Tennessee’s new commissioner of Labor and Workforce Development says cutting jobless services at 34 sites next month shouldn’t hurt out-of-work Tennesseans seeking employment, reports the Chattanooga TFP. In fact, Commissioner Burns Phillips told members of the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee last week, things actually should improve.
The ability to offer services over the Internet will help, he said. And nonprofit Local Workforce Investment Act partners in communities across the state are stepping up to offer services, with the state pitching in computers and other equipment, Phillips said.
“After the career centers were reorganized, there was a lot of angst over that [cuts],” the commissioner said. “But in the final analysis what turned out was we wound up with a broader footprint in the state and not a more narrow footprint.”
He said the state now has 23 state comprehensive centers run by Labor and Workforce Development and 52 affiliates run by LWIAs.
… The 13 Local Workforce Investment Act districts are nonprofit entities funded with pass-through federal dollars. Many have multiple offices aimed at helping the jobless and employers connect.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, said Friday he remains skeptical that the LWIAs will close the gap created by shutting down state-run services in 34 centers and firing 125 state employees.
“It’s very disappointing,” Fitzhugh said, adding that his district in rural West Tennessee is taking a major hit.
“Here we are just coming out of this recession” and the administration chose to “decimate” career centers, he said.
Jobless residents will have to drive farther and some can’t afford an Internet connection to access the department’s website from home, he said.
Shunning the partisan rancor surrounding the nation’s latest budget battle, President Barack Obama on Monday praised Tennessee’s top Republican as a model for a stubborn Congress, according to Chris Carroll. Hosting the nation’s governors at the White House, Obama singled out Gov. Bill Haslam as a flexible leader House and Senate Republicans should imitate. The mention came right after the president slammed fiscal hawks for refusing to bend on $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to begin Friday.
Nine congressional Republicans call Tennessee home and consider Haslam an important political ally. But unlike them, Obama hinted, governors know “compromise is essential to getting things done.”
“That’s how Governor Haslam balanced his budget last year in Tennessee while still investing in key areas like education for Tennessee’s kids,” Obama said. “Like the rest of us, [he knows] we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. Cutting alone is not an economic policy.”
Called “sequestration,” the automatic cuts comprise part of a 2011 deficit reduction bill. They were designed as an incentive for Congress to find a reasonable path toward eliminating $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Lawmakers failed, and the sequester could trigger as early as Friday.
Haslam was unable to respond to Obama’s compliment as planned. He was scheduled to present the Republican reaction after the president’s speech, but a “family health situation” prematurely brought Haslam home to Tennessee, according to spokesman Dave Smith.
In a statement, Smith hinted the governor doesn’t mind how the president views him.
“The governor’s style is to build consensus, and he’s done that during his time in office” Smith said, mentioning the governor’s efforts on teacher tenure and civil service reform.
Democrats support a mixed approach to avoiding sequestration. Obama’s deficit reduction plan includes $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and new revenue from closing various tax loopholes.
Many Republicans have a two-word solution: Spending cuts.
The ceremonial signing season, which is currently under way, may in some ways be the antithesis of efficiency in government that our governor and all legislators proclaim as a goal. But it enjoys great bipartisan popularity.
Our state constitution requires the governor to sign or veto a bill passed by the state Legislature within 10 days after it reaches his desk or it becomes law without his signature. But the real signature merely marks the beginning of the ceremonial signing season, which can stretch for months after the Legislature has adjourned and the duly signed bills are already in effect as laws.
About 660 bills were really signed into law. You won’t see any ceremonial signings for measures that involved controversy. In such cases, the less said, the better. And you darn sure won’t see a ceremonial veto for the one measure Haslam killed this year. Or a ceremonial nonsigning of legislation that became law without his ink.
No, ceremonies are reserved for bills that were popular with most everybody — or at least the special-interest groups that pushed them with no serious opposition.
You can still jump into a swimming pool at 27 state parks this summer, but Morgan Simmons reports that might not be true next year. “We’re constantly reviewing our operations and trying to make everything better,” said Brock Hill, the state’s deputy commissioner of parks and conservation. “We talk about pools all the time in connection with whether or not to close them.”
Early this year at a state budget hearing in Nashville, Bob Martineau, commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, proposed closing six state park swimming pools and replacing them with splash parks, which would be cheaper to maintain. The closures were expected to save about $200,000 a year.
The proposal was rejected, and this summer, pools at Tennessee state parks are open as usual.
There are 27 swimming pools throughout Tennessee’s state park system. Of those 27, seven pools are reserved for inn guests, and the remaining 20 are open to the public for a small fee.
All of the state park pools are staffed with lifeguards. The pools lose money, but other state park amenities such as restaurants, campgrounds, and inns generate enough revenue to cover the loss. As a whole, park hospitality operations generate about $36 million each year, enough to break even.
Hill said that of the 20 general admission state park pools, about one-third stay extremely busy throughout the three-month season from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
The Tennessean has run a profile piece on Arthur Laffer, the Nashville-based economist who has achieved new fame by pushing tax cuts at the state level, He worked with legislators, for example, to push repeal of Tennessee’s inheritance and gift taxes this year.
An excerpt: Laffer’s return as the tax-cutting politicians’ favorite economist closely corresponds to the tea party revolution that swept a wave of stridently fiscal conservative Republicans to power in statehouses nationwide in 2010.
Days after being elected, Florida Gov. Rick Scott named Laffer to a team of six economists who would help him devise his first budget. Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback similarly hired Laffer to advise him as he worked to reduce that state’s income tax, a plan that Brownback signed into law last week.
Laffer also contributed papers and research for think tanks in Missouri, Oklahoma and Tennessee. Those papers have echoed his annual “Rich States, Poor States” report, which features the ALEC/Laffer State Economic Competitiveness Index.
The index ranks states based on 15 policy variables. States with low taxes and business costs, small public sectors, little debt and laws that make it harder for workers to unionize rank the highest.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallon, a Republican, wrote the foreword to the latest edition. Brownback calls the report “required reading for governors.”
But Carl Davis, a senior analyst at the Washington, D.C.-based Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, says Laffer’s research is hokum.
“People just like the idea of tax cuts,” Davis said. “A lot of it is his saying things that people want to hear.”
About 1,000 state workers have been given the ax since Gov. Bill Haslam took office in January 2011, and only a few have so far been reassigned to new positions, according to a Tennessean review of state records. The Haslam administration’s campaign pledge to squeeze savings out of state government and improve service has resulted in plans to cut payrolls within Tennessee’s 22 departments by more than 2,200 jobs. Many of those job cuts have been coupled with promises to help displaced workers find new positions elsewhere in state government.
But the state Department of Human Resources says it has tracked only 40 completed reassignments since Haslam took office, an indication that the governor’s plan remains unfinished. Haslam’s 16 months in office have shown him to be an eager proponent for reorganizing state government — or “rightsizing” as he has called it.
His plans, which are expected to continue through the next budget year, have affected obscure offices and major facilities. Haslam has bolstered those efforts with a new law that will make it easier for managers to hire, fire and promote workers, and a 123-page review that lays out more potential changes.
The Republican governor’s embrace of tighter management is part of a national trend toward smaller government based on private-sector principles. But in capital cities such as Nashville and in small communities where government facilities are major employers, cutting government payrolls may have been a drag on job growth and slowed the recovery from a deep recession.
The shrinkage of Tennessee state government began under Haslam’s Democratic predecessor, Phil Bredesen. An average of 1,200 positions a year have been cut in the past five state budgets, lowering the total payroll from nearly 50,000 workers in 2008 to just under 44,000 by the end of the upcoming fiscal year next summer.
But despite a warning from Bredesen that further cuts would begin to remove muscle, not fat, from state government, Haslam has not slowed the pace of its shrinkage.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Senate on Friday passed its version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s more than $31 billion spending plan, making nearly $60 million in cuts to a number of programs and projects.
The chamber voted 32-1 to pass the bill that was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris of Collierville. The House passed its version 66-30 Thursday.
The two chambers will have to reconcile differences on projects before the measure can head for Haslam’s signature. The difference in reduced funding between the two proposals is about $23 million.
The largest cut in the Senate plan is more than $12 million to the Memphis Regional Megasite.
Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters earlier this week that cutting funding to the megasite is a bad idea.
“We still have to make some more investment to get there, still a lot of infrastructure has to get there in terms of water lines and sewer lines, predominantly,” Haslam said. “The state has a big investment there and for us to really be able to market it, I think we’re going to complete that.”
Other items in the Senate version to receive cuts include:
— Radnor Lake land acquisition, $1 million
— Metro Sports Authority Debt Service, $481,000
— National Civil Rights Museum, $300,000
— Sickle Cell Foundation, $75,000
— Folk Festival 2012, $50,000
Both budget plans include closure of the Taft Youth Development Center in Bledsoe County. State officials say closing the 90-year-old facility will save the state about $8.5 million.
The debate on the Senate floor to keep the center open wasn’t more than an hour long as in the House on Wednesday, but it was almost as spirited.
Sen. Eric Stewart, whose district includes the center, said it houses some of the state’s toughest juveniles that other youth centers would probably have trouble handling.
Stewart, D-Belvidere, compared closing the center to shutting down Riverbend Maximum Security Institution in Nashville, and sending those inmates to other facilities.
“Let’s send the meanest of the mean to other facilities,” he said. “Taft is the Riverbend of the juvenile justice center.”
Haslam in January presented his spending proposal that called for raises for state employees, more spending on construction on college campuses and tax cuts on food and estates.
Both budget proposals include funding for reducing the sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.25 percent, increasing the exemption for the inheritance tax from $1 million to $1.25 million and enhanced penalties for gang and gun crimes.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A proposal that would make cutting some students’ lottery scholarships in half contingent on lottery revenues passed the Senate 20-10 Monday evening, despite criticism that the increase in revenues may not be consistent.
The legislation, sponsored by Republican Sen. Dolores Gresham of Somerville, was approved 20-10. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in the House Education Committee.
An original proposal sought to reduce by 50 percent the award for students who do not meet both standardized testing and high school grade requirements. A special panel of lawmakers recommended the proposal in November.
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.
Under the new legislation, the lottery scholarship requirements won’t change if lottery proceeds match, or exceed, the previous year’s through 2015.
Tennessee Lottery officials said in a news release earlier on Monday that proceeds have reached $234 million, or were up $22 million, over this time last year. That means proceeds next year must be at least $22 million to keep from triggering Gresham’s proposal.
Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday a compromise with the Tennessee State Employees Association on civil service reform legislation and plans to add about $28 million in spending to his proposed state budget for the coming year.
The governor’s proposed amendment to the state budget calls for increasing fees paid to local governments for housing prisoners in county jails, in part to reduce complaints about an administration bill to imposing longer sentences for repeat domestic violence offenders. Some local governments had protested what the called an “unfunded mandate” from the state, since they will have to cover the costs of keeping jailed offenders longer.
The increase in prisoner payments by $2 per day will cost the state an estimated $4 million per year. The increase in domestic violence sentences is projected to cost local governments collectively about $8 million per year.
Other changes in the$30.2 billion budget plan from the original version submitted in February include:
-The governor’s proposal to reduce the state sales tax on groceries from 5.5 percent to 5.3 percent is revised to set the new rate at 5.25 percent next year. Under the Haslam plan, the rate would then fall to 5 percent in the following year. The change from 5.3 to 5.25 percent costs the state an estimated $3.3 million in lost revenue while saving consumer another nickel on a $100 grocery bill, or a total of 25 cents.
With state tax revenues rebounding, Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is under pressure from legislative Democrats, some Republicans and social-service advocates to restore cuts proposed to programs they say help some of Tennessee’s most vulnerable children and adults.
So reports Andy Sher. More:
Areas slated for cuts in the coming fiscal year range from family resource centers, which coordinate support services such as food and tutoring for poorer students, to community services for the mentally ill. The 2012-13 fiscal year begins July 1.
“I think the first thing we ought to do is restore some of those things that were on the chopping block in this budget,” said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, a former Finance Committee chairman.