Atlanta TV station WXIA has interviewed Gov. Bill Haslam about Georgia’s push to revise its border with Tennessee. An excerpt: Not surprisingly, Haslam says he likes the status quo – and has only a passing interest in Georgia’s claim to a piece of the Tennessee River.
“We’re very satisfied with the situation the way it is now for, good reason,” Haslam said.
Q: Do you think Georgia has any busines accessing the Tennessee river?
Halsam: “Well, that’s for somebody beyond my capacity. Ask that to an engineer or somebody who can answer that.”
Q: Well, surveyors say that they do.
A: Yeah. Again, it’s not an issue I spend a whole lot of time focused on.
Haslam says he’s aware that the Georgia legislature passed a resolution calling for the state to sue Tennessee to change the state line to the 35th parallel-if Georgia can’t access the river.
The resolution proposes, as a potential compromise, that Tennessee cede a one-square-mile piece of land that would give Georgia geographical access to the Tennessee River and Nickajack Lake.
This week, Georgia governor Nathan Deal said he would approach Haslam at a conference of Republican governors about negotiations.
“I think there is an opportunity to at least have a civil discussion about that issue,” Deal said.
— Hat tip: TNReport, which has a video of the TV station making its video.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to allow local referendums on whether grocery stores should be able to sell wine has been delayed in its final Senate committee to consider several changes desired by groups newly interested in negotiating over the measure.
A special subcommittee was appointed on Tuesday to work out a final version of the bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro. A full Senate Finance Committee vote was rescheduled for next week.
Among the issues supporters want to hammer out is whether the bill should also allow liquor stores to sell beer, which hours wine would be available for sale and the exact start date of supermarket wine sales after it is approved by voters and w.
The bill has been opposed by liquor wholesalers and package store owners.
Both of Tennessee’s U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted yes on the tax deal that was approved by the Senate in the early on New Year;s day.
Here’s Alexander’s statement on the vote from his media office: “This agreement rescues 99 percent of Americans from individual and estate tax increases in 2013, and then makes these lower rates permanent, providing certainty and creating jobs. But the Medicare fiscal cliff is still ahead of us, which is why Senator Corker and I have a proposal to deal with the out-of-control spending that will soon bankrupt the programs seniors rely on to pay their medical bills. If we don’t deal with this during the debt ceiling debate, we are on the road to becoming Greece.”
Here’s Corker’s statement on the vote from his media office:
WASHINGTON – After voting in favor of legislation to rescue 99 percent of the American people from a tax rate increase, U.S. Senator Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said “it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package.” “I am disappointed we could not address our country’s fiscal issues all at once, but unfortunately, the president made it clear that he was only willing to do this in two steps and leveraged the country and the economy to force revenues to be dealt with first. Now that we’ve addressed the revenue part of the equation, it’s time to move on to the spending reductions that will be part of the debt ceiling package. Passing fundamental entitlement reform is the most important action we can take in ensuring our country’s solvency and now we must have the courage to finish the job and make the tough choices necessary to get these problems behind us once and for all,” said Corker.
Earlier this month, Corker offered legislation to raise the debt ceiling by roughly $1 trillion in exchange for roughly $1 trillion in reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Here’s the AP’s summary of what the bill does:
Highlights of a tentative agreement Monday between the White House and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., aimed at averting wide tax increases and budget cuts scheduled to take effect in the new year. The measure would raise taxes by about $600 billion over 10 years compared with tax policies that expire at midnight Monday. It would also delay for two months across-the-board spending cuts otherwise set to begin slashing the budgets of the Pentagon and numerous domestic agencies. Highlights include:
–Income tax rates: Extends decade-old tax cuts on incomes up to $400,000 for individuals, $450,000 for couples. Earnings above those amounts would be taxed at a rate of 39.6 percent, up from the current 35 percent. Extends Clinton-era caps on itemized deductions and the phase-out of the personal exemption for individuals making more than $250,000 and couples earning more than $300,000.
–Estate tax: Estates would be taxed at a top rate of 40 percent, with the first $5 million in value exempted for individual estates and $10 million for family estates. In 2012, such estates were subject to a top rate of 35 percent.
–Capital gains, dividends: Taxes on capital gains and dividend income exceeding $400,000 for individuals and $450,000 for families would increase from 15 percent to 20 percent.
–Alternative minimum tax: Permanently addresses the alternative minimum tax and indexes it for inflation to prevent nearly 30 million middle- and upper-middle income taxpayers from being hit with higher tax bills averaging almost $3,000. The tax was originally designed to ensure that the wealthy did not avoid owing taxes by using loopholes.
–Other tax changes: Extends for five years Obama-sought expansions of the child tax credit, earned income tax credit, and an up to $2,500 tax credit for college tuition. Also extends for one year accelerated “bonus” depreciation of business investments in new property and equipment, a tax credit for research and development costs and a tax credit for renewable energy such as wind-generated electricity.
–Unemployment benefits: Extends jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed for one year.
–Cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors: Blocks a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors for one year. The cut is the product of an obsolete 1997 budget formula.
–Social Security payroll tax cut: Allows a 2 percentage point cut in the payroll tax first enacted two years ago to lapse, which restores the payroll tax to 6.2 percent.
–Across-the-board cuts: Delays for two months $109 billion worth of across-the-board spending cuts set to start striking the Pentagon and domestic agencies this week. Cost of $24 billion is divided between spending cuts and new revenues from rules changes on converting traditional individual retirement accounts into Roth IRAs.
News release from Tennessee Democratic Party:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Democrats are calling for state auditors to investigate a $10 million purchase of a property that county officials valued at $4.4 million.
In a letter to the Comptroller of the Treasury’s Division of Investigations, Tennessee Democratic Party Chairman Chip Forrester said the business deal may have defrauded state taxpayers of more than $5 million dollars.
“Tennesseans deserve absolute disclosure on this suspicious land deal and a full explanation for why we paid $10 million for a property the county assessor valued at $4.4 million,” Forrester stated in the letter. “If citizens are to have faith in their government, there must be complete transparency on high-dollar transactions and accountability if abuse or fraud is found.”
According to The Tennessean, state taxpayers purchased a distressed and unusable Knoxville office building on March 9, 2012 for $10 million to expand Pellissippi State Community College. The building required more than $16 million worth of repairs and, according to the article, the county property assessor valued the building at $4.4 million at the time of the sale.
The chief financial benefactor was a Knoxville developer who has business dealings with Governor Bill Haslam and is a personal friend of the governor’s father, the article said.
“To any casual observer, it appears taxpayers overpaid — by more than $5 million — for a distressed office building and that the financial benefactor was a businessman with deep political connections to Governor Haslam, whose administration advocated for the purchase,” Forrester stated in his letter.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh says he may become a candidate for governor in 2014, but not because he thinks a Democrat can beat Republican incumbent Gov. Bill Haslam.
“I don’t think Gov. Haslam is going to lose any sleep over me,” Fitzhugh said in an interview. “Our current governor is a good man with deep pockets and a 70 percent approval rating.”
Actually, Haslam’s approval rating was just 68 percent in a Vanderbilt University poll released last week. But that included a 60 percent favorable nod from those self-identifying themselves as Democrats.
If he runs, Fitzhugh said, “it would be an issues deal” with the idea in mind of having a statewide candidate on the ballot without big negatives to drag down Democrats seeking other offices, such as state legislator.
“It would have nothing to do with him (Haslam) personally. I like him very much,” said Fitzhugh.
This year, the only statewide Democratic candidate on the ballot was Mark Clayton, who had been officially disavowed by the state Democratic Party for what Chairman Chip Forrester characterized as “extremist views” and membership in an “anti-gay hate group.” Clayton nonetheless won 30 percent of the vote in losing to Republican U.S. Sen. Bob Corker. And at the very top of the Democratic ticket was President Barack Obama, who Fitzhugh said “is not very popular in Tennessee” and got just 39 percent of the statewide vote in losing the state to Republican Mitt Romney.
“Democrats need somebody at the top of the ticket that people can rally around,” Fitzhugh said. “We didn’t have anything like that in this last election. Maybe there’s somebody else out there who can be that type of person. That’s sort of what I was thinking (when he decided to acknowledge an interest in running).”
Fitzhugh said he will delay a final decision on running as long as possible — “the shorter (a campaign) the better” — and much will depend on the way things develop in the coming 2013 legislative session.
“I don’t think we need to continue another two years down the road we’ve gone,” he said. “Not that it’s totally the governor’s fault that the Legislature passes these bills” focusing on controversial social issues rather than jobs and people while tuition increases annually at colleges, universities and trade schools and Republicans strive “farm education (in grades K-12) out to the private sector.”
“I’m not meaning to start a gubernatorial campaign right now. This is meant to try and get our focus back and move in the right direction,” said Fitzhugh, who was re-elected without opposition a new term as House Democratic leader last week.
Gov. Bill Haslam and the Tennessee State Employees Association both emails letters to state employees today on their negotiated changes to Haslam’s civil service reform bill, (HB2384) known as the TEAM act. First, here’s the Haslam letter:
April 2, 2012
Dear State Employees,
I want to update you on recent developments regarding the TEAM Act, our administration’s proposal to update our employment system so that we are able to recruit, retain and reward dedicated and hard-working state employees.
State government’s job is to provide services that Tennesseans can’t get on their own and to do so in the most customer-focused, effective and efficient way. That’s what Tennessee taxpayers expect, and that’s what they deserve.
Beginning last fall, we held listening sessions with state employees across the state to learn about issues impacting you, our employees, and what we heard about most were challenges created by our employment system.
We also have been listening to and working very closely with state employee groups, especially the Tennessee State Employees Association in recent months on the TEAM Act. Early on in the process, we all agreed that our current system is broken, so it has mostly been a matter of working out some details.
Those discussions have been beneficial and have improved our bill through the legislative process. As I said back in January during the State of the State, this administration is most interested in getting to the right answer, not just our own answer, and I appreciate TSEA’s efforts to work with us on behalf of their membership.
Late last week, the TSEA came to us with their recommendations for final changes to our bill as it nears the finish line. As a result of that cooperation, the TSEA supports our legislation that preserves the key components to fundamentally updating our employment system.
I look forward to working with TSEA and members of the General Assembly on final passage of this bill to put you, our workforce, in a position to better serve Tennesseans. I appreciate the strong support we’ve received from the Legislature on this effort to date and appreciate their continued support in these final weeks of session.
The more comprehensive TSEA letter is below:
State Sen. Doug Overbey is fighting back against the suggestion he was involved in some secret deal to sneak liquor into Pigeon Forge, reports The Mountain Press. He says the accusations made by some in that city are “pure fiction.” Though he was not named specifically, businessman Jess Davis leveled allegations during a recent City Commission meeting that a “Tennessee senator” was in on closed-door meetings Davis claims were held on an end-around for spirits. Overbey is the only person who represents Sevier County in the state’s Senate and, like everyone else Davis claims or suggests was part of the gathering, vehemently denies there was such a meeting.
“I have hatched no plan and I have not been part of hatching some plan,” Overbey told The Mountain Press. “My consistent position has been that the citizens’ vote in May needs to be respected. I could not support or go along with anything other than that and, if it’s desire, a new referendum on this issue.”
News release from House Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – In an effort to codify the agreement reached last year between Governor Bill Haslam and officials from Amazon.com Inc., Representative Kevin Brooks (R–Cleveland) and Representative Eric Watson (R–Cleveland) pushed legislation through the House today that will help Tennessee develop and maintain 3,500 jobs in the State.
The bill, House Bill 2370, is a Haslam Administration bill and was made a top priority by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R–Chattanooga). Leader McCormick asked Brooks, who also serves as Assistant Majority Leader, to usher the legislation through the General Assembly.
HB 2370 simply establishes requirements for determining whether certain business affiliates have a physical presence in this State sufficient to establish nexus for sales and use tax purposes. Nexus is a legal term referring to connection or jurisdiction within a State.
In the case of Amazon, this legislation will ensure the online retail giant will pay Tennessee sales taxes if a national online sales tax law is not passed by the federal government by 2014. Under the bill, the new Amazon fulfillment centers located across the State will meet the requirement for establishing nexus in Tennessee.
“Simply put, this is a jobs bill for Tennessee,” stated Brooks. “It ensures a partner like Amazon and similar companies will participate in our system and it keeps all businesses on a level playing field. Most importantly, it ensures 3,500 positions are going to be created and remain here in Tennessee. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate to get this to the Governor’s desk as soon as possible.”
McCormick added, “Representative Brooks has done a fine job getting this important bill through the House. Representative Watson has consistently fought for Amazon jobs. Obviously, it’s a priority for Governor Haslam and our Republican Majority. I believe it is vitally important we have consistency across the State and this bill does just that.”
A legislative impasse that threatened existence of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Commission was potentially eliminated Tuesday with House committee approval of a bill that would change the commission’s name, but not its basic functions.
The House Conservation Subcommittee approved the measure sponsored by Rep. Judd Matheny, R-Tullahoma, after amending it to comport with a deal Matheny said was endorsed by Gov. Bill Haslam and House Speaker Beth Harwell.
The panel rejected attempts by Rep. Frank Niceley, R-Strawberry Plains, to change the Matheny measure. He contended that “broad language” in some places it would increase the commission’s powers.
Niceley also proposed a change to have the governor appoint the executive director of the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency instead of the commission. That idea was also spurned by the subcommittee.
Legislation that will cement Gov. Bill Haslam’s deal with Amazon.com will cost the state $22.8 million per year in “foregone revenue” while in effect, but bring a like amount afterwards, according to a legislative staff estimate.
The “fiscal note” on HB2370, introduced at the behest of Gov. Bill Haslam, does not mention the Internet retail giant by name, but observes that “one taxpayer will meet the criteria specified in this bill exempting such taxpayer from collecting and remitting sales and use tax.”
The “qualified taxpayer” had $34.2 billion in online U.S. sales in 2010, the Fiscal Review Committee note says, and given that Tennessee has 2 percent of the national population, that would translate into $684 million in Tennessee sales.
From that point the fiscal note goes on to project $22,840,600 in “foregone” state sales tax revenue in a full year and to peg the lost revenue for local government sales tax collections at $9,649,400.
Haslam announced in October that a deal negotiated with Amazon exempts the Internet retailer from collecting Tennessee state and local taxes until Jan. 1, 2014 or until Congress enacts a federal law authorizing states to require sales tax be collected on Internet sales.
In exchange, Amazon said it would invest another $350 million in Tennessee over a three-year period in addition to distribution centers already underway in the Southeast Tennessee at the time. Since October, Amazon has announced plans to build facilities in two Middle Tennessee counties.
The bill will fulfill Haslam’s end of the bargain. It is up for its first subcommittee hearing today (Wednesday) in the House.
Haslam made a brief mention of the bill in his “state of the state” address to the General Assembly.
“I am proud that we worked with Amazon to expand the company’s presence in Tennessee to include, in addition to Hamilton and Bradley, Wilson and Rutherford counties too, creating thousands of jobs,” he said in the prepared remarks. “And through that process we were able to reach an agreement with the company that gives certainty to them and us moving forward.
“We need your help in passing the legislation this session to solidify that agreement,” Haslam said.