bill haslam

Anti-tax leader: Revised Haslam transportation bill is not a tax increase

The latest version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation legislation has received a blessing from Grover Norquist, a national anti-tax activist, who says the package overall reduces more taxes than it increases. Haslam, who sought Norquist’s opinion, says that is “a really big deal,” reports the Times-Free Press.

Under the version of Haslam’s plan advancing in the Senate, the state would increase its tax on gas by 6 cents per gallon and diesel by 10 cents per gallon, but also cut other areas including the sales tax on groceries, the tax on earnings from stocks and bonds and corporate taxes owed by large manufacturers.

Norquist, founder of the group Americans for Tax Reform, said in a letter to state House and Senate members that the most recent version of the governor’s bill advancing in Senate represents a “net tax cut,” and does not violate lawmakers’ pledges to not raise taxes.

He also noted that the Senate had removed a proposal to link fuel taxes to inflation, “which means gas tax hikes will not be put on autopilot.”

The Haslam administration sought Norquist’s input on the Tennessee plan after seeing that Americans for Tax Reform supported gas tax increases in New Jersey and South Carolina when they were coupled with tax relief.

Norquist’s position on the Tennessee gas tax proposal contrasts with the strong opposition voiced by the state chapter of Americans For Prosperity, founded by billionaire industrialist brothers Charles and David Koch.

…Haslam told reporters he considers the announcement from Norquist to be “a really big deal.”

“This is somebody who’s kind of staked his whole thing on we should never have tax increases,” Haslam said. “Whether you agree or not, the fact that the founder of that movement — who had people sign no-new-tax pledges — says this is not a tax increase.”

Note: The Nashville Post has full text of the letter HERE. Meanwhile, Tennessee Star reports Norquist’s support has caused a backlash.

(T)he fierce backlash from conservative opponents of the gas tax increase in Tennessee to the last minute attempt by supporters of the governor’s plan to bolster its chances by calling in a “celebrity ” who has never lived in the state and knows little of the intricacies of the bill or the state’s budget, spells more, rather than less, political trouble ahead for the governor and his allies.

Haslam, other GOP govs, fret over lack of flexibility in health care bill

“Flexibility” has become a buzzword among 15 Republican governors raising concerns about U.S. House GOP’s health care bill, reports Politico, including Tennessee’s Bill Haslam on it list. No governors have publicly expressed strong support for the American Health Care Act.

Further from an AP report: The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that GOP legislation would increase the ranks of the uninsured by 14 million people next year alone, and 24 million over a decade. Haslam says it’s not clear how many people would be affected in Tennessee, and that the legislation could still change in Congress.

The Republican governor said Tuesday that the main thing the state is looking for in the overhaul is more flexibility to deal with areas like increased enrollment during an economic downturn or escalating costs for medications. He says that flexibility was not included in the in the original version of the proposed overhaul.

Similar language was used by the director of TennCare in an appearance before the House Finance Committee on Tuesday, reports the Tennessean. She said the proposal is structured to reduce Medicaid funding without loosening up regulations for states to further tailor programs.

“We definitely have concerns at this point in time,” said Long, adding the agency would continue to be in touch with the state’s federal congressional delegation to monitor amendments.

Senate panel goes for revised gas tax bill

The Senate Transportation Committee approved Monday a revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding legislation. Instead of a July 1 increase of seven cents a gallon on gasoline, the new version –  changed with the governor’s approval – calls for a six-cents-per-gallon increase phased in over three years. The diesel fuel tax would also be phased in, rising over three years by 10 cents per gallon rather than an  July 1 increase of 13 cents as originally proposed.

Excerpt from The Tennessean’s account:

Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, said after conversations with Haslam in recent days, they had reached an agreement on the various changes to his bill.

… Among the changes included in Norris’ amendment were a portion that would provide tax relief to the elderly and disabled veterans, reduce the sales tax on groceries to 4 percent, and a tax hike on gas and diesel fuel of 6 cents and 10 cents per gallon, respectively. (Note: The deal cuts the grocery tax by 1 percent – it’s currently 5 percent – instead of half a percentage point as Haslam proposed.)

The gas and diesel tax increases would be phased in over three years. For the upcoming 2017-2018 fiscal year, the gas tax would be increased by 4 cents. In each subsequent fiscal year it would increase by 1 cent.

The diesel tax would be increased by 4 cents in the upcoming fiscal year and would be hiked in the following fiscal years before maxing out at 27 cents in fiscal year 2019-2020.

Unlike the phased-in approach on the gas and diesel taxes, the decrease in the state’s sales tax would be immediate. The cuts to the tax on groceries would result in a $120 million reduction in revenue for the state.

… Other significant changes included in Norris’ amendment is a portion that would would increase the amount of tax relief a service-connected disabled veteran could receive. Right now, eligible veterans can receive tax relief based only on the value of the first $100,000 of their home. The latest proposal would increase the amount to $135,100.

Interim appointment, special election set to pick new state rep

The Shelby County Commission has set April 3 as the date for a meeting to choose a temporary successor to state Rep. Mark Lovell, who resigned after being accused of sexual harassment, and Gov. Bill Haslam has set later dates for two special elections in the House District 95 seat.

The governor’s writ of election, issued Thursday, sets the primary special election for April 27 and the general election for June 15. There will be a 15-day early voting period preceding both.

The district is considered strongly Republican. Lovell, a Republican, defeated longtime Republican Rep. Curry Todd in the August, 2016, GOP primary.

County commissioners say they’ve heard from “dozens” of people interested in seeking appointment to the position on an interim basis, according to WREG-TV. The interim appointee, of course, can then run in the special elections to keep the seat on a full-time basis.

County commissioners say they’ve heard from “dozens” of people interested in seeking appointment to the position on an interim basis, according to WREG-TV. The interim appointee, of course, can then run in the special elections to keep the seat on a full-time basis.

Haslam gas tax gutted by House sub — but it’s still alive

Gov. Bill Haslam’s fuel tax legislation was battered and bruised by the House Transportation Subcommittee on Wednesday, but nonetheless survived to face continued combat in the legislative arena.

The sub rejected two competing proposals. One (HB1012) by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, would have diverted money from the state’s general fund to highway projects without raising any taxes. It got just three yes votes versus five no votes. The other (HB53) by Rep. Jason Zachary, R-Knoxville, called for diverting 25 percent of any state revenue surplus in a given month to the highway fund, also eliminating any tax increases. The vote on that measure was a 4-4 tie, which means it failed under House rules.

The Haslam bill (HB534) was approved 5-4 with House Speaker Pro Tempore Curtis Johnson (R-Clarksville) stepping in, as authorized under House rules, to break a 4-4 tie. But that came only after the panel adopted amendments – one of them eliminating any fuel tax increases, the other scrapping an “indexing” provision that authorized future gas tax increases automatically to cover inflation. The bill thus bears little resemblance to the original Haslam proposal.

Still, the vote means the governor’s bill moves on in the legislative process, where it can be revised to eliminate the House sub amendments and restored to its original content – or not.

Excerpt from The Tennessean’s report:

In advance of the meeting, dozens of people wearing bright green and red Americans for Prosperity T-shirts packed the committee room. The group, led by Andy Ogles, the state chapter director, and former conservative talk radio show host Steve Gill, took pictures with a mascot dubbed “Gas Tax Man.”

Ogles estimated over 100 people against the gas tax were inside Legislative Plaza in advance of the committee’s action.

After the committee’s took up the transportation bills, he said the newly amended proposal is essentially “a Trojan horse” that will likely revert to Haslam’s plan.

“What it will reveal is that (House Speaker) Beth Harwell just helped the governor raise the gas tax,” said Ogles.

Kara Owen, a spokeswoman for Harwell, said the speaker has frequently said all transportation proposals would get a fair hearing, which is what occurred Wednesday. “There are still many more hurdles ahead, and we anticipate the bill will continue to change throughout the process. She looks forward to continuing the discussion regarding transportation and infrastructure funding,” Owen said.

Haslam report from Washington: Things ‘pretty fluid’ on Obamacare, but he’s encouraged

After  a long weekend in Washington, including meeting with President Trump along with other governors, Gov. Bill Haslam says things are “pretty fluid” on repealing and replacing Obamacare in the nation’s capitol but he’s encouraged that the presidential administration, Congress and governors are working together on the matter.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

“What we’re trying to do is have everybody be on the same page with something that can actually pass and will work in the states,” Haslam said.

In play are several key aspects as Republicans seek to change the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, as well as the traditional Medicaid program for the poor, thereby saving billions for the federal government but potentially impacting millions of Americans.

One is ending the status of Medicaid as an open-ended entitlement Medicaid program with newcomers able to come in with the federal government picking up varying percentages of the tab with states covering a smaller percentage of costs.

…Haslam acknowledged difficulty in getting everyone on the same page.

“Obviously, to get something passed you’re going to have to do something that states that expanded and those who didn’t can live with,” said Haslam.

Haslam was appointed to the eight-person working group by Republican Governors Association Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin.

House Republicans’ plan includes a proposal to turn federal Medicaid financing from an open-ended entitlement to a block grant or a per capita allotment to states. Haslam said he favors the latter.

He also thinks states like Tennessee, which didn’t expand Medicaid, shouldn’t be harmed financially because they didn’t.

“No. 1, I don’t think that a state should be penalized who didn’t expand as we do that,” the governor said. “No. 2, I think it has to be something, I’m more in favor of a per cap-type grant rather than a block grant.”

A block grant provides a set amount of federal spending per year regardless of how many people enroll in a state’s Medicaid program. According to the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation, the per capita grant differs in that the federal government would set a limit on how much to reimburse states per enrollee.

Haslam, other govs, meet with Trump on Obamacare

Tennessee’s Bill Haslam was among a group of governors meeting with President Trump Monday for a discussion of Obamacare, reports the Associated Press.

“It’s an unbelievably complex subject. Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated,” Trump told the governors.

Haslam unsuccessfully pushed a plan to expand health insurance access to hundreds of thousands of low-income Tennesseans. Haslam’s Insure Tennessee plan would have used funds made available through the Affordable Care Act.

“There was discussion around a couple of topics, including infrastructure, but the discussion was predominantly around health care, and Gov. Haslam was very encouraged by the amount of collaboration between the White House, Congress and governors on this issue,” Haslam spokeswoman Laura Herzog said by email Monday. “He has never seen the White House and Congress listen to governors as much as they are doing now.”

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Architects, engineers object to Haslam’s park privatization plans

Tennessee architects and engineers say Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to privatize operations at Fall Creek Falls State Park would largely bypass the State Building Commission, which normally oversees all state property projects, reports the Times-Free Press.

That brings them into “the political battle between the administration on one side and, on the other, state employees and Van Buren County who oppose outsourcing hospitality services at the remote Cumberland Plateau park considered the “jewel” of Tennessee’s park system.”

The administration has set aside $22 million to tear down the park’s inn and build a new one. The proposal would allow vendors to select their own architects, engineers and construction teams. But William Blankenship, a Knoxville architect and president of the American Institute of Architects- Tennessee, said the RFP “circumvents” the State Building Commission.

When “the state of Tennessee hires me as the designer and I sign a contract with the state, I serve the state and I serve the state’s best interest,” Blankenship said.

“When somebody’s working for a concessionaire out of New York City, they’re going to sign a contract with that concessionaire. Do you really think he’s going to work in the state’s best interest? He’s going to move across the table to the concessionaire. And they’re going to work together either for or against the state of Tennessee.”

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Democrat Dean running to succeed Haslam, ‘a very good governor’

After months of touring the state in preparation, former Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has declared he will seek the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018. He made the announcement to The Tennessean with the story running in Gannet-owned newspapers statewide on Sunday. An excerpt:

Dean, mayor of Nashville from 2007 to 2015, said he intends to file paperwork Monday to appoint Calvin Anderson, a former executive of BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee from Memphis, his campaign treasurer. Doing so will allow him to begin raising money for his campaign in the 2018 race to replace Republican Gov. Bill Haslam.

…“Everybody understands that somebody running as a Democrat enters the race with certain disadvantages,” Dean said. “Or maybe a better way to say it is Republicans have a lot of advantages. I appreciate that this will be the hardest thing that I have ever done. I don’t have any illusions about that.”

… Dean said he believes many Tennesseans from both parties favor the middle over party extremes.

He’s looking to stake out the sort of centrist lane that helped catapult Democrats’ most recent statewide officeholder, former Gov. Phil Bredesen, who also was an ex-mayor of Nashville. For now, Dean is avoiding partisan attacks. In fact, Dean called Haslam, a Republican, a “very good governor” and he declined to offer a single criticism of the sitting governor when asked.

“I think I’m a moderate,” Dean said, claiming support of Democrats and Republicans as mayor, which was a nonpartisan office. “My sense is good things happen when you’re in the middle of the road. That’s where you can find agreement and move things forward.

…Dean sometimes butted heads with Democrats over his support of publicly financed, privately led charter schools. He’s also not allied with labor unions, a key Democratic constituency. He instead has closer ties to the business community and Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce.

Haslam helping congressmen seek GOP Obamacare repeal deal

Republican congressmen are hoping four Republican governors – including Tennessee’s Bill Haslam – will help them draft a deal for replacing Obamacare, according to CNN.

The governors are Haslam and Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who serve in states where Medicaid was not expanded under the Affordable Care Act, along with the chief executives of two states that did expand Medicaid, John Kasich of Ohio and Brian Sandova of Nevada.

The discussions are likely to continue at the National Governors Association meeting in Washington this week, and as Kasich privately meets later this week with Trump at the White House.

The thinking is that if these four can cut a deal, it will help resolve an issue that GOP leaders say is currently the biggest hurdle in putting together a plan to repeal President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. But they have a monumental task: resolving concerns from conservatives who want to turn Medicaid into a block grant program and alleviate fears from politicians who hail from states that accepted federal dollars to expand coverage for low-income adults under Obamacare.

“We’re going to have to find a solution that accommodates those concerns,” House Speaker Paul Ryan said last week.

Republicans are hoping to unveil a plan in March that could be voted on within the next several weeks. They are under a time constraint because they are using fast-track budget rules that will allow them to avoid a filibuster in the Senate and pass a repeal bill on a party-line vote.

The party is still divided over key issues — including how far to take the repeal bill. Conservatives in the House Freedom Caucus want to pass a full-blown repeal bill that mirrors a plan that Congress approved in 2015 — and Obama vetoed — which would also repeal the Medicaid expansion.

Yet top Senate Republicans privately say that such an approach would not pass their chamber.


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

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