For a while Tuesday, Gov. Bill Haslam proposed to continue providing $2.4 million in annual funding to the school founded by World War I hero Alvin York for three more years, rather than shutting the money off after one more year as planned in the governor’s budget.
But spokesmen for about 200 supporters of York Institute – including a son and daughter of the sergeant who won the Congressional Medal of Honor – said that a cutoff of special state funding in three years is still inappropriately compromising a state government promise made to York in the 1930s.
“There’s probably going to be a floor fight in both chambers and we don’t know how it’s going to come out,” said House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, who is carrying Haslam’s bill on York Institute funding (HB1278). “With this bill, we’ll have that fight in three years instead of this year.”
The bill also set up a “transition planning committee” to assist in transferring financial responsibility for operating York Institute to Fentress County from the state.
But after the cool reception for what the administration saw as a compromise, McCormick at first moved to put off a vote on the proposal until today. Then – after a meeting with Haslam – he returned and yanked it from further consideration by the House Education Subcommittee, effectively withdrawing the offer and leaving in place plans to shut off direct state funding on July 1, 2014.
At that point, York Institute would be treated just like any other public school with Fentress County operating the school and receiving state funding through the Basic Education Program (BEP) formula. Local officials said that a property tax increase would likely be needed to offset the loss of $2.4 million in the special allocation.
McCormick said that Herbert Slaterly, the governor’s legal counsel, is reviewing “a stack of old documents” provided by York supporters to determine exactly what commitment was made by the state when York Institution was created by a legislative act in 1936.
The governor’s administration “wants to ween them off the money,” said McCormick. Beyond that, he said specifics of what to do are up in the air.
Legislators defending the present setup – Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, and Reps. Kelly Keisling, R-Harriman, and John Mark Windle, D-Livingston – all wore “York Forever” buttons. Basically, they contend that York wanted a school for rural youngsters and agreed to raise money and donate land to build the school in exchange for a state commitment to provide operational funding for the future.
In debate Tuesday, Rep. Joe Pitts, D-Clarksville, said that eliminating the state funding would “tarnish the image and the memory of Sgt. York and that’s something we just don’t want to do.”
But Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, chairman of the subcommittee, said York’s legacy is not the only consideration. He declared that legislators also have “a fiscal responsibility to our state” because “unlike federal government, we have to balance our budget.”
The House and Senate are now officially at loggerheads over whether college student identification cards should be valid for voting.
The Senate earlier voted to change current law and make the student ID issued by public colleges and universities valid. But the House stripped that provision out of SB125 before approving the measure Monday night on a 69-24 vote.
What remains are provisions declaring that library cards bearing a photograph and issued by the City of Memphis are invalid for voting – though the state Court of Appeals ruled they could be used – and new ban on using photo ID issued by another state for voting. Current law allows out-of-state ID cards, even if they have expired.
The measure inspired somewhat heated debate. Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, said he felt “hoodwinked and bamboozled” by the transformation of the bill and Rep. Johnnie Turner, D-Memphis, said it was “another form of voter suppression.”
“This talk about voting suppression is just not true! I’m tired of hearing about it,” responded House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, contending the legislation is designed to stop voter fraud.
McCormick said “a state Senate election was stolen in the City of Memphis just a few years ago” and a Memphis NAACP official had talked on TV about people voting in multiple places in the past.
Reps. Joe Armstrong, D-Knoxville, and Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, questioned the provision ending out-of-state ID as valid for voting having an impact on “property rights voters.” Many cities allow non-residents who own property within the jurisdiction to vote and Dean noted some of these may be from outside the state – particularly in the Chattanooga area with the Georgia border nearby.
Armstrong said that Bill Haslam, now governor, won his first election as mayor of Knoxville by about
Concerned with the prospect of a local government setting up what one leader called a “little people’s republic,” the Legislature’s Republican supermajority is moving on several fronts to assert state authority over cities and counties.
Some Democrats and local government officials decry the trend as an assault on local control and incongruous with Republican criticisms of the federal government for dictating to state governments.
“The level of contempt that this Republican majority has for local governments and working people is simply disgusting,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner of Old Hickory.
Turner’s remarks came after House approval Thursday of a bill (HB501) that declares local governments cannot put conditions on their contracts with businesses that require the businesses to pay more than minimum wages set by state or federal law, provide insurance or family leave. It also prohibits local governments from enforcing any ordinance on “wage theft,” wherein a company fails to live up to promises to pay a given wage or provide benefits.
The bill was approved 66-27 on a mostly party-line vote — Republicans for it, Democrats against — after a sometimes heated debate. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, may have best summed up the GOP view of such legislation.
Attorney General Bob Cooper’s office warned Wednesday that Gov. Bill Haslam’s plan to streamline rate setting for utilities shifts their “business risks” onto households and businesses, effectively making them guarantee the monopolies’ profits, reports Andy Sher. “What this does in our opinion is make it more likely that rates will increase for business and households,” Assistant Attorney General Vance Broemel told House Business and Utilities Committee members Wednesday.
Broemel is the chief attorney in the attorney general’s Consumer Advocate Division, which often intervenes in rate hearings on increases sought by utilities.
But Tennessee Regulatory Chairman Jim Allison sought to assure lawmakers, saying similar changes have been put into place in states like Georgia. Tens of thousands of customers served by companies like Tennessee American Water and Chattanooga Gas need not be fearful, he said.
“The attorney general is focused in a very narrow sense on the rate of return” for utilities, Allison said. “But what they’ve missed is before TRA will allow anyone to enter into one of these, we have to go into a process to establish that this is in the public interest.”
The panel approved the administration bill, sponsored by House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, on a voice vote.
Haslam’s bill, developed in conjunction with the governor’s recently reshaped TRA, creates a new regulatory framework for dozens of investor-owned utilities.
It won’t apply to public power distributors or AT&T and some other telecommunications companies under “market regulation.” The bill also cuts regulatory fees paid to the state by some companies, including AT&T, while increasing them for others like the water and gas utilities.
Lowered fees will reduce TRA’s revenues for operations by an estimated $1.1 million annually and result in staff reductions, according to a fiscal note on the bill.
The bill creates “alternative regulatory” methods that can be used instead of full-blown rate hearings utilities now must go through. But it keeps such hearings for utilities that wish to continue them.
See also The Tennessean report. An excerpt: In his Tuesday letter to the House Business and Utilities Committee, the attorney general said the bill would effectively shift the utilities’ “business risks to Tennessee households and businesses,” ensuring that the companies make “monopoly profits” regardless of how well they are managed.
“Furthermore, under the proposed annual rate review mechanism, utility customers who have enjoyed rate stability under the current system can expect yearly rate increases in many cases,” Cooper wrote.
Despite Cooper’s warning, the bill was cleared by the committee Wednesday on a voice vote and was sent to the House Finance Committee. The companion Senate bill has yet to see any movement, the attorney general’s office said Thursday.
The House sent to Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday night a bill that eliminates a $3.50 per month discount that about 93,000 low-income Tennesseans now receive on their landline telephone bill.
The measure (SB1180) was approved by a 91-1 vote. The sole no vote came from Rep. G.A. Hardaway, D-Memphis, who said he approves of most provisions in the overall bill, but not the section impacting the “Lifeline” phone discount. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said a $9.25 monthly federal discount for persons with low income will remain intact and that should be adequate.
Phone companies at one time were reimbursed by the federal government for the state-mandated discount as well, but that ended under legislation enacted by Congress last year.
The bill (SB1180), pushed by AT&T and other phone companies, was approved earlier by the Senate. It makes various other changes in state law that McCormick described as “obsolete.”
From the Chattanooga Times-Free Press:
“I can use any number of examples of bad things we could do more efficiently than the federal government. That doesn’t mean we should do them,” House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said after a speech to the downtown Chamber of Commerce.
McCormick represents a conservative faction at odds with Republican Gov. Bill Haslam in a deadline-driven fight over health insurance markets required by the Affordable Care Act. Haslam has until Dec. 14 to authorize a state-run insurance exchange; if he does nothing before the deadline, the federal government will set it up.
“The feds created it. Let them run it,” McCormick said. “I don’t have an obligation to clean their mess for them.” While Alabama and Georgia have decided against setting up exchanges, Tennessee and nine other states are still split over state-versus-federal.
Haslam routinely criticizes “Obamacare,” but he’s pushing for a state-run exchange he believes will be less costly and more helpful than a federal program.
Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam says he’s leaning toward the state running its own insurance exchange program under the federal health care overhaul, according to WPLN. But he’s holding off on making a final decision, which is required by the end of next week. The Republican-led state legislature would have to sign off, and some lawmakers in the governor’s party are dubious.
“I think politically it will be difficult. In some other states, you had some governors who said they wanted to do it and a legislature that voted no. But I think the arguments haven’t been made yet.”
Haslam says a state exchange could create better tax situations for businesses that choose to use it to insure their employees. And Haslam says insurance companies who would offer plans on the exchange, tell him they’d prefer to work with states over the federal government.
…House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick argues a state-run exchange would be a hard sell among rank-and-file Republicans.
“The federal government is the one that set up this and quite frankly made this mess, and I think we’ll probably let them deal with it.”
Democratic candidate Frank Eaton, who is running against Republican Rep. Richard Floyd of Chattanooga, charged that House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick took down two of Eaton’s campaign signs on Highway 153, reports the Times-Free Press. McCormick…acknowledged removing the signs Saturday in a telephone call he made moments after a confrontation with Eaton. The lawmaker said the signs were illegally posted on the public right of way in front of a shopping center that he partially owns and manages.
McCormick said Eaton’s two signs and one belonging to a treecutting service were taken down as mowers cut grass. He said he called the treecutter, whose sign included a phone number, and left him a message to come pick up his sign. Not knowing how to call Eaton, McCormick said, he called and left a message for Floyd asking how to contact him.
Then, he said, Eaton and his wife drove up and the candidate demanded to know what he was doing.
“They jumped out and started taking pictures and put me under cross-examination,” McCormick said. “I was out in broad daylight on one of the busiest streets in the county doing my job and my private business, and he got upset about it.”
“I would have pulled down anyone’s sign,” McCormick said.
Eaton sent out a news release in which he described seeing McCormick carrying off one of his signs. (Note: There’s also a video of McCormick in his car, talking with Eaton, HERE.)
“He said the signs had been on his private property and he was removing them,” Eaton said. “I questioned whether the property was his, and then he said the signs were not allowed in the ‘right of way’ of that road.”
…According to Eaton, McCormick said he didn’t know exactly where the property line was.
“I asked if it was his statement that he had removed my signs from a public road without knowing whether they were on his private property or not. He became visibly angry and said, “Are you a lawyer? Is this a cross-examination?'”
He also said McCormick said, “I don’t give a [expletive deleted] what you do. If you want to turn this into a fight, that’s your choice. I guess I’ve given you a reason.”
McCormick said he would have removed anyone’s signs, including Floyd’s, had they been there.
He acknowledged he “may have used some stronger language than necessary but after 10 minutes of being seriously berated … I was fed up.”
Hamilton County Democrats will have no one on the Nov. 6 ballot opposing state House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick in the 26th Legislative District race, reports Andy Sher. McCormick, R-Chattanooga, still has an opponent, though — independent W. Rodger Cooksey, of Hixson.
Democratic Party Chairman Paul Smith said Wednesday that after nominee Larry Miller withdrew from the race on Aug. 24 to take a job in Texas, Democrats had only 10 days to replace him. They couldn’t do it.
“We talked to several people, but with such short notice and [name] recognition, we felt there was not enough time,” Smith said.
The party would have had to hold a caucus and time constraints made that impractical, Smith said.
“We didn’t just want to put a name up there,” he said.
Last month, Miller said he was going to the University of Texas at Austin where he will be the director of the National Institute of Staff and Organizational Development.
Republican state legislators raised almost $400,000 just from those on a major donor list during a Nashville fundraiser for their fall campaigns.
The event, held at the War Memorial Auditorium adjoining the Legislative Plaza, had 10 organizations or individuals designated as “sponsors” for contributing $25,000 or more and 13 on a “host” list that required a contribution of $10,000. Assuming each listed donor gave the minimum amount, that would mean at least $380,000.
Brent Leatherwood, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus, declined to give a specific amount of money collected saying the money “is still coming in” from some who made pledges. He said the goal was $400,000 and he hopes that was exceeded.
Others have suggested the take approached $525,000.
Those listed as $25,000 “sponsors” included U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan, two liquor distilleries – Brown Foreman and Jack Daniels – and two legislative lobbyist firms, Bivens and Associates and McMahan Winstead. Others were American Esoteric Laboratories, FedEx Corp., Joyce and willis Johnson, Teresa and Garry McNabb and StudentsFirst, an education reform group founded by fomer Washington, D.C., school superintendent Michelle Rhee.
Three congressmen were among those listed as $10,000 “hosts” – Reps. Diane Black, Phil Roe and Stephen Fincher.
Others in the $10,000 category were Natalie and Jim Haslam, state Comptroller Justin Wilson, the Tennessee Malt Beverage Association, Tennessee Bankers Association, Titlemax, Video Gaming Technology, Carl Hailey and three lobbyist firms.
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Thursday that “it’s a whole lot easier” to raise money now that Republicans enjoy full control over the House and Senate. Asked why, he replied:
“I guess we’re just better looking, funnier and more attractive than we used to be,” he said.