Tag Archives: program

TN GOP’s ‘Red to the Roots’ Program Targets Local Offices

With state-level elective offices firmly in its control, the state Republican Party is now ready to move on to local-level offices with a new “Red to the Roots” program, says Tennessee Republican Chairman Chris Devaney.
The idea is to encourage county Republican parties to designate nominees for city and county elective offices where they can. Currently, most cities and counties have nonpartisan elections for local office, though state law generally allows county parties to designate party nominees if they wish — exceptions including cases in which a city or county charter specifies bipartisan elections.
“We’ve had a lot of success with our state-level candidates,” Devaney said, referring to the GOP supermajority in the Legislature and Republicans holding the governor’s office, both U.S. Senate seats and seven of nine U.S. House seats. “Now, we’re ready to look at the local offices — county mayors, sheriffs and maybe a few judgeships.”
“These are places where Democrats still have a hold,” he said. “It’s their bench” for candidates who could in the future seek a state-level office. With local-level partisan campaigns he said, “We can build our bench.”

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Norris leads Legislature in Taking a LEAP

In a trip to Germany last November, Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris was impressed with BMW’s long-running apprenticeship program, which retains more than 90 percent of its recruits for careers at the company, reports Richard Locker. Gov. Bill Haslam, meanwhile, has been talking up the notion of having state schools do more to train students in job-specific skills for businesses.
Norris, a lawyer, drafted a bill himself to try to accomplish that, enacting the Labor Education Alignment Program, or LEAP, that he and others shepherded through the General Assembly this year with the backing of the Haslam administration and the state’s higher education governing boards.
LEAP is a statewide comprehensive program to provide students at community colleges and the former Tennessee Technology Centers — which were renamed Tennessee Colleges of Applied Technology on July 1 — the opportunity to combine occupational training in a high-skill or high-tech industry with academic credit applied toward post-high-school credentials. Students would take academic courses tailored for careers and work in paid apprenticeships and get academic credit for both.
…Norris said he believes LEAP was one of the most significant programs enacted by the 2013 legislature, even if it received little publicity.
“It’s work, earn and learn. The goal is to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential — an associate degree or higher — from 32 percent now to 55 percent by 2025,” Norris said.
That’s the goal of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, in which he cites studies showing that by 2025, at least 55 percent of jobs in the state will require some level of higher education. “The risk is that Tennessee doesn’t prepare the graduates that we need for the workforce and all these businesses that we’re recruiting go somewhere else. It’s really that simple,” the governor told business and education leaders when he kicked off the series of discussions last July at the governor’s residence.
The new LEAP law requires a curriculum focused on high-skill jobs, emerging occupations and skilled manufacturing jobs, including advanced manufacturing, electronics, information technology, infrastructure engineering, and transportation and logistics. Some will be offered to students starting in 2014.
Norris said he believes LEAP was one of the most significant programs enacted by the 2013 legislature, even if it received little publicity.
“It’s work, earn and learn. The goal is to increase the percentage of Tennesseans with a postsecondary credential — an associate degree or higher — from 32 percent now to 55 percent by 2025,” Norris said.
That’s the goal of Haslam’s “Drive to 55” initiative, in which he cites studies showing that by 2025, at least 55 percent of jobs in the state will require some level of higher education. “The risk is that Tennessee doesn’t prepare the graduates that we need for the workforce and all these businesses that we’re recruiting go somewhere else. It’s really that simple,” the governor told business and education leaders when he kicked off the series of discussions last July at the governor’s residence.
The new LEAP law requires a curriculum focused on high-skill jobs, emerging occupations and skilled manufacturing jobs, including advanced manufacturing, electronics, information technology, infrastructure engineering, and transportation and logistics. Some will be offered to students starting in 2014.

TN Library Loan System Goes on the Road

News release from Secretary of State’s Office:
Tennessee’s public libraries will soon have more books available – cheaper and faster than before – thanks to a new interlibrary loan service set to debut next year.
The new Firefly Courier service, developed by the Tennessee State Library and Archives, will link rural, suburban and urban public libraries throughout the state, as well as libraries at colleges and universities.
The new courier service will allow libraries to request and receive books on loan from other libraries more quickly and more efficiently. Interlibrary loans, which previously were handled through the postal service, account for about 125,000 books checked out from Tennessee libraries each year.
The State Library and Archives, part of the Office of the Secretary of State, provides support and training for regional library systems across Tennessee.
“For many years, we have tried to reimburse libraries for their postage costs to support the interlibrary loan program,” State Librarian and Archivist Chuck Sherrill said. “We have been spending about $200,000 per year, but even that only covers about half the postage costs.”

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TN Recovers $540K in Overpaid Benefits Under Fed Anti-Fraud Program

Tennessee has recovered more than half a million dollars in overpaid unemployment benefits and overdue taxes since joining a federal anti-fraud program in July, according to The Tennessean.
The $540,000 recovered so far will help lower employers’ unemployment insurance tax payments, the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development said.
Tennessee joined the federal Treasury Offset Program in July. The program allows states to intercept tax refunds, military pay and other federal payments to those who received more state unemployment benefits than they were eligible for or owed unemployment taxes.
Of the $540,000 collected in Tennessee so far, $436,000 was voluntarily repaid after the state notified those who owed money. The rest was taken from tax refunds, retirement pay, contractor/vendor payments or other federal payments.
Under the program, the state expects to recover as much as $17 million through intercepted federal tax refunds alone in the next several years.
The recovered money is put into Tennessee’s unemployment insurance trust fund, which is used to pay benefits
.

Food Funds Flowing Slower This Month in SNAP Program

Needy families accustomed to getting supplemental food benefits from the government may face delays in getting help this month because the state is shifting to a new distribution model, says The Tennessean..
The state is staggering distribution of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) across the first 20 days of the month, rather than the first 10 days. Many agree that the shift could ultimately be helpful as it levels out the demand for popular foods, but this transitional month is leaving a large chunk of recipients waiting as long as 10 extra days for much-needed October assistance.
Numbers from Oct. 1 show 600,172 households are receiving monthly food benefits, according to Tennessee Department of Human Services spokeswoman Devin Stone. While the amount they receive varies, the average is $260.
The state estimates 541,910 of those households are seeing their benefits delayed between one and 10 days during this transitional month only.
“(As of Thursday), more than half of SNAP recipients have been through the transition and received their benefits,” Stone said in an email. “Moving forward, recipients will receive benefits every 30 days as normal.”

Comptroller Sees ‘Risky Situation’ in BEP Funding

Tennessee’s Comptroller is warning a pair of programs used to fund education may be in a “risky situation,” says WPLN.
A new report from the Comptroller’s office expresses several concerns with the Basic Education Program, or BEP. It’s been used to divvy out state money to local school districts since the early 90s, and the amounts are determined, in part, by how many students are on the rolls.
Those figures are submitted by the districts themselves. Add in economic pressures, the argument goes, and there’s an incentive for overstating how many kids are in school on an average day. What’s more, the report’s authors also contend two decades of tweaks have made the formula so convoluted that school systems can’t be sure they’re truly receiving the right amount.
The Comptroller’s office doesn’t accuse anyone of gaming the system now, but suggests changes are needed to remove the temptation. And it says that’s a lesson that can be applied to the relatively new Complete College Tennessee Act.


Note: The full report is HERE. Comptroller Justin Wilson is scheduled to talk about it with the Legislature’s Fiscal Review Committee on Aug. 27.

TDEC Critic Involved in Mitigation Melee

As part of a story on the controversy over the state’s mitigation program and related legislation, Anne Paine uses the example of a Sumner County creek that was apparently damaged by a development that was supposed to pay into the mitigation fund, but did not.
Halo Properties LLC had sought permission about four years ago to shorten and move the creek. It agreed to pay $140,000 to the Tennessee Stream Mitigation Program for the approval to do so. The company also contracted to pay $27,000 to fill in a 0.39-acre wetland elsewhere.
The money for wetlands was paid in 2008 to the Harpeth Wetland Bank, but documents show the $140,000 was not, despite the requirement.
“My understanding is it is being paid,” said Danny Hale of Halo Realty in Hendersonville. “Either it has or it will be,” he said.
He was a partner in Halo Properties but said that company is in receivership. He said the property was sold two years ago.
….A road was built across the property where the creek was shifted and the wetlands removed, but no development was built.
In January 2009, the state issued a notice of violation to Halo Properties, on grounds that included the failure to pay the $140,000. An official invoice to Halo from the stream mitigation program was not sent until November 2011, though Halo asked for one earlier.
One of two annual required monitoring reports of the site where the stream was shifted has not been received, TDEC officials said last week.
The issue is being assessed by the state’s water pollution control division, Meg Lockhart, TDEC spokeswoman, said Friday.
Sulkin’s group and the Tennessee Environmental Council, meanwhile, are taking action on a situation they say has only lingered.
They said they sent notice Friday that they intend to sue Danny Hale of Halo for polluting streams.
The company has failed to meet requirements, including not having paid the stream mitigation money, not planting enough trees and not establishing a 50-foot buffer on each side of the stream, they say in their letter.
…Hale is one of the businesspeople who blasted TDEC in round-table talks Gov. Bill Haslam held last year as comments were sought on how to make the state more business-friendly

Critics See ‘Wholesale Auction’ of Stream Quality Underway

A decade-old, multi-million dollar program for restoring degraded Tennessee streams has come under attack in the state Legislature even as Gov. Bill Haslam’s administration moves to give it new legal status.
Critics of the Tennessee Stream Mitigation Program, which is overseen by a non-profit foundation, characterized it as a “wholesale auction” of the state’s waterways to developers who can pay a fee for their pollution while leaving devastated downstream landowners in a lurch.
Testimony in a hearing before the House Conservation committee also raised questions about whether the non-profit Tennessee Wildlife Resources Foundation faces appropriate financial accountability under the present setup, which was put in place by a 2002 “memorandum of understanding” between state and federal agencies.

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TVA Giving State $26M for Energy Efficiency

More than $26 million in TVA settlement funds will help the state buy electric cars and rework several buildings to reduce energy costs and air pollution, reports The Tennessean.
A new Clean Tennessee Energy Grant Program, also, is available to local governments, businesses and other groups for amounts of up to $250,000.
“Increasing energy efficiency in state government will help us be even better stewards of both taxpayer dollars and our environment,” Gov. Bill Haslam said in an emailed announcement Wednesday
. “These projects will benefit Tennesseans on both fronts, and I look forward to implementing additional projects as we move forward.”
The funding comes from a Clean Air Act settlement with the Tennessee Valley Authority last April that ended a series of lawsuits over pollution from its coal-burning power plants. Tennessee will receive about $5.25 million a year for five years. In the first year, $2.25 million will go for air quality grants, and $3 million will pay for energy efficiency projects in state government.

Ramsey, Faulk Oppose Cut to Program for Disabled

Emotional appeals were directed Friday at Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and state Sen. Mike Faulk to maintain funding for a state program serving home-based family members with severe disabilities, reports Hank Hayes.
About 20 families with disabled loved ones filed into the auditorium at the Kingsport Public Library to testify on behalf of keeping the Family Support Program in the state budget. Last month, Tennessee Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Commissioner Jim Henry proposed the $7 million program be cut from the state budget for the coming fiscal year.
The program, run in Northeast Tennessee by The Arc of Washington County, provides support services such as respite care, day care, home modifications, equipment, nursing and counseling.
….Blind Kingsport resident Patty Fletcher said that without the program, she had no one to read mail and no way to pay her bills.
“What would you do if you were disabled and needed these services yourself?” she asked the two lawmakers.
The program, which serves 215 families in Northeast Tennessee and more than 4,000 statewide, has been funded the past two years by federal stimulus funds and the state’s Rainy Day Fund, according to advocates.
Maximum allowable direct aid per person is $4,000 each year, and the statewide average aid allocation was $1,387 in the last fiscal year, according to the program.
…Ramsey, R-Blountville, pointed out state lawmakers cut $1.2 billion from last year’s budget and still funded the program.
“If we can’t find a way out of a $30 billion budget to find $7.2 million for you, you ought to send us home,” Ramsey told the families.
Before the meeting started, Ramsey also noted: “From the bottom of my heart, I’m going to make sure we make the least amount of cuts for the most vulnerable. I have meetings with constituent groups, but this is the toughest one. You want to help and do everything you can, but we can’t be like the federal government and borrow yourself into oblivion. We have to balance the budget. We will make those tough choices, but I hope there are no cuts for these people.”
Faulk, R-Church Hill, told the group that the program’s funding goes to help families trying to help themselves.
“That contrasts with a lot of other areas in state government where money is handed out to folks who are not necessarily trying to help themselves…” Faulk said to applause. “We hear you. We heard you before you spoke today because many of you and your problems and needs are near and dear to my heart and the lieutenant governor’s heart. … Republicans are bashed all over the country as being cold-hearted, cruel, mean people because they cut budgets. In Tennessee for three consecutive years, the budgets have been cut because the money has not been there. … We have to reprioritize.”