federal funding

Memphis picked for program providing more federal aid in fighting crime

Memphis is one of 12 cities picked for a new anti-crime program being launched by the U.S. Department of Justice, reports Politico.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the coordinated help Tuesday from various branches of the Justice Department, including federal prosecutors in U.S. Attorneys offices, agents from the FBI and Drug Enforcement Administration, and officials who oversee law-enforcement-focused grants.

“Turning back the recent troubling increase of violent crime in our country is a top priority of the Department of Justice and the Trump Administration, as we work to fulfill the President’s promise to make America safe again,” Sessions said as the Justice Department kicked off a two-day summit in Bethesda, Maryland, spotlighting strategies for cracking down on violent crime . “The Department of Justice will work with American cities suffering from serious violent crime problems.”

The initial round of cities selected for the newly-created Public Safety Partnership are Birmingham, Alabama; Indianapolis, Indiana; Memphis, Tennessee; Toledo, Ohio; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Buffalo, New York; Cincinnati, Ohio; Houston, Texas; Jackson, Tennessee; Kansas City, Missouri; Lansing, Michigan, and Springfield, Illinois.

The new program will include “diagnostic teams” aimed at identifying crime-fighting strategies for cities experiencing serious violent crime issues and “operations teams” that will embark on a three-year effort involving training, coaching, and increased collaboration between prosecutors, law enforcement and probation agencies.

Note: The announcement comes a week after Trump announced he has chosen Michael Dunavant, now a district attorney general in West Tennessee, to become the new U.S. attorney for the region. Previous post HERE.

Commission Trump wants to abolish announces $15.7M in grants to help coal miners losing jobs

The Appalachian Regional Commission, which would be abolished under President Trump’s proposed federal budget for the coming year, announced almost $16 million in grants intended to help communities losing jobs in the coal industry in seven states, including Tennessee.
The only Tennessee grant is $500,000 for Knoxville-based LaunchTN for its Entrepreneurial Education and Workforce Development project. The Tennessee startup support initiative will target the coal-impacted counties of Anderson, Campbell, Claiborne, Cumberland, Fentress, Grundy, Marion, Morgan, Scott and Sequatchie. A list of the projects is HERE. The ARC press release is below.
 

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Memphis storm damage pegged at $17M — enough to qualify for fed disaster funding

Memphis officials now estimate damages from last weekend’s severe storm at more than $17 million, well over the $9 million threshold that could trigger a federal disaster declaration leading to reimbursement of up to 80 percent of funds spend on repairs, reports the Commercial Appeal.

In early estimates, the city plans to spend $9.97 million on the storm cleanup, mostly to remove debris and repair public facilities, while MLGW (Memphis Light Gas and Water) plans to spend $7 million clearing debris and restoring service.

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On Trump budget cuts for local governments in TN (where fed grants average $2,000 per person)

Tennessee is cited as an example of the negative impact of President Trump’s budget-cutting plans on state and local governments in a Politico story. Former Republican state Sen. Micheal Williams, now mayor of Union County and a self-described fiscal conservative, says he was stunned when he read the proposal.

“I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Williams said. “I don’t know if they really thought this through.”

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Fed budget deal has record Corps of Engineers funding; $19M for Chickamauga Lock

News release from Sen. Lamar Alexander

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 1, 2017 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), chairman of the Senate Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, and U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.), vice chairman of the House Appropriations Energy and Water Development Subcommittee, today announced that the fiscal year 2017 Omnibus Appropriations bill provides $6.038 billion to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – a record funding level in a regular appropriations bill – allowing up to $19.3 million to continue construction of Chickamauga Lock.

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‘Open container’ bill dies despite Haslam’s support

Legislation prohibiting open containers of an alcoholic beverage in moving vehicles is dead again this year even though Gov. Bill Haslam made it part of his official legislative package for 2017.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who has pushed the idea for years, had hoped Haslam’s backing would make a difference, reports WJHL-TV, and is disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (sponsoring SB1219 for the administration) pulled the bill without a vote.

Norris said there’s not enough support among legislators for passage and debating the matter would be “a distraction” from the push for passage of the governor’s priority bill of the year — a package of tax legislation including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes.

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TN submits new education plan with letter grades for schools

The state Department of Education has released its plan for bring Tennessee into compliance with the new federal education law called Every Student Succeeds Act.

Under the plan, all public schools will get a letter grade from A to F, making it easier for parents to evaluate how their local schools are doing.

Last year the Legislature passed a bill that called for schools to be given letter grades, notes the AP, but the new state education plan goes even further under the measurement system that takes effect in the fall of 2018.

The Department of Education news release is HERE.

Trump budget ax would slash lots of fed spendng in TN

Dozens of programs that provide funding or services in Tennessee are targeted for elimination or drastic cuts under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget, reports Michael Collins.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Delta Regional Authority all would be impacted by Trump’s spending plan, released early Thursday and dubbed “America’s First” budget by the White House.

Other programs that reach into the state yet would get no funding under Trump’s budget include Community Development Block Grants, which provide resources to cities for a variety of activities such as affordable housing and anti-poverty initiatives; the Meals on Wheels food-delivery program for the elderly; the Minority Business Development Agency, which works to help minority-owned businesses grow and stay competitive; and heating assistance for low-income residents.

“The list of important programs cut or eliminated is huge,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis. “President Trump’s budget will thrust America into social and cultural deterioration, a new Dark Ages.”

 

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DUI enforcement cut by governor’s ‘open container’ proposal

As proposed, Gov. Bill Haslam’s transportation funding package would eliminate 57 positions dedicated to enforcing drunken driving laws by district attorneys general staff across the state. The Times-Free Press reports the governor is open to address the resulting concerns of prosecutors.

The provision in question in the governor’s legislation, which would also raise fuel taxes, would outlaw open containers of alcoholic beverages in cars on the road. Because Tennessee doesn’t already have an open container prohibition, $18 million in federal highway funds cannot be used for road construction and maintenance and instead goes to other programs – including $6.5 million now used for special DUI prosecutors, training and police overtime for DUI enforcement. With passage of the governor’s plan, all $18 million would be shifted to road construction.

“We’re aware of that,” the governor said last week. “We fund some DUI [enforcement], DAs through that. We’re willing to look at other ways to make sure that function gets paid for. We realize that’s critical.”

…Jerry Estes, former 10th Judicial District attorney general and now executive director of the Tennessee District Attorneys General Conference, recently said DAs in 25 of the state’s 31 judicial districts rely on the funding. He said prosecutors are hoping to work something out.

“Our concern is 57 positions that would be lost if they’re not funded another way,” Estes said. “And what those 57 positions do, they’re very involved, of course, in prosecuting DUIs and vehicular homicides.”

Moreover, Estes said, the money also helps train sheriffs, police departments, the Tennessee Highway Patrol and other enforcement agencies to combat DUI and impaired driving.

“Tennessee’s DUI deaths on the highways have gone down greatly since these programs have been in place,” said Estes, who called them “very crucial” to that success.

…Rep. William Lamberth, R-Portland, a former prosecutor, said the $18 million, including the $6.5 million that now goes to prosecutors, needs to be replaced.

“If we can take $18 million out of the general fund and allocate that towards safety, specifically toward 57 positions in the district attorneys’ offices, officer overtime, roadblocks and advertising to combat intoxicated driving, I think that’s a great solution,” Lamberth said.

 

Haslam said “not having the open container law has meant that the federal government’s telling us how we can spend that $18 million.”

 

“I think we should choose how we spend that and then to decide do we want to fund DUI, DAs another way,” the governor said. “But in the meantime, money that should be going to roads should be going to roads.”

Secretary of Interior nominee backs more money for Smokies

At a confirmation hearing Tuesday, Ryan Zinke, President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to become U.S. secretary of the interior, committed to more funding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, reports WPLN.

While the Smokies attract twice as many visitors as Yellowstone, the Tennessee park gets only half of the federal money. It’s also prevented from charging an entrance fee due to the way it was acquired by the federal government.

Zinke acknowledged this disparity during his hearing and said he hopes to work toward solving it.

“The Smokies is different than other parks, it should be recognized,” he said. “Working forward with this committee on the infrastructure bill, we’re hoping we can take a big bite out of the deferred maintenance on infrastructure. There’s a number of roads and facilities in there.”

Zinke was also questioned about the deadly wildfires that started in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and burned through Gatlinburg. He said he would work with Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander to learn from the tragedy and implement prevention strategies.

Note: Alexander’s news release on the hearing is below.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

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

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