.”

…In the past year, the largest numbers of refugees arrived from the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iraq, Syria and Somalia. More than half of the refugees were settled in Nashville with the remainder settling in Tennessee’s other main urban centers: Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga.

Confirmed as Regents chancellor, Tydings seeks premiere system status

Fresh off a confirmation vote Tuesday making her the new chancellor of the Tennessee Board of Regents, Dr. Flora Tydings is setting an ambitious goal to transform the higher education entity into the “nation’s premiere  technical and community college system,” reports the Times-Free Press.

Tydings, the current president of Chattanooga State Community College…  takes over formally as chancellor on Feb. 1 and will be paid $345,000 annually… She called it a “privilege” and an honor to “serve the state of Tennessee as your next chancellor, moving us through the transition of the FOCUS Act and toward becoming the nation’s premier technical and community college system.”

…Haslam told the regents… “We are not backing up at all in our commitment to our community college network and our technical schools. I think the role these schools play in our state will grow exponentially.”

Haslam also called it “a good thing when we have somebody we know and have seen their track record of performance take this position.”

TN political notebook, holiday edition: A Democrat’s money musings, gas tax increase and other stuff

Mike Stewart: Democrats need long-term funding

Tennessee House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Stewart writes in The Hill that “movers and shakers in national Democratic politics” have been ignoring state-level politics while Republicans have not – and that’s a big factor in “their most improbable victory year,” the election of Donald Trump as president.

His bottom line:

Democrats in the states need what their Republican counterparts have had for a decade – a well-funded national apparatus dedicated to the specific task of winning down-ballot elections.  This can take many forms, and much of the needed machinery is likely already in place within the DNC, the DLCC and their allies.  But to be real it requires long-term funding and a sustained commitment to turning red legislatures blue again.  Until that happens, Democrats will continue to see their candidates win all the debates but come up short on Election Day.

Pollster: Tennesseans ready for higher fuel tax

John Geer, Vanderbilt political science professor and pollster, writes in an op-ed piece that a majority of Tennessee voters think the state’s roads are in “only fair” or “poor” condition and are ready to support a gas tax increase to improve them.

Specifically, 67 percent favor a 2 cent per gallon increase, 55 percent favor an 8 cent per gallon increase, and 47 percent even favor a 15 cent per gallon increase to improve roads and bridges in the state.

… Despite all the understandable concerns about higher taxes, there are issues and times when government needs more revenue to ensure a brighter future for the state. The results of our latest Vanderbilt Poll suggest that repairing roads and bridges is one of those issues and this is one of those times.

Lamar backs state-level gas tax hike — again

On the gas tax front, it’s pointed out that U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander basically endorsed a state gas tax hike in a press release last month as Gov. Bill Haslam’s term as governor is winding down – just as Alexander did back in 1986 when his term as governor was winding down.  The governor-turned-senator says waiting for Congress to provide funding is wrongheaded. An excerpt:

“Why send Tennessee dollars to Washington, D.C., take some out for overhead, add some regulations and send what’s left back to Tennessee? Conservatives who believe in the 10th Amendment ought to want to keep our money at home, let local officials use it to meet real needs and pay as you go with zero debt.”

He added, “That’s exactly what Tennessee did 30 years ago. In 1986, I proposed and the legislature enacted a massive $5.7 billion Better Roads Program. It has done more than anything else the state could have done to attract the auto industry, increase family incomes and spread auto jobs throughout the state.”

The release, interestingly, doesn’t mention a follow-up increase in the gas tax, enacted under former Gov. Ned McWherter in 1989 that provided a good chunk of the money needed to cover Alexander’s road plans. Tennessee fuel taxes haven’t been raised since.

Cutting other taxes: Cover for gas tax boost?

Excerpt from a Sunday News Sentinel column by yours truly:

In the upcoming legislative session, it appears likely that lawmakers will be in the odd situation of considering a tax increase and tax cuts at the same time and, further, it’s conceivable that both could happen in a curious post-holiday gift exchange.

Haslam had pre-Christmas meetings to talk over his taxing plans with legislators last week. One gift idea is that the governor could go along with some tax cuts if Republican legislators would also go along in exchange with a gas tax hike – especially if the whole package is pitched as something approaching “revenue neutral.”

Logically, we are talking about separate pots of money – one for overall “general fund” government use that’s awash in money; the other specifically for building and maintaining roads that’s well short of needs. Most legislators understand that, but they also understand that GOP primary voters don’t like tax increases of any sort and fear the political consequences of backing one.

Still, the idea of exchanging tax cuts for funding of one governmental function while increasing taxes for funding of another might be seen as providing enough political cover against anti-tax fervor to make the risk worth taking for a majority of the 110th General Assembly – especially given that the business lobby generally supports enhanced road revenue and generally favors corporate tax breaks, especially in areas with unfunded road needs.

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Educator withdraws as Chattanooga mayor candidate, backs Berke opponent

Longtime educator Gail Francis has dropped out of Chattanooga’s mayoral race to support Larry Grohn’s bid for the seat, reports the Times-Free Press.

Francis was one of five candidates who qualified to seek the mayor’s seat, but she withdrew Thursday, the deadline to pull out.

Mayor Andy Berke, former three-time councilman David Crockett and businessman and former builder Chris Long remain in the race with Grohn, the councilman in District 4.

The Grohn campaign released a statement by Francis on Thursday.

“I had the opportunity to meet and speak to Councilman Grohn, and believe that the issues that are important to me, issues that pushed me into this race are issues that Councilman Grohn is standing on,” Francis said. “It is time for change in our city. It is time for action and a new direction.”

Grohn said he was honored to have her support, citing her work with Orange Grove, service on boards across the community and “a heart that loves our inner city and the drive to see the change we need.

TN revenue bonanza leads legislators to eye more tax cuts

Based on State Funding Board projections, the Tennessee General Assembly will have close to $2 billion in extra money to distribute during the upcoming legislative session above current year spending, prompting legislator talk of tax cuts as Gov. Bill Haslam seeks a tax increase.

Further from the News Sentinel:

The Funding Board projections, adopted unanimously on Nov. 29, foresee up to $878 million in new, recurring money available for spending on an annual basis starting in the 2016-17 state fiscal year that begins June 30. Economists involved in analyzing the data suggest the figure might be conservative – as the estimates have been in recent past years.

That is an unprecedented figure for new recurring money in that state budget excepting years following a major tax increase – most notably a 2002 hike in the state sales tax and other levies that, combined, provided about $1 billion in new funding.

In addition to the bonanza in recurring funds for next year, the state is expected to have about $1 billion in surplus tax collection funds to spend on a one-time basis – or “non-recurring” money in budgeting lingo.

…Senate Finance Committee Chairman Randy McNally, R-Oak Ridge, who is expected to be elected Senate speaker and lieutenant governor on the session’s opening day, and House Finance Committee Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, both said in separate interviews that they would like to seek a substantial chunk of the new recurring money go toward cutting taxes.

The veteran lawmakers both also said their personal priority in tax-cutting would be a reduction in the state’s excise tax, a 6.5 percent levy on corporate income. According to the Tax Foundation, Tennessee’s tax on corporate income is currently the 18th highest in the nation. Among Tennessee’s eight neighboring states, Arkansas and Alabama are also at 6.5 percent while the rest are lower – the lowest being North Carolina at 4 percent.

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Historic correction? David Crockett, not ‘Davy,’ was born in on a mountaintop in TN

The state park named after the “king of the wild frontier” – as he was dubbed in a popular 1960s song —  is getting an overhaul, financed by federal and state money, along with official abandonment of his nickname.

The 105-acre site in Greene County, now officially the Davy Crockett Birthplace State Park, will officially become instead the David Crockett Birthplace State Park, reports the Greeneville Sun.

That announcement by Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Deputy Commissioner Brock Hill brought nods and positive exclamations from several in the crowd (of 25-30 “invited supporters”), the newspaper says.

Hobart Akin, cultural resources and exhibits specialist for TDEC, said that $700,000 in funding from a federal grant that was supplemented by state matching funds will pay for the portion of the work that involves upgrading the visitor center. Hill said other state funds provided through the administration of Gov. Bill Haslam have been identified to fund the other portions of the project. Work is expected to begin early in 2017.

… Despite containing a log cabin symbolizing the one in which Crockett was born and other frontier touches, for decades the site has been visually dominated by a modern swimming pool and related buildings, a campground, various picnic pavilions and a paved parking area.

Hill and Akin said that none of those more modern features will leave the park, though some, such as parking areas, will be moved. Overall, the historical aspects of the site will become more dominant, with the more modern areas less accented. Privacy methods including plant screening will be used to make the pool area less visible from the historical sections.

 …Not only will there be an enlarged and enhanced garden area, but there will be animal enclosures with cattle, horses and chickens. Areas now covered by paved parking spots will be made earthen again, with most parking shifted to a different area.

Note: A new bust of Crockett at the state Capitol – it bears the name David, not “Davy” – was unveiled on Dec. 6. The Tennessee Arts Commission news release on that event is HERE.

davy

Eric Trump ends fundraising for foundation that benefits St. Jude Children’s Hospital

One of President-elect Donald Trump’s sons will stop raising money for his foundation, which gives money to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis because donations could be perceived as buying access to his father, reports the Associated Press.

Eric Trump said Wednesday that it pained him to cease soliciting donations for his organization, which he says has raised more than $15 million for children terminally ill with cancer…. (T)he younger of the president-elect’s two adult sons, has raised enough money over the last decade to fund a new intensive care unit at St. Jude, which provides free medical care for children.

Eric Trump said he will likely wind down the Eric Trump Foundation — which had just one employee — but plans to continue public advocacy against childhood cancer. About $5 million of a $20 million, 10-year commitment to St. Jude remains outstanding, money that likely will be raised by donations from patrons at Trump-owned hotels and golf courses.

… The Kay Research Care Center’s 328,000 square feet at St. Jude includes the Eric Trump Foundation Surgery and ICU Center. The Eric Trump Foundation’s total commitment to St. Jude was to $28 million since 2006, including the $5 million outstanding.

… “Fighting childhood cancer is a cause that has been central to my life since I was 21 years old,” Eric Trump told The Associated Press. “It’s an extremely sad day when doing the right thing isn’t the right thing. That said, raising awareness for the cause will be a lifelong mission for me.”

… Eric Trump’s foundation scuttled a plan to raise money for the children’s hospital through an online auction for coffee with his sister Ivanka Trump, who is considering joining the White House in some capacity. (Note: Previous post HERE.) And Eric and Donald Trump Jr. backed away from an inauguration event that aimed to raise money for conservation charities.

They were named as directors along with two of their friends in a new Texas-based nonprofit that had considered offering $1 million donors the chance to rub elbows with the new president at a “Camouflage & Cufflinks” ball in Washington the day after Trump’s swearing-in. The nonprofit also proposed allowing some donors to join one or both of the sons on a hunting or fishing trip.

UPDATE/Note: Trump apparently wasn’t happy with the move. His tweet, as reported by CNN:

“My wonderful son, Eric, will no longer be allowed to raise money for children with cancer because of a possible conflict of interest with … my presidency,” Trump tweeted. “Isn’t this a ridiculous shame? He loves these kids, has raised millions of dollars for them, and now must stop. Wrong answer!”

Report: Corker’s business deals, short stature hurt chances of Trump cabinet job

Republican Tennessee Sen. Bob Corker was reportedly a contender to become President-elect Donald Trump’s secretary of state, but internal documents provided by a Trump confidant reveal that insider trading allegations lowered Corker’s chances of being chosen, reports The Daily Caller.

Additionally, two sources close to the Trump transition process told The Daily Caller that Sen. Corker’s short stature was a trait the president-elect did not want in his top diplomat.

The documents provided to The DC were crafted before and after the time Sen. Corker was also being considered to become Trump’s vice president. One of them is titled, “Bob Corker: Mixing Public Service with Personal Profit.”

This document includes details about news reports of Sen. Corker’s investments into companies owned by donors and friends of the Tennessee senator. “While they have not commented publicly on the case, investigators appear to be looking into whether Corker’s trades may have been based on inside information,” the document said about an FBI and SEC investigation reported by The Wall Street Journal into Chattanooga real estate company CBL & Associates.

The document goes on to say, “Some of the transactions in question involved CBL, but they were not the only firm with long ties to Corker where he appears to have hidden the degree of his involvement.”

It states that there is a “concern” that Corker’s investments into two Chattanooga hedge funds founded by donors and friends of Corker were based on”privileged information that Corker obtains as a Senator.”

Corker’s relationship with Chattanooga businessman Henry Luken also raised eyebrows for the Trump team. “Best known as a communications magnate, Luken acquired the lion’s share of Corker’s failing real estate empire from him in 2006, while Corker was running for Congress and just before the credit crunch sparked by the financial crisis,” the document states. “As a result of the sale of the highly leveraged assets, Corker not only avoided the subsequent calamity, but he was given the liquidity he urgently needed to fund his own campaign.”

UPDATE/NOTE: Corker press secretary Micah Johnson offers this response to the Caller article; “This error-ridden document produced by Wall Street hedge funds seeking to discredit the work Senator Corker is doing to protect taxpayers and reform our housing finance system has been floating around D.C. since early last year, long before he was considered for Vice President or Secretary of State. Officials at the highest level of the Trump campaign and transition were well aware of the nefarious activity and false accusations begin generated by these shady actors, which in no way dissuaded them from considering Senator Corker for either of these positions. They also know that there are absolutely no investigations underway.”

 

All the best,

New comprehensive report on TN government finance released

News release from Department of Finance and Administration

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The state of Tennessee has completed its annual financial report for fiscal year 2015-16.  The Department of Finance and Administration’s Division of Accounts prepares the Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), which is the state’s primary means of reporting its financial activities, and has been nationally recognized for excellent financial reporting.

“Tennessee annually provides a thorough and detailed report on the state finances, fulfilling our duty to be publicly accountable and transparent.” Commissioner Larry Martin said. “The CAFR is a summary of the results of approximately 100 million financial transactions processed in a given year, and serves as an example of state leadership’s continuing commitment to maintaining the highest standards of accountability in financial reporting.

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New state auto insurance verification system implemented

The Tennessee Department of Revenue has a new online system in place to implement a law enacted by the 2015 Legislature with the goal of reducing uninsured drivers in the state, reports WTVF-TV.  The insurance verification system, which becomes operational in January, will match vehicle identification numbers to all registered auto insurance policies.

If you are unable to provide proof of financial responsibility (insurance), you can face fines or the risk of having your vehicle registration suspended.

…Law enforcement agencies have access to the system too. Instead of checking for insurance coverage during vehicle registrations, officials can review them randomly at anytime of the year.

“If you’ve never been out of compliance then you probably won’t see a difference,” State Representative William Lamberth (R-Portland, House sponsor of the 2015 law) said. “If you are one of the drivers on the roadway uninsured, then you will get caught, and before you get tags renewed, you’ll have to have insurance on that vehicle.”

…According to Lamberth, one in five Tennessee drivers are without insurance.

“We have had individuals in our state that have been hurt and killed by uninsured drivers that never should be driving to begin with,” Lamberth added.

The state stresses that drivers still need to carry the proof of insurance. Drivers should make sure their VIN is correct on registration and insurance documents.

Note: The Department of Revenue press release on the system is HERE. And there’s a department webpage on insurance laws HERE.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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