Category Archives: Bill Haslam

Haslam board shifts costs from gas stations to taxpayers

Under Gov. Bill Haslam’s aministration, the Underground Storage Tank and Solid Waste Disposal Control Board has been shifting the financial burden of cleaning up toxic spills at gas stations and truck stops from business owners to taxpayers,

The 14-member board, 12 of whom are appointed by the governor, sets rules for the $50 million environmental fund overseen by the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, or TDEC. The fund has been paying to clean up spills since 1990. It is financed by a combination of a gas tax paid by consumers at the pump and an annual fee paid by owners of petroleum tanks.

Since the board has been reconfigured, members representing consumers have been eliminated.

The board, which retained its four petroleum industry members, has voted in favor of a resolution to increase the state dollars available to private companies for environmental spills caused by failures or accidents from $1 million to $2 million. That became law in 2015.

This year, a new law gives the board the power to give all gas stations and truck stops a big break — suspending their annual fees to the cleanup fund entirely. Some board members have signaled their support for eliminating those fees this year — despite hearing from the man in charge of the state’s underground storage tank program that a “historically high burden of this funding has shifted onto the public.”

Suspending the industry’s financial contributions would leave taxpayers, who haven’t gotten the same breaks as gas stations and truck stops, bearing full financial responsibility for toxic spills.

Tennessee drivers continue to shoulder most of the cost of petroleum spills at Pilot Flying J, Chevron, Exxon and other companies, large and small, through a one-fourth of a cent per gallon gas tax that added up to about $18 million last year. Companies contribute about $2 million in fees each year.

The fund has paid out millions to private petroleum companies since it began operating in 1990, including $10 million to Pilot Flying J, the Haslam family truck stop chain worth an estimated $33 billion. The governor continues to hold an undisclosed financial stake in the company.

A spokeswoman for Haslam noted that the governor took steps to consult with counsel before restructuring the board to ensure there was no conflict of interest. The new structure was proposed by TDEC, said Jennifer Donnals, the spokeswoman.

Even before the reconstitution of the board, members who had been appointed before Haslam took office voted to cut industry fees, Donnals noted.

Democrats renew bashing of Haslam outsourcing

News release from Sen. Lee Harris and Rep. John Ray Clemmons
NASHVILLE, TN—Today, Senate Minority Leader Lee Harris, D-Memphis, and State Rep. John Ray Clemmons, D-Nashville, joined the United Campus Workers on a telephone call with statewide press to discuss the status of Gov. Bill Haslam’s plans to outsource thousands of state jobs, including facility maintenance jobs at Tennessee’s colleges and universities.

“Sen. Harris and I didn’t come to our position on this issue in blind opposition to the governor’s plan,” state Rep. Clemmons said. “After learning about his intentions through media reports, we followed up on the public’s concerns with roundtable discussions at UT Knoxville and UT Chattanooga. These were well-attended, public discussions where people who would be directly affected were overwhelmingly opposed to Gov. Haslam’s outsourcing agenda.

“This is about jobs and families, and this governor has consistently conspired to eliminate the jobs of thousands of Tennesseans. By trying to sell anything that isn’t nailed down, Haslam has negatively impacted the lives of thousands of Tennessee families. There’s no proof that government will operate more efficiently, but there is a track record of failed attempts that have cost Tennessee taxpayers millions of dollars.” Continue reading

Haslam ‘not holding my breath’ on sales tax action

Gov. Bill Haslam says he’s backing a state Department of Revenue rule to requiring out-of-state retailers to collect Tennessee sales taxes because he has little confidence Congress will act, reports the Times-Free Press.

“They [Congress] keep saying that they’re going to take it up, but I am not holding my breath they’ll take it up any time soon,” Haslam said in an interview Friday.

“For me, it’s just this: The economy is shifting so much that way [to the internet],” Haslam said. “It’s literally not a fair playing field for our in-state retailers. And those are folks who are not only having to collect the tax, but they’re paying property tax. They’re sponsoring the local Little League team, and these are folks who are contributing in a full way to our economy.”

He said the present situation gives internet retailers up to a 9.75 percent advantage over their brick-and-mortar competitors in Tennessee, which must collect the state’s 7 percent sales tax and local government taxes of up to 2.75 percent.

“It’s not fair to say, well, we’re going to let your competitors not collect that tax we make you collect,” Haslam added.

Haslam’s Revenue Department recently held a rule-making hearing on the proposal. It would require internet, catalog and other out-of-state companies with no physical presence in Tennessee but with annual in-state sales of at least $500,000 to collect state and local sales taxes starting in 2017.

Haslam lobbies sports league for Memphis

Gov. Bill Haslam said Friday he contacted Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby and several university presidents in the Power 5 league to speak on behalf of the University of Memphis and its campaign to become an expansion member, reports the Commercial Appeal.

Memphis is among several top candidates seeking one of two – and possibly four – invitations to the league, which is considering adding to its 10-team conference.

U of M president M. David Rudd has been leading the Memphis drive and enlisted Haslam’s help. Haslam said he spoke to presidents on the Big 12’s composition, or expansion, committee.

“Dr. Rudd had called and said we would really like to make this happen, can you help?” Haslam told a reporter from The Tennessean. “I doubt I was a persuasive factor in it, but I tried to help any way I could.”

Haslam briefly discussed his involvement with the Memphis bid following an education event in Nashville. He said if the U of M were to receive an invitation, it would be a “step up.”

Haslam’s comments came on a day an ESPN report revealed the Big 12 will conduct video conferences with representatives from 17 schools that have contacted the league regarding expansion. The U of M is one of the 17 schools that reportedly will be contacted by Bowlsby, who was given instructions last month by the league’s board of directors to “actively evaluate” expansion.

Memphis, BYU, Cincinnati and Houston have emerged as top candidates to join the more lucrative Power 5 league, but South Florida, Central Florida, UConn, Colorado State and Boise State also are campaigning

Haslam appoints top AG staffer as judge

News release from the governor’s office
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today appointed Bill Young of Nashville as chancellor in the 20th Judicial District, which serves Davidson County. Young replaces retiring Chancellor Carol McCoy, effective September 1.

Young, 59, has been in the Tennessee Attorney General’s office in Nashville, where he has been associate attorney general and part of the management team, since 2014. In that role, he was responsible for handling work related to the Tennessee General Assembly, the executive branch of state government and other state offices and responsible for special litigation and other projects assigned by the attorney general. Continue reading

Cate’s consulting (not lobbying) helps clients

The Tennessean has a Sunday story raising the question of whether Mark Cate has engaged in lobbying since he stepped down a year ago as Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief of staff. Cate says he has not, though clients of his consulting firm have done quite well in their dealings with state government.

The clients Cate represents have landed $3 million in state funding, successfully secured approval to open a new mental health facility in East Tennessee and navigated a thorny legislative session for the tourism industry in the last year. Cate also was hired for a $10,000 per month job by a private foundation to oversee the construction of the new state museum, a project he helped lead as one of Haslam’s top advisors.

Cate and his deputies did not register with the state to lobby for 2016. State law forbids high-ranking officials from lobbying for one year after they leave office. Cate, who left the governor’s office on July 31, 2015, said he played no role in landing the state funding for clients because he and his firm were only consultants.

…The Tennessean reviewed nearly two years of emails and text messages between Cate and top state officials from six departments. The hundreds of emails and texts, from late 2014 through early this year, paint a picture of Cate’s broad influence on state government during his time as chief of staff and his continued clout as the principal for his new company, Stones River Group.

Stones River Group works for the National Museum of African American Music, planned to open in Nashville; Strategic Behavioral Health, a mental health company in Memphis; the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp.; and three nonprofit organizations created while Cate worked under Haslam to support policy initiatives favored by the Haslam administration. Cate says all of his contracts note that his company is not allowed to lobby. Continue reading

Ohio judge won’t dismiss claims against Haslam company proceed

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio judge won’t dismiss breach-of-contract and other claims against the truck-stop chain owned by Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam and his brother, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam.

Several companies have sued Pilot Flying J in connection with a scheme to cheat customers out of promised discounts and rebates.

A Franklin County judge this week refused the chain’s request to dismiss claims in an Ohio suit. He concluded the companies making the allegations provided sufficient information to pursue the claims.

Jimmy Haslam isn’t charged and has denied knowing about the scheme, which came to light after federal agents raided the company’s Knoxville, Tennessee, headquarters in 2013. It led to millions of dollars in settlements and charges against some employees.

Bill Haslam has said he isn’t involved with operating the company.

More on Haslam donations to legislator campaigns

Gov. Bill Haslam has sent funds from his political action committee to 43 incumbent Republican legislators, including a dozen who face opponents in Thursday’s primary election, according to a report filed last week with the state Registry of Election Finance.

Haslam took $150,000 from his 2014 re-election campaign leftovers and transferred it to his PAC, registered as JOBS4TN. He then distributed the PAC money to the incumbent lawmakers, most of them facing no opposition to re-election either in the primary or general election.

“Those folks who have been really helpful to us, we want to make certain that we help. You aren’t governor by yourself. It really takes the right people in the Legislature to help you,” the governor said in a comment passed along via email from spokeswoman Jennifer Donnals.

The legislators reported receiving Haslam donations while facing Republican primary opposition are Sens. Doug Overbey of Maryville and Dolores Gresham of Somerville along with Reps. David Alexander of Winchester, Mike Carter of Ooltewah, Jimmy Eldridge of Jackson, Jeremey Faison of Cosby, Curtis Halford of Dyer, Gary Hicks of Rogersville, Kelly Keisling of Byrdstown, Charles Sargent of Franklin, Curry Todd of Collierville, Ron Travis of Dayton and Tim Wirgau of Buchanan. Continue reading

Haslam puts $150K into legislative campaigns

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam has opened his wallet for state legislative campaigns throughout the state.

According to the final campaign finance reports to be filed before the Aug. 4 primary, Haslam gave $150,000 to his political action committee, Jobs4TN. The committee then contributed all but $4,000 of that amount to the campaigns of 44 lawmakers.

Top recipients got $6,000 each from the PAC, including Bo Watson of Chattanooga and Randy McNally of Oak Ridge in the Senate; and Charles Sargent of Franklin, Beth Harwell of Nashville, Eddie Smith of Knoxville , Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga, Mark White of Memphis, Steve McDaniel of Parker’s Crossroads and Pat Marsh of Shelbyville in the House.

The governor also directly gave $3,000 to Nashville Sen. Steve Dickerson, who faces retired physician Ron McDow.

Haslam stumps for Rep. Hicks

Gov. Bill Haslam didn’t use the “e” word — endorse — but nonetheless praised state Rep. Gary Hicks Jr. before a crowded room of Hawkins Countians, reports the Kingsport Times-News.

Hicks and Rogersville Realtor Cynthia Bundren Jackson are facing off in the 9th House District GOP Primary to represent Hawkins and Hancock counties.

Jackson, who had a veterans event Thursday, had this response to the governor’s visit: “I think anytime the governor visits the area, it’s a good thing. I wish he could have spent a little more time here and went to other sections of the county to listen to the people. I don’t really feel the purpose of his visit was all that good. The people of Hawkins and Hancock counties are perfectly capable of choosing who they want to vote for.”

Hicks, a Rogersville school system technology director appointed by the Hawkins County Commission to take the House seat held by former state Rep. Mike Harrison, is in a contentious primary campaign — with an advocacy group entering the fray.

Hicks has been under attack from the Tennessee Federation For Children Political Action Committee, the political arm of a state branch of the American Federation for Children, a group based in Washington, D.C., that advocates for school vouchers and charter schools.

One thing the state is not doing, said Haslam, is cutting money from public education.

“He gets it,” Haslam, a Republican, said of Hicks. “If this state is going to succeed, we’re going to have to invest in public education. This past year we had the largest investment in public education without a tax increase in the state’s history — over $200 million new dollars.”

Haslam called Hicks “thoughtful” and “caring about results.”

“He is not somebody who is going to jump up on the table and yell to make a show,” Haslam noted. “He is going to say ‘Here is what people in my district care about.’ That’s why I’m doing this (event).”

Hicks thanked Haslam. “I know of any place you chose to be, you chose to be in Hawkins County,” Hicks said. “Anytime we can get the governor here to showcase what a wonderful place we live in, we always want to say ‘Come Back Anytime’ … I want to make a difference in Hawkins and Hancock counties.”

Note: While Haslam didn’t use the ‘e’ word — he’s been bit odd on that front (see previous post HERE) — he did send Hicks a $5,000 check from his political action committee, new disclosures show. In that previous post, Haslam is quoted as saying he doesn’t get into the “endorsing business” while saying kind things about Rep. Jon Lundberg, whose name is not on the latest list of 44 incumbent legislators receiving Haslam PAC donations.