‘Environmental stewardship’ awards for 2015 listed

News release from Department of Environment and Conservation:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation Commissioner Bob Martineau today announced the winners of the 2015 Governor’s Environmental Stewardship Awards (GESAs). The 11 winners will be recognized at an awards ceremony in Nashville on June 23.

“Today’s award winners have demonstrated a commitment to our environment that will pay dividends for current Tennessee residents and generations to come,” Haslam said. “We want to thank all of the nominees for playing an important role in the continued health of Tennessee’s air, land and water.”

“The quality of our environment directly impacts our quality of life, impacting how Tennesseans live, work and play,” added TDEC Commissioner Bob Martineau. “It’s important that we pause to recognize the people and organizations that work so hard to protect our environment while teaching others about sustainability.”
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TNGOP Chairman Haynes resigns House District 14 seat, effective today

News release from (former) Rep. Ryan Haynes:
(NASHVILLE) — State Representative Ryan Haynes (R–Knoxville) announced Wednesday he is officially stepping down from his seat in the House of Representatives representing District 14, which encompasses a portion of Knox County. The move follows Haynes being elected Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party in early April.

In a statement, Haynes expressed his gratitude to the people he has represented in the 14th District during his 7 years of service in Nashville. Haynes was only 23 years old and a recent graduate from the University of Tennessee when he won his first two-year term as State Representative.

“I will always be grateful to the people of Knox County for their support,” Haynes said. “It has been an honor to serve, and I am truly thankful for the friendship you have all given me during my time in the House of Representatives.”

In 2010, Haynes was instrumental in helping lead Republicans to the first House majority in the history of Tennessee. In 2012, Haynes again worked with other top House leaders in turning this majority to the first supermajority in state history. In addition to his role as Chairman of the House State Government Committee and as a member of the influential Finance, Ways & Means Committee, Haynes also championed countless conservative causes, including sponsoring legislation to ban a statewide income tax, working to empower teachers and reform education, and leading the way in cutting government waste and regulations to help businesses across the state grow and thrive.

“Representative Haynes has been a consistent and strong voice for our Republican principles, and has worked tirelessly during his time in the Tennessee General Assembly to advance conservative ideals. I look forward to continuing this work with him in his new role as Chairman of the Tennessee Republican Party,” said House Speaker Beth Harwell.

“Representative Haynes has been an instrumental part of advancing the principles of limited government and traditional values for the last seven years,” said House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada. “During his time in Nashville, Ryan has never wavered in his commitment to fighting for conservative causes. His service and his leadership will certainly be missed within the House of Representatives.”

Haynes concluded he looks forward to what lies ahead in his new party role, stating: “I am excited about the opportunity to continue serving our community in my new role as Chairman of the Republican Party. I look forward to the challenges ahead as we continue working to make our state the best possible place to live, work, and raise a family.”

Haynes’ resignation is effective immediately.

Note: The resignation today will trigger a special election to elect Haynes successor in House District 14. Depending on the exact timing of paperwork to be handled by the governor’s office, the special primary will fall on either Aug. 11 or 12, according to a Knox County election official. The general election will coincide with Knoxville city elections on Sept. 29.

UT report says Volkswagen expansion could create 9,800 new jobs

CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — A new study projects Volkswagen’s expansion in Chattanooga could lead to the creation of nearly 10,000 jobs.

The report conducted by the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research was released Wednesday and estimates the factory could add $370 million in new annual income once the expanded production is underway.

The report was commissioned by Volkswagen, which is spending $704 million to grow the plant to make a new sports utility vehicle and to open its new North American Engineering and Planning Center.

The projected 9,800 new jobs include 1,800 positions at the plant and 200 jobs at the engineering center.

“Extensive supplier linkages and good incomes earned by Volkswagen employees account for the significant employment gains and economic multiplier effects in Tennessee,” said Bill Fox, the director of the UT center and author of the report.

The plant expansion is scheduled to be completed by the summer of 2016.

“The study underscores Volkswagen’s commitment to Tennessee, and we are excited to grow our team and the Chattanooga plant as we gear up for the production of our first-ever seven-passenger SUV for the U.S. market,” Christian Koch, the president and CEO of Volkswagen Chattanooga, said in a release.

The Chattanooga facility is Volkswagen’s lone U.S. assembly plant.

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam last week signed into law the state’s $33.8 billion spending plan that included about $166 million in state incentives for the VW plant expansion.

Study finds TN has nation’s most regressive tax system

From the Times-Free Press:
A new study by a trio of economists from the Federal Reserve Bank found that Tennessee has the most regressive tax system of any state, requiring poor and middle-class taxpayers, in most instances, to pay a bigger share of their income than do wealthy individuals in the Volunteer State.

While the federal tax code helps to reduce America’s growing income inequality, Tennessee’s regressive tax system undoes much of the inequality-reducing force of federal taxes, the Fed study found. Tennessee boasts some of the lowest overall tax rates of any state, but its heavy reliance upon the sales tax for the biggest share of state revenues means that a disproportionate share of the taxes paid comes from low- and middle-income taxpayers.

“The tax systems in a handful of states, including Mississippi, Tennessee and West Virginia, widen the income distribution sufficiently to reverse around one-third of the compression achieved by the federal tax code,” Daniel H. Cooper, senior economist in the research department at the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston wrote in a new study he co-authoried with two economists with the Federal Reserve Banks’s fiscal division on research and statistics in Washington, D.C. — Byron Lutz and Michael Palumbo.

Most states exempt food and clothing from state sales taxes, which Tennesssee does not, and most states have some type of payroll tax on income, which Tennessee and six other states do not.

Low-income people often pay 10 percent or more of their income in sales and property taxes (often paid through rent), while upper- income people in Tennessee may pay only 2 to 3 percent of their income in state taxes because much of what they spend their money on or earn income from is not taxed.

“This study confirms that our tax system in Tennessee is upside down and imposes a much bigger tax burden on those who are least able to afford it,” said Dick Williams, chairman of the Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, a statewide group that has lobbied unsuccessfully for decades to try to get Tennessee to adopt a state income tax.

Note: The study itself (pdf) is HERE.

Report totals cash stolen from TN local governments and still missing

News release from state comptroller’s office:
Theft and misuse of public money continue to be a concern as outlined in two reports released today by the Tennessee Comptroller’s office.

The 2014 Report of Cash Shortages updates the status of money stolen and missing from Tennessee’s 95 county governments as of June 30, 2014. The report documents money stolen during the 2014 fiscal year, as well as previous fiscal years.

The state’s 95 counties began the last fiscal year with $775,221.12 in cash shortages that had not been recovered. During the year, $675,741.60 worth of new shortages were detected. Counties were able to recover $661,981.49 through restitution payments, insurance claims or other means. That left a net unrecovered shortage of $788,981.23 at the end of the fiscal year.

The Comptroller’s office also released its first report detailing cash shortages and other thefts for Tennessee municipalities, internal school funds, utility districts, housing authorities and other governmental entities. These shortages were reported in fiscal year 2013 and earlier.

Fiscal year 2013 began with $1,640,277 in unrecovered cash shortages. During the year, $4,485,021 in new shortages were detected. A total of $4,932,640 was recovered during the fiscal year, leaving an unrecovered shortage of at least $1,154,633 as of June 30, 2013.

“These reports show why Tennesseans should join our office in helping make government work better,” Comptroller Justin P. Wilson said. “I am pleased to note the continuing efforts to recover substantial amounts of public money, but theft remains a problem. I encourage all government leaders to follow auditors’ recommendations and take the necessary steps to prevent fraud, waste and abuse of public money.”

Both reports provide explanations of how the shortages were discovered, methods used to steal the money, corrective steps taken to prevent future thefts and legal actions taken against those responsible.

To view the 2014 Report of Cash Shortages online, click here.

Sen. Crowe a convert in Insure TN revival?

Excerpt from a column by Robert Houk:

A town Hall meeting last week on the Insure Tennessee plan had something of a tent revival feel about it, and it wasn’t because it was held at a church in downtown Johnson City. No, it was hearing the panelists talk about how expanding TennCare (Medicaid) would be moral, just and in keeping with the Golden Rule that made me think of a fervent religious gathering.

Of course, one presenter was a member of the clergy. The Rev. Jane Taylor, a pastor at First United Methodist Church… got an “Amen” from many in the audience… and from her fellow panelists, including Dr. Patrick MacMillan, an assistant professor at East Tennessee State University’s Quillen College of Medicine. MacMillan said expanding health coverage to 288,000 of Tennessee’s working poor “is simply the right thing to do.” He also got the loudest applause of the evening when he said: “Politicians have health insurance. Why can’t the working people of Tennessee have health insurance?”

This was in reference to recent reports that many lawmakers in the state General Assembly are receiving state-subsidized medical insurance. One of them, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said he was perfectly fine with the public knowing of his health care coverage. Crowe, who helped defeat Insure Tennessee during a special session in February, only to play a crucial role in trying to revive it a month later, said he is now convinced the plan is a good thing for Tennessee.

That’s also the thinking of 64 percent of state residents polled on the subject by Vanderbilt University.

Crowe also told the crowd Wednesday that politics and ideology are the reasons many of his Republican brethren on Capitol Hill are willing to turn down nearly $2.8 billion in federal funds to help the low-income Tennesseans.

EPA threatens action against Rep. Holt over hog farm pollution

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is threatening action against Tennessee state Rep. Andy Holt because of pollution from his hog farm, according to WTVF-TV.

The federal agency sent the Dresden Republican a letter last month that stated he must “arrange a meeting in this office to show cause why the EPA should not take formal civil enforcement action against you.”

NewsChannel 5 Investigates reported in February that Holt’s hog farm polluted a nearby creek and operated for years without a permit.

We also reported that a state inspector wrote in his notes that “enforcement action was discouraged by upper management” at the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation.

The EPA letter, addressed to the Holt, listed three different times his Weakley County hog farm discharged hundreds of thousands of gallons from lagoons full of hog manure.

…In an interview earlier this year, Holt told NewsChannel 5 Investigates it had rained heavily before each incident and the lagoons were in danger of failing.

“In an effort not to lose all the manure that’s impounded in that facility, then what you do is remove a portion of that,” Holt said.

He also claimed he alerted the state before each incident.

“Personally, I think regulation should be learning opportunities. Each one of those should be a learning opportunity to do better,” Holt said.

Holt has been critical of the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“The U.S. EPA is an entity that I think has become very politicized, much like the IRS,” Holt said in the January interview.

Holt has argued that environmental regulation is best left to states.

Former Sen. Ford still on state health insurance (name omitted earlier)

State officials inadvertently omitted former state senator John Ford of Memphis from a list released to the media of 148 former Tennessee legislators who remain on the state health insurance plan after leaving office, reports the Commercial Appeal.

The office of benefits administration notified reporters that it inadvertently left Ford’s name off the list requested by various media. Ford, 73, resigned from his state Senate seat May 27, 2005, after his arrest on bribery charges with four other then-current and former lawmakers in an undercover FBI operation. He was convicted two years later of accepting $55,000 in cash payments from representatives of a fake FBI company attempting to win state computer recycling contracts and served four years and four months in federal prison.

State law allows former lawmakers elected to at least one term to retain their state health insurance by paying premiums ranging from 20 to 40 percent of the costs, depending on their years of service.

As a 31-year veteran of the legislature, Ford pays 20 percent of the cost of his state health insurance coverage; the state pays 80 percent. Two other former lawmakers convicted in the “Tennessee Waltz” probe, former senators Roscoe Dixon of Memphis and Ward Crutchfield of Chattanooga, also remain covered.

Note: Previous post HERE.

A $10 state land purchase may settle Memphis cemetery dispute

The boundaries of Galilee Memorial Gardens in Memphis may soon expand to include land where former owner Jemar Lambert illegally buried bodies on property not owned by the cemetery, reports the Commercial Appeal.

State officials and the owner of adjacent land surrounding Galilee — a trust under Robert and Martha Fogelman — have agreed to transfer the property for a nominal $10 amount. In the proposed order regarding the sale, representatives stated the transfer allows “the Cemetery to be in possession of any burial sites that may be found in the additional property, and, in the opinion of (the state), acceptance of the (sale) will promote the best interest of the public.”

Davidson County Chancellor Carol McCoy, who has presided over the case, must approve the sale.

The filing comes a day after thousands of relatives were allowed onto Galilee’s grounds for the first time since Lambert was arrested in January 2014 on charges of theft and abuse of a corpse in connection with his operation of the cemetery on Ellis Road, east of Germantown Road in Bartlett.

The property adjacent to Galilee has long been a point of contention between the parties. Before Lambert’s 2014 arrest, he already faced a charge of theft of property over $60,000 for encroaching onto the trust land to bury bodies.

In March, Lambert pleaded guilty to that charge and was given a 10-year suspended sentence under a plea agreement with prosecutors. He was placed on probation for that same period. The January 2014 charges were dismissed.

It’s not a new state logo, it’s ‘a consistent graphic identity for state government’

Excerpt from a Tennessean report on the new state logo, except maybe it isn’t a logo after all and won’t be replacing anything?

You won’t see that new Tennessee state logo on the state flag or replacing the tristar symbol, though, said David Smith, a spokesman for Gov. Bill Haslam.

“To be clear: nothing is happening to the flag, tri-stars or state seal,” Smith said Tuesday in an email to The Tennessean.

“There is no singular graphic identity for state government currently. This (is) about a consistent graphic identity for state government. The flag and tri-stars are bigger than state government.”

…Gregg Boling, managing director for GS&F, shied away from calling the graphic a new state logo. In a phone interview Tuesday, he said the graphic is part of a “larger identity system” the state plans to implement.

“Basically, it’s just another design element informed by the state flag,” Boling said.

…Democrats and Republicans alike have criticized the Tennessee graphic. State Rep. Andy Holt, a Dresden Republican who’s butted heads with Haslam before, said Tuesday in a statement: “As they should be, Tennesseans are furious. While calls of negligence can be heard loud and clear atop Rocky Top in Knoxville, mockery swells like the Mississippi in Memphis.”

Last week Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, said, “Folks outside the Nashville bubble can’t understand this kind of decision-making. Maybe the administration should consider another logo design — the word ‘waste’ behind a giant ‘X.’ ”

Smith stressed the logo was not intended to be a state symbol; rather, it was designed to create some uniformity among symbols used by departments within state government.

There are at least 20 logos used by various state agencies specific to those agencies. The state Department of Economic and Community Development uses a graphic with a red “TN” that also includes a partial-guitar graphic; the symbol for the Tennessee Department of Transportation relies on the outline of the state.

Smith said the design would go live online with the state’s redesign of its websites “in the coming weeks.” The state will gradually start introducing the graphic on other mediums: When a department runs out of letterhead with the old graphic, Smith said it will receive letterhead with the new, streamlined graphic.