Tag Archives: finance

Administration asks 2 percent budget cut plans

Despite a growing government budget surplus in Tennessee, Finance Commissioner Larry Martin has asked all department chiefs to submit proposals for cutting their spending by 2 percent in the next fiscal year.

In a memo to department and agency officials, Martin acknowledges “strong revenue growth” but cites enactment of a law earlier this year that cuts the Hall tax on investment income from 6 percent to 5 percent immediately and mandates full repeal in six years.

“At a minimum, reductions will be necessary to offset the phaseout of the Hall Income Tax,” the memo says. “In fiscal year 2014-15, collections for the Hall tax totaled $303.4 million. Because certain areas of the budget tend to outpace our average revenue growth, it would not be prudent to address tax cuts with revenue growth alone. It’s also important that we continue to look for savings and efficiencies throughout state government and bend the curve on government spending.” Continue reading

State treasurer offers savings program for the disabled

A new Tennessee program is now available to help people with qualified disabilities and their families or legal representatives save, invest and earn money tax-free to fund allowable expenses such as housing and health needs.

Further from the Times-Free Press:

State Treasurer David Lillard said Tennessee is among the first states to offer an Achieving A Better Life Experience program.

The ABLE Tennessee program, administered through the Tennessee Department of Treasury, is designed to help people with intellectual and physical disabilities save with no impact on federal means-tested benefits so long as the 401k-style investment accounts are less than $100,000.

It is expected to help people and families with problems in areas ranging from Down syndrome to military veterans left physically devastated by war-related injuries.

To qualify, officials said, the disability must have been present before someone’s 26th birthday.

Moreover, individuals must be eligible for either federal Supplemental Security Income or Social Security Disability Insurance benefits based on blindness or disability. Or, they can join by having a qualified physician provide a disability diagnosis.

The accounts can be opened by family members or other legal representatives and accept investment money not just from them but other relatives, including grandparents, and friends, officials say.

“Families are so ready to open these accounts,” Lillard said last week at a news conference rolling out the program, made allowable under recent changes to federal tax law. “The Tennessee Treasury team has put together a very high-quality savings program.”

New fed payday lending rules draw praise, criticism in TN

The head of a Tennessee-based consumer advocacy group lauded as a ‘good start’ the federal Consumer Finance Protection Bureau’s proposed rules on small-dollar lending by the payday and car title loan industry, reports the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.

Charging the industry is filled with “loan sharks” and “predatory lenders,” Andy Spears, executive director of Tennessee Citizens Action, said at a news conference today that his group has unsuccessfully sought to curb the industry’s worst practices in the state Legislature but run into road blocks.

“Tennessee families pay more than $400 million a year in payday and car title lending fees,” Spears told reporters. “The average Tennessee borrower pays $490 in fees to borrow $300 for five months.”

Spears said “today’s proposed rule by the CFPB is a good start. It focuses on the ability to repay which is a critical element missing because the current standard is the ability to collect.”

In announcing the proposed federal rules, CFPB Director Richard Cordray said in a statement that “too many borrowers seeking a short-term cash fix are saddled with loans they cannot afford and sink into long-term debt.

“It’s much like getting into a taxi just to ride across town and finding yourself stuck in a ruinously expensive cross-country journey,” Cordray added.

But the Tennessee Flexible Finance Association is attacking the proposed federal rule, saying it threatens to ruin the industry and thereby restrict access to low-dollar loan credit for thousands of Tennesseans. Continue reading

Lawsuit contends state wrongfully withholding info on ‘Revenue Modernization Act’

A Nashville tax lawyer Wednesday filed a lawsuit contending that state officials have violated Tennessee’s Open Records Act by refusing to provide detailed information used to develop Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed “Revenue Modernization Act,” according to the Chattanooga TFP.

In his complaint, attorney Brett Carter is asking a Davidson County Chancery Court to compel the state to disclose withheld records immediately. Both the House and Senate Finance committees are poised to consider the bill next week. (Note: It’s HB644.) The suit says the refusal and the bureaucratic and legal run-around Martin has gotten constitute a “willful violation of the Open Records Act.”

Moreover, Carter says, Martin has mentioned a “study” was done on the business tax issue that undergirds the administration’s changes in state law.

“[W]thout providing such support” including the study, the complaint says, “the representations of the department do not provide a sufficient basis for the General Assembly to evaluate and conclude whether modifications to the Tennessee tax code are necessary or appropriate.”

Carter, co-chair of the state and local tax practice group at the Bradley Arant Boult Cummings law firm, says in the action that he is seeking to delve into a legislative proposal that would increase state revenues from business taxes by more than $60 million over the next two fiscal years.

That’s based on a legislative fiscal note. The administration has only said publicly it would generate $14 million in new revenue for the upcoming 2015-2016 tax year starting July 1.

Asked for comment, Lola Potter, a Martin spokeswoman, told the Times Free Press that “due to pending litigation, it wouldn’t be appropriate to comment at this time.”

Creative Campfield Claims $1,000 Benefit from Opponent

In his latest campaign finance disclosure, state Sen. Stacey Campfield lists former Knox County Mayor Mike Ragsdale as providing an in-kind contribution valued at $1,000 to Campfield’s re-election campaign.
That’s because, Campfield said in an interview Wednesday, Ragsdale was reported as giving $100 to Richard Briggs, who has announced he will oppose the incumbent senator in next year’s Republican primary. In-kind contributions are those made other than in cash or check. Typically, they involve things like furnishing food for a reception or providing a room rent-free for a campaign event. Campfield says he believes Ragsdale, by donating to Briggs, effectively made an even bigger contribution to his campaign.
“I think it was a gift to me that he was endorsing my opponent,” Campfield said. “I’d honestly say that’s worth $1,000 to me. … Most people know the things that Mike Ragsdale represented and supported when he was in office … (and) that’s a clear distinction between my opponent and me.”

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On Larry Martin, man with ‘mediator mindset’ running F&A

Larry Martin is a man with a “mediator mindset,” according to Gov. Bill Haslam, who has been assigning negotiation tasks to the 65-year-old former banker for several years now.
The most recent assignment is perhaps the most formidable — overseeing $32 billion in spending by almost 40,000 state employees as commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration and resolving the inevitable conflicts that come up in doing so.
“F&A is an intense workout. … If I’d known there were 43 different committees and commissions I have to serve on, my answer to the governor might have been different,” said a smiling Martin in an interview at his office in the state Capitol last week.
But he did say yes to Haslam, of course, and not for the first time.
Martin took the job on an interim basis after the retirement of his predecessor, Mark Emkes, on June 1.
The first time Martin was recruited by Haslam came after his retirement in 2006 from a 37-year career with First Horizon/First Tennessee Bank and its predecessors. He started with First National Bank of Memphis, a predecessor, shortly after graduating from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, with a bachelor’s degree in banking.

Full article HERE.

Editorial: Haslam Should Disclose Personal Payments to Ingram

Excerpt from a News Sentinel editorial on Gov. Bill Haslam hiring Tom Ingram with personal funds to serve as a consultant:
Haslam has said he still consults Ingram on political matters but pays for that advice out of pocket. The campaign finance disclosure forms he has submitted since his election show no payments to Ingram.
But they should.
Drew Rawlins, who is the executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Election Finance, said in an interview that an officeholder’s out-of-pocket payments for a consultant are not necessarily required to be included on disclosures. If an officeholder seeks advice on governance, he or she might not have to report the payment. If the candidate receives campaign advice, Rawlins said, disclosure would be required.
The solution is simple. Haslam should file amended campaign finance disclosure forms that reflect Ingram’s pay for political advice. And he should transfer funds to his campaign account to cover the costs. Though not necessarily required by the letter of the law, disclosure would enhance the governor’s standing as a proponent of openness.
As governor, Haslam should be transparent about the money he spends on political matters. There is nothing wrong with paying Ingram — or anyone else, for that matter — for political insight. He just needs to divulge such transactions to the citizens of Tennessee so they know who is speaking into the governor’s ear.

Larry Martin Named Interim Finance Commissioner

News release from the governor’s office:
NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced Larry Martin will become the interim commissioner of the state Department of Finance and Administration (F&A) when Commissioner Mark Emkes retires at the end of the month.
Martin becomes interim commissioner at F&A June 1 after Emkes’ retires effective May 31.
A year ago, he joined the governor’s staff as a special assistant to the governor, working alongside Human Resources Commissioner Rebecca Hunter to oversee the implementation of Haslam’s civil service reform, the Tennessee Excellence, Accountability and Management (TEAM) Act; and reviewing state employee compensation.
“I am grateful that Larry has agreed to step into this position and serve Tennessee taxpayers in this capacity,” Haslam said. “He has been critically important in helping us establish the systems and organizational structure to begin recruiting, attracting and retaining the best and brightest to serve in state government, and I look forward to continuing to work with him as interim commissioner of F&A.”

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Crosschecking Finds 181 Unreported PAC, Corporate Contributions

Some of the Legislature’s top leaders were among more than 50 candidates who failed to report 181 political contributions totaling $145,875 when the Registry of Election Finance conducted an annual “crosscheck” review mandated by a current state law.
House Republican Chairman Glen Casada, sponsor of a bill that critics say would undermine the present law, was found to have two unreported $1,000 contributions from political action committees. House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner, who staunchly opposed the bill, had more unreported donations than anyone on the list — 18 totaling $19,875.
Both men expressed surprise when contacted last week after Drew Rawlins, executive director of the Bureau of Ethics and Campaign Finance, provided a list of the 2012 “crosscheck” results on request. Neither changed his position on the bill (HB643), which fell two votes short of passage on the House floor during the legislative session and which Casada plans to bring back for another try next year.
(Note: For the Registry’s list, click on this link: CrossIndexInfo.ods

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Wine-in-Grocery-Stores Bill Clears Senate Finance, 7-4

The Senate Finance Committee has approved, 7-4, legislation that would authorize sale of wine in grocery stores.
The bill (SB837) was approved in a Wednesday evening meeting of the panel, which has been debating it for some time. On April 2, it failed on a 5-5-1 tie vote in the committee.
Those changing their position Wednesday from the first vote were Sen. Doug Henry, D-Nashville, who voted yes instead of no, and Sen. Ferrell Haile, R-Gallatin, who abstained the first time and voted yes on Wednesday.
The House companion bill failed earlier in committee, so the bill is dead for the year. Approval by the Senate committee, however, means that it will be poised for a vote on the Senate floor when legislators return for the 2014 session.
“We’ll wait and see what the House does in January,” said Sen. Bill Ketron, R-Murfreesboro, in a brief Senate floor speech.

Note: A statement from proponents of the bill is below.

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