Under Governor Bill Haslam’s proposed budget for next year, reports WKRN-TV, Tennessee schools would lose $2 million of Internet access funding. The idea is raising questions on both Capitol Hill and in classrooms statewide.
The administration wants to see school districts absorb the cost; however that is not sitting well with some teachers including Macon County fifth grade teacher Nikki Hogin.
“My district has trouble keeping up with the money,” she said.
State Senator Jim Tracy knows the cost to local governments in his district that would have to pick up the cost of the school Internet access.
“For example in Rutherford County it’s about $80,000 dollars, in Bedford County its about $20,000 dollars,” he said.
The Senator hopes to restore the money to Governor Haslam’s budget since state-mandated online testing begins next year.
“You have to be able to do online testing, that’s something that’s coming down that’s required,” Tracy said.
Governor Bill Haslam’s administration said it believes local districts “can absorb the cost” that is spread statewide and that “districts would still be eligible for match funding from the federal government” that brings in an additional $6 million for the Internet access.
“I have explained to them in great detail how important it is,” Tracy said.
According to Haslam spokesman Dave Smith, “These were cuts first identified as reductions in the FY 2010-11 budget, but delayed until this year using federal one-time money. In evaluating funding priorities, the department sought to restore money for several important items to Tennesseans.”
Gov. Bill Haslam says he may go along with GOP lawmakers’ effort to eliminate the state’s tax on gifts, according to Andy Sher. “I think there are a lot of things to be worked out here in the last couple of weeks,” the Republican governor told reporters Wednesday. “I think it’s something that all of us look at.” Haslam noted that Tennessee and Connecticut are the only states that apply taxes to large gifts.
“And we’re not typically in Connecticut’s neighborhood when it comes to tax policy,” Haslam said. “So I think all of us can say that’s probably not something that Tennessee wants to have.”
House Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, and House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, have a bill to eliminate the gift tax. The tax currently applies graduated taxes from 5.5 percent to 16 percent on gifts to family members of $13,000 or more. The tax affects gifts to people other than family member’s gifts to others of $3,000 or more. Eliminating the tax would result in a $14.9 million annual revenue loss to the state.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to make lowering the sales tax on groceries contingent on whether there’s a surplus in state revenue has failed.
The measure sponsored by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis failed to get a majority vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in a House subcommittee.
Under the legislation, half of the surplus would go toward student assistance awards.
Gov. Bill Haslam plans to trim the sales tax on groceries by one-quarter percent, down to 5.25 percent, in the budget year beginning July 1, which is projected to cost $21 million.
Haslam has said he wants to drop the sales tax on groceries to 5 percent in the next budget year.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The University of Tennessee is eliminating 17 full-time positions in the athletic department as part of a reorganization designed to save about $2.5 million.
The school said in a news release Monday that the previously separate men’s and women’s athletic departments will be consolidated.
The 17 positions will be dropped effective June 1, saving $1 million. A school spokesman did not return a phone call asking how many full-time employees will be left in the department.
The university said it will also save some $850,000 by eliminating unfilled positions, resignations, retirements and other terminations. It said another $625,000 will be saved through reductions in the number of student employees: managers, graduate assistants and interns.
“It is important to note, however, that none of the financial decisions made will have a negative impact on the competitiveness of our individual sport programs,” the news release said. “If anything, an efficient and financially sound athletics department will rise to meet the needs and challenges of our sport programs and their student-athletes in a more effective manner.
“These decisions will not cut into the fiber of our pursuit of comprehensive excellence.”
The school said consolidating the men’s and women’s departments is designed to provide “a clear direction.”
The statement from the university said the school has more employees in the athletic department than those at peer institutions in the Southeastern Conference and elsewhere. It also acknowledged that some functions in the past had been duplicated.
The restructuring plan has been studied for several months.
The Tennessee Legislature won’t pass much in the way of tax cuts beyond what Gov. Bill Haslam is requesting for 2012, says House Speaker Beth Harwell. That means a reduction in the Hall tax on income from stocks and dividends — a tax Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey wants to see slashed this session — isn’t likely in the cards, she said.
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“I do not think so this year,” Harwell said Thursday when asked if the Hall tax will make it to a floor vote. “We did, of course, take a bite out of that last year. But I think our focus now is going to be on the reduction of the death tax, elimination of the gift tax and a reduction of the food tax.”
Lawmakers have yet to take up a bundle of bills reducing taxes on Tennesseans as lawmakers push those measures toward the end of the spring legislative session, likely after lawmakers have a clearer picture of the state’s budget.
Despite record Tennessee lottery sales and a huge lottery reserve fund, state Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville said today she is pushing ahead with a controversial plan to make it more difficult for students to win the popular $4,000 a year Hope Scholarships.
More from Rick Locker: The Senate Education Committee that Gresham chairs heard an updated financial report today from Tennessee Lottery executives who said lottery proceeds for education are already up $10 million for the first seven months of the fiscal year over the same period a year ago. Lottery President Rebecca Hargrove told the committee she believes the lottery can sustain that increase in the future.
That’s more than half the previously projected $17 million to $20 million annual gap between the lottery’s educational proceeds and the cost of the scholarship program that the state is trying to close. The scholarship program has reserves of over $300 million built up in the early years of the lottery, so if the annual gap is cut to $10 million, the reserve would cover annual deficits for 30 years.
But Gresham, R-Somerville, told reporters after the committee heard the latest financial report of Lottery Corp. that she will still press ahead with her plans to tighten eligibility for the Hope Scholarship. The plan would require students to obtain a high school grade-point average of at least 3.0 AND score at least 21 on the ACT college entrance test to qualify for the basic $4,000 per year Hope Scholarship at four-year universities.
Since the program began in 2004, students qualified by achieving one of the two standards – either a 3.0 high school GPA or a minimum 21 ACT score.
Asked if she intends to proceed despite the new lottery revenue projections, Gresham said, “Sure. Absolutely. We’re spending more than we’re taking in. You can’t do that. Right now we have sufficient reserves to take care of Tennessee’s lottery scholarship students for a few years more, which is why the recommendations of the Lottery Task Force would not take effect until 2015.”
Gov. Bill Haslam defended his plans for closing Taft Youth Center and Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in a Chattanooga speech, according the Times-Free Press. “Everybody says government is too big and you should cut it and run it like a business. But every time you make one of these decisions to cut some service, some people don’t like it.”
Haslam said the state’s five youth development centers across Tennessee are only about 70 percent full.
“I think it’s more economical for the state to have four centers that are about 90 percent full,” he said. “That will save us four to five million dollars a year.”
The job losses from the Taft center closing will be offset, at least for some workers, by a new state prison being built in Bledsoe County, Haslam said.
The governor said he also is getting criticism for proposing the shutdown of the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute in Knoxville less than a mile from his home. The center has 390 employees and houses 90 patients.
“We’re very confident that community providers can take care of those folks cheaper than what we’re doing,” Haslam said.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Psychology student Jay MacDonnchadh says a plan that would cut some students’ lottery scholarships in half is a bad idea.
“If it wasn’t for the lottery scholarship, I would have had to work my way up through community college,” said the University of Memphis senior.
MacDonnchadh, 21, is among hundreds of Tennessee students who depend on the scholarship, also called the HOPE Scholarship.
A proposal from a panel of state lawmakers would reduce by 50 percent the lottery scholarship awards for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements.
Right now, students can get a scholarship worth $4,000 for each of four years if they either earn a 3.0 grade point average in high school or score a 21 on their ACT college entrance exam.
Students who attend a four-year institution and meet one of the criteria would get a two-year award amount, under the plan. Those who meet one of the criteria and retain the award through year two would be eligible for a full award in year three.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Raising Tennessee’s estate tax exemption by $500,000 would cost the state about $23 million in lost revenues, according to projections by Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration.
The inheritance tax currently applies to estates worth more than $1 million, and was paid in 845 instances in the last budget year.
Haslam has said he agrees with fellow Republicans in the Legislature who want to chip away at the estate tax because it “chases capital away” by discouraging retirees from living in Tennessee.
But the governor warned that the state’s finances aren’t strong enough to afford reductions in either the estate tax or the Hall tax on interest and dividends.
“In this difficult time we still have expenses that are larger than our revenues at this point, so it’s hard to figure out how we would do that, because we have to make that budget balanced,” he said.
Republicans in the Legislature are nevertheless pressing to reduce one or both of the taxes as they gear up for their re-election campaigns.
Emotional appeals were directed Friday at Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Sen. Mike Faulk to maintain funding for a state program serving home-based family members with severe disabilities, reports Hank Hayes. About 20 families with disabled loved ones filed into the auditorium at the Kingsport Public Library to testify on behalf of keeping the Family Support Program in the state budget. Last month, Tennessee Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Jim Henry proposed the $7 million program be cut from the state budget for the coming fiscal year.
The program, run in Northeast Tennessee by The Arc of Washington County, provides support services such as respite care, day care, home modifications, equipment, nursing and counseling.
….Blind Kingsport resident Patty Fletcher said that without the program, she had no one to read mail and no way to pay her bills.
“What would you do if you were disabled and needed these services yourself?” she asked the two lawmakers.
The program, which serves 215 families in Northeast Tennessee and more than 4,000 statewide, has been funded the past two years by federal stimulus funds and the state’s Rainy Day Fund, according to advocates.
Maximum allowable direct aid per person is $4,000 each year, and the statewide average aid allocation was $1,387 in the last fiscal year, according to the program.
…Ramsey, R-Blountville, pointed out state lawmakers cut $1.2 billion from last year’s budget and still funded the program.
“If we can’t find a way out of a $30 billion budget to find $7.2 million for you, you ought to send us home,” Ramsey told the families.
Before the meeting started, Ramsey also noted: “From the bottom of my heart, I’m going to make sure we make the least amount of cuts for the most vulnerable. I have meetings with constituent groups, but this is the toughest one. You want to help and do everything you can, but we can’t be like the federal government and borrow yourself into oblivion. We have to balance the budget. We will make those tough choices, but I hope there are no cuts for these people.”
Faulk, R-Church Hill, told the group that the program’s funding goes to help families trying to help themselves.
“That contrasts with a lot of other areas in state government where money is handed out to folks who are not necessarily trying to help themselves…” Faulk said to applause. “We hear you. We heard you before you spoke today because many of you and your problems and needs are near and dear to my heart and the lieutenant governor’s heart. … Republicans are bashed all over the country as being cold-hearted, cruel, mean people because they cut budgets. In Tennessee for three consecutive years, the budgets have been cut because the money has not been there. … We have to reprioritize.”