PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island’s Democratic governor has invited a Republican counterpart to help make the case for her plan to provide free tuition for two years at public colleges.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam talked with Rhode Island business leaders on a conference call Thursday.
Tennessee three years ago became the first state to make community college tuition-free for new high school graduates, and is considering an expansion to include older adults. Raimondo’s plan would go further, including not just community colleges but the last two years at four-year institutions. She says it’s a workforce development initiative.
Further from Rhode Island Public Radio
Gov. Bill Haslam has signed into law the “IMPROVE Act,” including increases in gasoline and diesel fuel taxes, on Wednesday — just two days after it gained final legislative approval, according to the governor’s press secretary, Jennifer Donnals.
That’s rapid processing, both for the legislative staff and the governor’s office. Often it takes a week or so for a bill to go through the “engrossing” process and other steps in formal requirements for presentation of a bill in final version to the governor. And then the governor has 10 days (counting Saturdays, but not Sundays), once a bill reaches his desk, to sign it, veto it or let it become law without his signature.
Presumably, the governor and legislative leaders simply wanted the process complete as they move to wrap up work on the state budget in the coming week or two. Action on the budget has been delayed this year – last year, the legislative session ended on April 20th – because several budget provisions hinged on whether or not the IMPROVE Act was approved or not.
In an email to media, Donnals says a more ballyhooed “ceremonial signing” will be scheduled at a later date. That will give legislative leaders and other dignitaries a chance to watch (and perhaps make speeches) as the governor goes through the motions of signing again a bill that has already become law.
With his tax package now approved by the legislature, Gov. Bill Haslam Tuesday proposed some changes to the 2017-18 state budget plan he presented back in February.
Maybe the most notable revisions are the addition of $55 million in supplemental one-time funding (from the current budget surplus) on road projects — beyond what is envisioned in his tax bill, which includes higher gas and diesel fuel taxes — and $40 million towards the $98 million needed to build a new state Library and Archives building, advocated for years by Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
Both of those proposals are virtually guaranteed approval of the legislature as lawmakers get into serious work on the budget next week. The publicly-released documents don’t say which road projects get the new advance funding (but one could speculate that projects in the districts of legislators who voted no on his proposl might not be a high priority). It also appears that the governor is leaving about $125 million in surplus money for legislators to distribute as they, collectively, decide how to spend.
From Tea Party leader Judson Phillips, writing in Tennessee Star (excerpt):
The Tennessee Republican Party died on April 19, 2017. Ten years after the GOP became the majority party in Tennessee, led by a liberal governor, the party committed political suicide.
By voting for the largest tax increase in the history of the state of Tennessee, the Republicans in the state legislature knifed their base in the back and repudiated everything they claim to stand for. Tennessee Republicans routinely make campaign speeches talking about how conservative they are and how they believe in limited government.
Today, Tennessee’s conservative base knows this is a lie… Unfortunately, the Tennessee Republicans supermajority in the legislature chose to listen to a lame duck, feckless crap weasel governor instead of the people who put them in office.
From Gov. Bill Haslam
“The IMPROVE Act is the largest tax cut in Tennessee history, makes us more competitive as we’re recruiting manufacturing jobs and keeps our transportation network safe, reliable and debt-free for the next generation of Tennesseans. While there remains action to be taken on this legislation, I want to thank both chambers for their votes today on the IMPROVE Act, particularly Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville) and Reps. Barry Doss (R-Leoma) and Bill Dunn (R-Knoxville) for their work carrying the legislation.”
Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill responding to a fatal school bus wreck in Chattanooga last year has been moved ahead without opposition but he’s staying out of a more controversial debate over whether the vehicles should be required to have seat belts, reports the Times-Free Press.
The governor told reporters that his administration is “technical deferred” on HB395 by Rep. JoAnn Favors, D-Chattanooga. His bill (HB322) won unanimous House approval Monday. Favors’ bill has cleared a couple of key committees on close votes, but still has a long way to go.
“I think there’s a big discussion back and forth in the Legislature,” Haslam said. “Deferred means if they pass it, we’ll sign it and figure out a way to fund it. But we’re not actively engaged in that one. The proposal we made was the proposal that we obviously wanted to make certain would happen.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell, who last week declared her support for an alternative to Gov. Bill Haslam’s tax package proposal, now says she’s “leaning” toward support of the administration bill, reports the Times-Free Press.
The governor, meanwhile, has set up 20-minute private interviews with 15 legislators considered “on the fence” in voting for the bill, reports The Tennessee Star. There are 11 Republicans and four Democrats on the list of legislators getting an emailed invitation.
The House floor vote on Haslam’s bill is scheduled for Wednesday.
West Tennessee pharmacist Richard Skiles has been appointed by Gov. Billl Haslam to the Tennessee Alcoholic Beverage Commission, filling vacancy left on the board by the resignation in January of Mary McDaniel of Memphis.
While Skiles is the newest member of the panel, he probably won’t have that status for long, as observed by Nashville Post Politics. A bill already passed by the Senate (SB556) was approved by the House State Government Committee on Wednesday. It adds two new members to the ABC – one appointed by the House speaker, the other by the Senate speaker – to join the three now appointed by the governor.
Similar legislation passed the Senate last year, but was killed in the State Government sub about the same time the ABC’s executive director abruptly quit the post – moves that Senate Republican Leader Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro says were related.
The House sponsor this year is Republican Rep. Bill Sanderson who shares Kenton as a home town with new Commissioner Skiles and is also chairman of the full State Government Committee.
Note: For a lengthy review of the pending bill and some of the ABC politics involved, see a News Sentinel report HERE. An excerpt:
Gov. Bill Haslam gas tax bill won approval of the House Finance Committee in a voice vote Tuesday after an alternative proposal promoted by House Speaker Beth Harwell was discussed, then shelved without a vote.
The Harwell alternative came in the form of an amendment sponsored by Rep. David Hawk, R-Greeneville, that would have diverted sales tax revenue from vehicle sales to the highway fund rather than the state’s general fund. Haslam’s bill (HB534) raises the gas tax by six cents per gallon and the diesel fuel tax by 10 cents per gallon over a three-year period. It also includes cuts to other taxes.
Further from The Tennessean:
The House finance committee’s approval of Haslam’s bill assures the measure could receive a vote on the House floor, barring any last minute legislative high jinks. (It’s already cleared for a Senate floor vote.)
… Rep. Gerald McCormick moved to reject Hawk’s proposal, which led the Greeneville Republican to withdraw his amendment.
McCormick said because Hawk’s amendment would have completely rewritten the bill, the committee should be leery of taking such action.
“I’m really afraid that we could make some serious mistakes doing that,” McCormick said.
Despite pulling back his amendment, Hawk vowed to continue to fight over the measure on the House floor.
“I will state that this issue is far from being done. We will have a conversation on the floor about how we need to better fund transportation and what is the most responsible way to do that as we serve our constituents,” Hawk said. “That’s a promise. We will have a debate on the floor and we will bring an amendment to the floor.”
By a one-vote margin, a House committee today shot down legislation that would grant in-state college tuition rates to undocumented students who have graduated from Tennessee high schools. Seven members of the House Education Administration and Planning Committee members voted against HB660; six for it.
A similar bill passed the Senate last year but failed on the House floor by one vote.
In an appearance before the Washington County Republican Women’s Club on Monday, Randy Boyd was asked if his main goal in running for governor is to carry on Gov. Bill Haslam’s legacy, reports the Johnson City Press.
“I’ll hopefully be able to do new and bolder things, but I have to confess that I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for (Haslam), his guidance and his example,” the Knoxville native answered during a brief Q&A session.
Boyd then mentioned he was intent on fulfilling the “Drive to 55,” a state initiative that aims to put a college degree or certificate in the hands of 55 percent of Tennesseans by 2025.
“It’s something I want to see finished,” Boyd, who served as Haslam’s commissioner of economic development, said.
“I’ll say there is a difference maybe in emphasis. The focus on the technical and vocational schools will be a matter of emphasis. … The things I want to focus on is making sure we have those technical skills at our high schools and our Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology. We’re going to put a real priority on that.”
Boyd is often credited as the architect of the “Drive to 55” campaign and a fundamental element to the campaign is Tennessee Promise, a scholarship and mentoring program that covers tuition for in-state students at any of Tennessee’s 13 community colleges or 27 colleges of applied technology.
But expanding that initiative to cover tuition at all of Tennessee’s four-year colleges just doesn’t seem plausible, Boyd said.