Gov. Bill Haslam says he expects to have about $369 million in new revenues for his proposed 2013-14 budget, but expected cost increases in TennCare will swallow most of the money, reports the Chattanooga TFP That will put pressure on him and lawmakers to look at cuts elsewhere to pay for increases in key areas ranging from education to prisons, the Republican governor warned last week.
Of the expected new revenue, $350 million — or 95 percent — is going to TennCare — the Republican said.
“You can’t do anything [else]. I mean, you can’t do anything in higher education. You can’t give anybody a raise. … It’s literally sucking up all the money in state government, and we have to have a different approach to health care.”
…House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, a former House Finance Committee chairman, is skeptical of the governor’s estimates.
“To say we have $369 million in new revenues before the State Funding Board meets, that’s kind of hard to figure,” Fitzhugh said.
The funding board, which sets ranges for revenue growth estimates, will meet this week. Haslam spokesman David Smith said $369 million is the funding board’s preliminary estimate.
Fitzhugh said Republican officials earlier this year refused to acknowledge much-larger-than-anticipated revenue increases for the 2012 fiscal year that ended June 30.
And so far this year, revenues were already $72.9 million higher than projected in the $31.5 billion state budget.
“I think it’s a bit premature to say how much we got there and that 95 percent of it is going to be consumed by TennCare,” Fitzhugh said.
Despite having handed Republicans a highly coveted super majority status in the General Assembly, Democrats heralded Tuesday as a victory, reports Andrea Zelinski. Losing six state House seats over last legislative session’s total is actually a win for Democrats, top party leaders said Wednesday.
“Our numbers are down, we know that,” said Craig Fitzhugh, the leading House Democrat. “But the fact that we were able to retain all of our incumbents and pick up four new seats clearly shows the reversal of a trend. We are in the process of clawing our way back, ladies and gentlemen.”
While the minority party had ownership of 34 seats on the last day of the legislative session, they say they really only had 24 after the retirements of seven members and Republicans drawing them out of three more.
Walking away from Tuesday’s election with anything more than 24 seats is a victory, House Democratic Caucus Leader Mike Turner said.
Democratic legislative leaders used animal analogies in a news conference Wednesday while asserting they still be a force to reckon with during rule of the new Republican “super majorities.” From Chas Sisk: “A grizzly bear can take a porcupine out anytime he wants to, but usually he goes around it,” said Rep. Mike Turner, D-Old Hickory, the House Democratic Caucus chairman. “We’re not just going to sit there and roll over, and when something needs to be done for the people of Tennessee, we’re going defend those values and we’re going to defend our position.”
“I like wolverine better than porcupine,” Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, interjected.
“Well, now honey badger is kind of popular too,” Turner replied.
State Rep. Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, defeated Republican challenger Johnny Edwards, of Ripley, by 284 votes in the November 2010 election, observes the Jackson Sun at the outset of a report on the House District 82 race. “As an absolute newcomer to the political arena, to have challenged an incumbent of 16 years at the time and come that close to beating him on a very tiny budget, of course that gave me encouragement to run again,” Edwards said. “And during the two years between elections, many of my supporters, friends and people I didn’t know said, ‘Johnny, you need to run again.'”
With redistricting, District 82 includes Haywood, Crockett and Lauderdale counties.
Edwards, 60, owns Edwards Signs, Graphics & Advertising in Ripley.
He served four years in the U.S. Army and another 16 to 17 years in the U.S. Air Force before retiring as a major.
Edwards received an associate degree from Dyersburg State Community College and a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Memphis State University, he said.
While on active duty with the Air Force, he said he went to the Air Force Institute of Technology and earned a master’s degree in logistics management.
…Fitzhugh, 62, is chairman and CEO of the Bank of Ripley and has served in his current office since 1994.
He said the focus has to remain on jobs and education.
“Sometimes the majority in the legislature got strayed away from that and focused on other issues that weren’t as vitally important to Tennesseans,” he said. “And it will be my focus to remain committed to growing jobs and increasing the education attainability of Tennessee.”
Fitzhugh said his record shows he can work with all kinds of people.
“I have the ability to work with people in rural and urban areas, Republicans, Democrats and independents and with the focus to get things done and move our state forward,” he said.
Democrats in the state legislature and state election officials exchanged letters Tuesday over problems in the Aug. 2 election with election officials saying they were mostly confined to Shelby County.
Excerpt from the CA report (which also has a lot on the Shelby County back-and-forth): Tuesday’s developments were the latest in an ongoing story about issues in the Aug. 2 state primaries, county general elections and municipal referendums.
A letter to Hargett signed by 25 of the 34 Democrats in the House on Tuesday expressed “great concern” about problems ranging from voters being issued incorrect ballots to people who the letter says had proper identification not being allowed to vote.
The letter asked Hargett, whose department includes the state election coordinator’s office, how many people were not given a correct ballot and not allowed to vote in their “preferred primary or rightful district,” whether there is a uniform procedure at voting locations that voters are aware of and obtain the correct ballot, and how many were denied ballots because of ID issues.
Goins responded by saying the “problems in Shelby County have been well documented … (and) outside of Shelby County, we are aware of only a handful of isolated incidents, mostly involving poll worker error.”
Goins said 277 people statewide cast provisional ballots because they lacked proper photo ID, and 115 of them were counted in the election because voters returned within two business days of election day with proper IDs. The other 162 were not counted.
— Update Note: Fitzhugh and Turner didn’t think much of Goins response to their first letter. See below.
News release from the House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus regarding the June revenue collections, which showed an over-collection of $116,563,000 for the month and $554,650,100 for the first eleven months of the fiscal year:
“Back in April, House Democrats predicted that Tennessee would have excess revenue well north of $200,000,000 based on trends in over-collections. On multiple occasions, we requested that the State Funding Board call a meeting to revise their revenue projections, so the state’s budget for FY ’12-’13 would reflect more accurate revenue figures.
“When the majority party ignored our calls, House Democrats put forward an alternative budget we felt was more in line with revenue trends. Our alternative budget was balanced, it cut the food tax by an additional .25 percent, it restored the 2 percent cut to higher education– which would have helped avoid the 6-9 percent tuition hikes we are seeing across the state.
“Our alternative budget put $20,000,000 into our community colleges and technology centers, avoided cuts to key services and reduced our reliance on bonds for capital projects. All this could have been done for less than the $200,000,000 we had in over-collections at the time.
“Now, with double that figure in over-collected revenue, we must act–at the very least–to lower the sales tax on food and stop tuition from continuing to climb. The economy is improving, but our families are still struggling. We have the means to make putting food on the table a little easier and make college a little more affordable. If we ignore this opportunity, it is simply irresponsible. It’s the people’s money; it should be used to their benefit–not for politics.”
— News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE -Senate Democrats are calling on state lawmakers from both parties to come together and stop the massive over-collection of taxes from Tennesseans.
The state collected an excess of $338 million in tax revenues that it isn’t spending for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
“This is your government, collecting more of your money than it can spend,” Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said. “We have heard a lot of talk about tax relief, and now it’s time for them to deliver.”
From House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement regarding Governor Haslam’s July 10th Post-Secondary Education Review Kick-off to be held at the Executive Residence with business leaders and other stakeholders: “While I commend Governor Bill Haslam on beginning a review of higher education, I am disappointed that he has chosen to do so in a partisan manner. When it comes to higher education, we need a diversity of opinions–not the party line. Every major education reform–from Career Ladder to the Basic Education Plan to the Complete College Act–has been done on a bipartisan basis. Yet when the review team meets for the first time today, not a single member of the minority party will be present. We are disappointed that Governor Haslam has chosen to ignore Tennessee’s successful history of bipartisan reforms by excluding legislators from the minority party. House Democrats stand ready to have a serious discussion about higher education. We hope Governor Haslam will reconsider his actions and take a more balanced, bipartisan approach going forward.”
State Rep. Andy Holt specifically and Republican legislators generally are criticized for actions and inaction in a column by House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, who one suspects, supports former state Rep. Mark Maddox in his rematch with Holt for a West Tennessee House seats this fall.
An excerpt: The majority and Rep. Holt refused to support HB 2323, the Unemployment to Work Act, which would have given a tax credit to any business that hired people off the unemployment rolls.
The majority refused to support HB 2079, the Tennessee Contractors First Bill, which would have given preference to Tennessee businesses on state contracts, keeping your tax dollars here rather than China or Mexico.
The majority refused to support HB 2314, the Back to Work Act, which would have invested $15,000,000 in our technology centers for updating equipment and expanding programming.
A small business sales tax holiday, a 20 percent tax credit for new small businesses, a tax cut for companies that locate in areas of high unemployment – each of these ideas defeated despite their proven success in the past and their support from the small business community. This session was about many things but, unfortunately, it missed the mark on jobs.
…Despite this longstanding tradition, the administration and Rep. Andy Holt pushed forward with their plan to increase classroom size.
Not only would the administration’s proposal have had a detrimental effect on our students, it would have shifted a huge tax burden to local governments. Had this law passed, county commissions would have been forced to come up with hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue or lay off huge numbers of teachers.
This is an impossible choice and one that earned opposition from school boards, superintendents, teachers, parents and legislators alike. Eventually, the Governor withdrew the bill. However, he and his counterparts in the majority have promised to bring it back after the November elections. It was a bad idea this year and it will be a bad idea when we return next January.
Another pitfall we narrowly avoided dealt with needless cuts to the HOPE Lottery Scholarships. Our lottery is extraordinarily successful. Since it was first established, the lottery has never seen a decrease in sales. In fact, it has done well enough for us to create a $366 million dollar reserve fund, which is $316 million more than the law requires us to hold.
The House voted 72-21 Wednesday to send President Obama a resolution condemning his “rejection of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline” while rejecting the idea of sending a similar message to the governor of Nebraska.
The resolution, sponsored by Republican Rep. Dennis Powers of Jacksboro, says Obama “demonstrated that job creation is not a high priority for his administration, despite the nation experiencing an unacceptably high unemployment rate and an ailing economy.”
HR195 is the latest in a series of Republican-sponsored resolutions that have no legal effect but express an opinion on national issues, in this case TransCanada’s proposed construction of a 1,661-mile pipeline to transport oil from Alberta, Canada, to Texas.
President Obama, who is to be sent a copy of the resolution, recently postponed a decision on granting the necessary federal permits for the project, opposed by many environmentalists.
House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley, proposed an amendment to Powers’ resolution that that would have directed a copy be sent to Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, as well. The Fitzhugh amendment urges Heineman and Nebraskans “to expedite their environmental study and work with President Obama and
the federal government in finding a location through the state of Nebraska where the pipeline can be built that does not interfere with the water supply.”
If Republicans believe Obama has been an impediment, Fitzhugh said, they should also acknowledge that Nebraska’s concern over the route of the pipeline has been an impediment as well. The resolution should urge both impediments be removed, he said.
“Otherwise we have a House resolution that means absolutely nothing, a House resolution that doesn’t accomplish it purpose and a House resolution that’s done merely for political purposes,” he said.
On motion of House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, Fitzhugh’s proposed amendment was killed on a 64-34 vote – Republicans voting to kill, Democrats supporting it.
But on the final vote for the resolution itself, unamended, several Democrats joined Republicans in support.
Given that ten Democratic legislators so far have announced they won’t seek reelection to the seats they now hold, perhaps it’s noteworthy that the top House Democrat says he will seek another term. Ergo, here’s House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh’s reelection announcement press release:
RIPLEY, TN –Rep. Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) announced today that he will seek re-election as State Representative this fall. House District 82, which Fitzhugh currently represents, formerly encompassed parts of Dyer County. After the 2010 census, it was redrawn and now consists of Crockett, Haywood & Lauderdale Counties.
“It has been my privilege to represent the people of House District 82,” said Fitzhugh. “While I’m sad I will no longer represent my many friends in Dyer County, I am excited about reconnecting with the people of Haywood County as we welcome them to the district.”