Talks between Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration and Speedway Motorsports haven’t led to a green flag for new state assistance at Bristol Motor Speedway, reports Hank Hayes. After an estimated 50,000 or more seats appeared empty at BMS’ spring Sprint Cup race, Speedway Motorsports Chairman and CEO Bruton Smith met with Haslam to discuss potential state help for Tennessee’s largest outdoor sports venue.
Still, no specifics have yet been outlined, said Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville.
“I actually met with (BMS General Manager) Jerry Caldwell last week to see if there was anything in particular they thought they needed, and I expect I’ll probably have a meeting with Bruton Smith this week, Thursday or Friday, to see if there’s anything particular they need that we would be willing to help with,” Ramsey said. “I’ve talked about more pedestrian walkways to help with better access to campgrounds so they can be more fan-friendly than they are. … We’ll just have to see how close they come to selling out.”
Smith and BMS have completed significant modifications to the track based on fan feedback.
Those changes concentrated on the progressive banking applied when the current track surface was put in place in the summer of 2007, according to BMS.
Smith, meanwhile, has a history of pushing the state for improvements outside the track. He sought and got pedestrian safety improvements that were completed in 2008.
The state of Tennessee, however, is restricted in the types of tax incentives it can offer in economic development, according to the Department of Revenue (DOR).
The DOR says the incentives are based on the number of new jobs created, the amount of capital invested, and the type of business.
Tennessee Republicans this year had a window of opportunity to trim $23 million from the budget’s pork-barrel buffet that’s annually lain before them in the late hours of the legislative session. But, as often the case, the home-cooked political victuals proved too toothsome to pass up.
They opted instead to heap their plates and hand taxpayers the tab in advance of hitting the exits and heading for yonder hills, dales and campaign trails.
So begins a TNReport review of the end-of-session squabble over “local projects” in the state budget, which includes some fresh quotations. House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, admitted that the late-stage discernment of waste in the budget ultimately amounted to legislative “gamesmanship” — that, truth be known, there wasn’t much taste on anybody’s part for reducing tasty government handouts sure to wow the folks back home when it comes time for incumbents to brag on what they brung em’.
“It always happens at the end of the year. These are the things you just have to work out and take care of,” Sargent told TNReport.
Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the Tennessee Senate, said he doesn’t think voters of a fiscally conservative bent ought to be of a mind to make the GOP’s big-spenders pay come election time.
Ramsey, a “huge believer in preserving history, preserving our roots,” suggested it’s natural to make taxpayers pick up the slack when private-sector fundraising for cultural-heritage conservation efforts comes up short.
“I think that fits right into my basic philosophy in general,” said the Blountville auctioneer, who often sells himself as a friend of Tea Party conservatives.
Still, Ramsey conceded not everyone may agree with every aspect of discretionary government spending in the coming year’s budget, especially when you get down to details.
He acknowledged that one of his own rather infamous pet projects — the Birthplace of Country Music Museum — probably “sounded awful” to those of a mind to zero in and identify the particulars of potential government waste. But GOP legislators even in the House rallied around the proposal to capture $500,000 from taxpayers’ wallets to help fund the $13 million as-yet-unfinished tourist trap located in Bristol, Virginia, just across the street and the state line from Bristol, Tennessee.
…”Republicans spend just like Democrats. When you’re in control, you’re going to spend money,” Owen said. “There’s an incentive there to spend taxpayers’ money on things that really don’t benefit taxpayers as a whole, that go to benefit a select few.”
Gov. Bill Haslam tells Andrea Zelinski that he signed the state’s $31.5 billion spending plan Tuesday, putting into action a state budget that is $627 million less than this year’s. In an interview with TNReport Tuesday afternoon, Haslam said he’s proud of the budget plan, which spends about $400 million more than he originally pitched to lawmakers and the public back in January.
“The ultimate budget had a lot of the things that we added back in when the revenue numbers improved,” Haslam said. The state spending plan runs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013.
“I am somebody who believes in smaller government. I also think though, there’s critical services that we provide,” he said. “While we want to be really tough on how we spend taxpayers dollars, we also want to make certain we’re taking care of people we’re supposed to.”
…The governor’s budget includes spending on projects and programs lawmakers at one point flagged as pork barrel spending, including a $500,000 for the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, Va., across the street from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s Republican district Bristol in Tennessee.
“It’s kind of an easy target to say, oh that’s in Virginia. Why are we funding it when it’s yards from Tennessee?” he said. “It’s not like we funded something that’s in northwest Virginia.”
When asked if he was “comfortable” funding the museum, he said “I think I am… it’s a little different situation because of the way the city of Bristol is laid out.”
Blountville Republican Ron Ramsey said he couldn’t pull the trigger on targeting funding for major regional projects when he first became Tennessee’s lieutenant governor in 2007, according to the Kingsport Times-News. “I wasn’t about to ask for things in my area when we were cutting in other areas, but state revenues have turned around some. … When that came, I thought it was fair we get some projects on this end of the state,” Ramsey said Wednesday.
His fingerprints were all over two major economic development projects included in the $31.5 billion budget passed this week by the GOP-controlled legislature. Ramsey steered a $500,000 state appropriation toward a planned multimillion-dollar Bristol Cultural Heritage Center just across State Street in Bristol, Va., and an $8.8 million appropriation to acquire Doe Mountain in Johnson County.
That Doe Mountain appropriation, plus a legislature-approved bill to create a governing authority for the property, is expected to lead to development of a multi-use park for all-terrain vehicles, bike riding and hiking.
“This is the biggest thing that has happened to Johnson County in a long time,” Ramsey said. “Not only will it promote their natural beauty, it will be a huge economic boon to them. We’ve studied what other places have done for ATV parks and bike paths and walking paths. When we get this structure put together, it will provide a lot of jobs for Johnson County.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam and the owner of Bristol Motor Speedway discussed potential state assistance for the NASCAR venue Friday, two days after plans were announced to renovate the struggling track, reports The Tennessean. Haslam and Bruton Smith, the North Carolina-based owner of Speedway Motorsports Inc., met in Nashville to hold “preliminary discussions” about potential aid. Speedway Motorsports plans to resurface Bristol before its next race in August in response to declining attendance and fan complaints about the quality of racing at the state’s only Sprint Cup track.
“Bristol is a huge part of our state, revenuewise,” Haslam said. “They didn’t have any specific proposals for us, nor did we have any for them, but it’s important for us to be in conversation with them about how they can get their attendance back to where they want it to be and where we want it to be, too.”
…Restoring the track to its original configuration will cost about $1 million, according to The Associated Press.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he had spoken with Haslam about potential aid to Bristol, which lies within Ramsey’s Senate district.
“Attendance was down over 50,000 people, and just the lost sales taxes for two races would be $1 million in revenue,” he said. “We have done things in the past — for tracks, for minor league ball clubs — and Bristol has never asked for anything before.”
Bristol would not be the first NASCAR track to receive state aid, or to struggle with poor attendance.
Tennessee extended $750,000 incentives to the Nashville Superspeedway in Wilson County in 2002 and 2003 through its FastTrack program for businesses. But that track has struggled to gain a following, no NASCAR events will be held there this year, and it’s not certain that any will be scheduled there in the future.
Economic aid also has been suggested as a possible savior for the Fairgrounds Speedway in Nashville, which hosted top-level NASCAR events from 1958 to 1984. Its future is also in doubt.
A report from Hank Hayes:
Amid the roar from engines inside Bristol Motor Speedway, a grass-roots conservative group tried outside the track to put the pedal to the metal on increasing voter turnout.
American Majority distributed printed information attacking the federal government’s debt only steps away from its NASCAR Nationwide series show car and five driving simulators inside its tent on BMS’ Vendor Row.
One American Majority card distributed from the tent read: “For too long, the media, Hollywood and entrenched politicians have had a louder voice in shaping the future of this nation than the American people. It’s time to put Americans back in the driver’s seat!”
The Purcellville, Va.-based group is sponsoring a Nationwide series car for more than 30 NASCAR races this year with rookie driver Jason Bowles behind the wheel of a red, white and blue Dodge Challenger.
Gov. Bill Haslam has been visiting newspaper editorial boards this week, typically resulting in stories such as one in today’s Kingsport Times-News, which focuses on his first 100 days in office, dealing with education reform and such.
Less typical is the Bristol Herald-Courier report, under the headline, “Haslam Too Busy for Bristol.”