The University of Tennessee board of trustees ended its two-day summer meeting by approving the system’s nearly $2 billion budget that includes a 6 percent tuition increase, some new student fees, and pay raises for faculty and staff, reports the News Sentinel. But not without a lot of discussion and even some debate — especially about the proposed tuition increase.
Trustee Crawford Gallimore said he hopes the system is able to demonstrate to taxpayers that “raising tuition is the last resort … and not as just a matter of course that we do every year.”
Student trustee Shalin Shah said he believed students would pay the increase if they understood the reasons for it.
“We have to make the message simple and we have to put it out there,”‘ Shah said. “We’re the Twitter generation, we have to keep it to 42 words or less otherwise we’re not going to get it. That’s just the way it’s going to be.”
Trustee Doug Horne proposed a 3 percent tuition increase, saying the trustees should try to show that they “deserve” additional funds from the state.
“I personally feel like we should show a little bit more initiative here and not raise tuition this much,” he said. “I’ve expressed this to the president. I think we show the students first and the Legislature second that we’re putting our best foot forward to making a monumental effort to not raise tuition this much. I’d personally like to raise it none.”
But other board members said they had already agreed to the figure.
“The 6 percent is somewhat of a studied, evaluated and compromised number,” said Don Stansberry, the board’s vice chairman. “It was worked out in cooperation with the governor, Legislature, administration and university officials. It does weigh the interests of the students and it weighs the interests of the institutions.”
The Tennessean has a feature story on the recently-enacted state law that increases the penalty for assault when the victim is a health care provider, focused on a nurse who was attacked in 2004. The new statute, passed as HB306 and signed by the governor May 13, takes effect on July 1.
An excerpt: “The law acknowledges our professional role,” said Jill Kinch, president of the Tennessee Nurses Association. “In a way there is a symbolic piece to this. The community is saying, ‘We value you as nurses and we are going to include you with this other profession that has this level of penalty for assault, which is the police officer.’ ”
The fines are not symbolic. People convicted of assaulting health care workers will have to pay up to $5,000 — double the normal fine.
Health care is a dangerous profession. The incidence rate for violence against health care workers is more than triple the rate for all of private industry, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. From 2003 to 2009, eight nurses were killed on the job in the United States, and 2,050 nonfatal assaults occurred.
From the Commercial Appeal:
In what was the final hearing for the fiscal year 2014 budget, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton’s administration told City Council members on Thursday that immediately fixing all the city’s financial challenges, without a tax-rate increase, could involve layoffs of as many as 3,250 city employees.
Or, going to the other extreme, raising the tax rate by $1.72 to avoid layoffs but pay for things like full restoration of payments into the city pension fund.
The mayor also brought to council a set of less dire proposals he’ll present at Tuesday’s budget committee meeting before the full council meeting.
They included cuts to employee benefits, like the elimination of the 4.6 percent pay restoration council gave back to employees at a series of impasse meetings, for a savings of $12 million. Another calls for the elimination of a college incentive program for Memphis Police Department officers to save $6.2 million.
Full story HERE
The ABC TV network has renewed the show “Nashville” for another year, but now producers are asking for more state and local taxpayer money if it is to be filmed in the state’s capital city, reports the Tennessean. Even before the first season aired, the studio was lobbying the state to grandfather the production into a more generous incentive package than the one that cleared the legislature last year.
The first season’s production was able to recoup 32 percent of its production costs in the form of a 17 percent grant from the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development to reimburse production costs and a 15 percent refundable tax credit from the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
Under current law, however, reimbursement would be limited to a grant that covers 25 percent of costs. Representatives for the production have asked the state to have it exempted from that cap.
“It is my belief that the best place to shoot ‘Nashville’ is in Nashville,” series executive producer Steve Buchanan said. “And it is important that the city and state help with that.”
Clint Brewer, assistant commissioner of communications and creative services for the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, said Wednesday that discussions are ongoing.
The state budget now includes $11.25 million in one-time nonrecurring funds “in anticipation of renewing the incentive specifically for ‘Nashville’ at the 25 percent level,” Brewer said.
(Note: This is an unedited version of a column written for Knoxville Business Journal. The edited version is HERE.)
Most folks didn’t notice, but the Tennessee General Assembly imposed a new tax on some Tennessee businesses during its recently-completed 2013 session and raised taxes on others.
Gov. Bill Haslam, through his Department of Revenue, spearheaded a bill that did both under the title “Uniformity and Small Business Relief Act of 2013′ (SB183, as amended). An increased tax on companies producing solar energy products was accomplished through SB1000.
Yes, while legislators uniformly announced in post-session news releases they had cut taxes, they had also raised them.
The ballyhooed cuts were a reduction the state sales tax on grocery food from 5.25 percent to 5 percent and the exemption of more people over age 65 from paying the Hall income tax. (The exemption level was increase from $26,200 to $33,000 for single filers and from $37,000 to $59,000 for joint filers.)
More Tennessee teachers are heading for the exits. Since 2008 the number is up by more than a thousand – nearly doubling – to a total last year of almost 2,200, reports WPLN. Exactly why is a bit of a mystery. Some teachers see it as a response to a couple years of politically charged upheaval in state education policy. But state officials say it’s not so clear-cut, and even go so far as to argue higher turnover has an upside.
…State education researcher Nate Schwartz agrees many teachers getting bad scores may see it as their cue to leave, in what he calls “self-selection.” He says this isn’t driven by explicit state policy. And because so much has changed in the state over the last few years, Schwartz says it’s hard to pin down a specific cause for the retirement spike.
(Note: The article has a table showing annual teacher retirements from 2008 through 2012. In 2008, there were 1,195 teacher retirements, average age 60.5 years and average experience 26.7 years. In 2012, there were 2,197 retirements, average age 61.4 years, average experience 26.7 years.)
Besides the new evaluations, many teachers were outraged when lawmakers tossed out their collective-bargaining rights in 2011, as well as the old tenure system. But the uptick in retirements might have less to do with shifting policy, says Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman, and more to do with the economy.
Huffman notes people retired less “across all professions” amid the recession in 2008, “because their retirement accounts had been hit so badly.”
So if a lot of teachers already put off retiring a few years, Huffman says it’s no surprise to see more leaving now. The point he wants to emphasize is that teachers ranked at the bottom are retiring faster:
“Two years ago our best teachers and our lowest performing teachers retired at the same rate. And after last year, those rates completely diverge, so that our lowest performing teachers were retiring at twice the rate of our best-performing teachers.”
That trend points toward improving schools, Huffman says.
But it’s worth comparing more than just rates. In terms of real people, last year more top teachers retired – 129 of them, compared to 96 from the bottom. So even though 5s retired at a lower rate, there were still far more of them gone. State officials argue the rate is a more telling comparison, since in 2012 there were 6,704 teachers with 5s on the 1-to-5 scale, while 1s totaled just 2,644.
A bill repealing the need for corporations to disclose political contributions and more than doubling the amount of money partisan caucuses can put directly into legislative campaigns fell two votes short of passage Wednesday on the House floor.
The bill (HB643) by House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada would also repeal a law prohibiting direct political contributions to legislators by insurance companies, which now must form political action committees to make donations.
The vote was 48-41 with 50 votes required for passage. Thirteen of Casada’s fellow Republicans voted no on his bill, two others abstained and eight simply refused to vote at all – including House Speaker Beth Harwell, who was presiding over the chamber. Democrats unanimously opposed it.
House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada sponsored the bill, calling for passage as a means of bringing more political contributions into the state political system.
“Limiting money is limiting free speech,” declared Casada.
But critics faulted the bill for putting more money into state politics with less transparency. Perhaps the most impassioned protest came from Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, who said the flow of new money under the bill could be “perceived as unethical.”
“If you have received thousands and thousands of dollars, you may feel like your vote has been purchased,” she said.
“We are not bribeable,” replied Casada.
Other criticism came from Rep. Kent Williams of Elizabethton, the Legislature’s only independent, who said insurance companies would make political donations and pass the cost on to customers paying premiums, and several Democrats who objected to repealing the disclosure requirement for corporations.
Casada said the corporate reporting of donations is unnecessary because candidates receiving the money would still have to disclose receipt of the money.
Critics pointed out that the Registry of Election Finance now matches corporate and PAC contribution reports of donations made with candidate reports of donations received – occasionally finding cases where a candidate failed to report a donation. The bill would have removed the ability to make such a check with corporate money.
A bill to raise the penalty for not wearing a seat belt in Tennessee was approved by a Senate committee Tuesday only to be shot down two hours later in a House committee.
Proponents of the bill (SB487) contended that raising the fine from $10 to $50 would motivate more motorists to buckle up and thus reduce fatalities and injuries in traffic accidents.
A recent survey indicated that Tennessee seat belt useage fell from 87 percent to 83 percent last year, according to Highway Patrol Col. Tracy Trott.
But some legislator critics questioned that proposition. Others said the measure appeared aimed more at collecting revenue than safety. And Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, said he disliked the whole idea of government using fines to prod people into changing behavior in the interest of their personal safety.
“We’re all grown men and women. It not up to the state to protect us from our folly. It up to us,” said Henry.
Legislation allowing cigarette retailers to raise prices — by 32 cents per pack according to a legislative staff estimate — has cleared its first committee.
The bill by Rep. Matthew Hill, R-Jonesborough, deals with a current state law setting a minimum price for cigarettes. Hill told colleagues that has led to “large out-of-state cigarette manufacturers” requiring by contract that their products be sold at that price, costing retailers “hundreds of thousands if not millions of potential revenue” that could be realized by raising prices.
The Fiscal Review Committee staff calculated that the average price of a pack of cigarettes is currently about $5 in Tennessee and that the bill, if enacted, would let retailers charge an extra 32 cents per pack. It is further calculated that the higher price will drive down consumption so that the state loses about $1.4 million in annual revenue that it would otherwise receive from sales and tobacco taxes.
Because of complicated tax provisions interacting with the law on “state-shared revenue,” however, the Fiscal Review staff figures that local governments will actually receive more money if the law is changed to raise prices, even if cigarette sales drop as predicted.
Current law says retailers can sell cigarettes at no more than 8 percent above the price they pay to get them. The bill (HB644) would raise the ceiling to 15 percent above their cost. It is being pushed by lobbyists for convenience stores.
It was approved by the House Agriculture Committee last week and faces its first Senate committee vote this week.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal that would increase the fine for not wearing a seat belt by $40 is advancing in the Senate.
The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Bill Ketron of Murfreesboro narrowly passed the Senate Transportation Committee 5-4 on Wednesday. The companion bill was to be heard in the House Transportation Subcommittee later in the day.
Currently the penalty for not wearing a seat belt is $10. Under this proposal, the fine would be $50.
Ketron said the measure is simply to encourage people to buckle up.
However, Republican Sen. Frank Niceley of Strawberry Plains said “these are hard times” and people shouldn’t be fined if they don’t want to wear a seat belt.