(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.)
Despite presiding over the Tennessee Democratic Party during a time when 30 of its elected officials either lost elections or left office, party Chairman Chip Forrester was rewarded over the past year with a nearly 33 percent salary increase, reports The Tennessean. The Democratic Executive Committee decided to give Forrester the raise even though Republicans increased their majority in the state House of Representatives in the 2010 election. Forrester had earlier agreed that he would be entitled to a $25,000 bonus only if Democrats reclaimed a House majority in 2010.
With the pay raise, which came in two increments over the past year, Forrester’s salary is now $125,000.
“I can’t imagine any reason why it was awarded, not only considering the (election) losses, but that’s a 33 percent increase,” party executive committee member Will Cheek of Nashville said. “Nobody is given 33 percent increases in their salary in this economy.”
Democratic Party spokesman Brandon Puttbrese, however, pointed to Forrester’s achievements in the areas of modernizing the party’s voter data system and increasing political involvement of “underserved” groups such as Latinos as justification for the increase. Puttbrese said the increase was really a return to what the chairman’s position had paid previously
News release from Scott DesJarlais campaign:
(Jasper, Tennessee) – Representative Scott DesJarlais (TN-04) today announced that his recently filed FEC report will show in excess of $606K in total receipts for the 2012 election cycle and over $436K cash on hand.
The report is available online.
These fundraising totals are far more than former Democrat Congressman Lincoln Davis ever had at the end of a non-election year and are historically high for Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional District.
The report will also show the DesJarlais campaign raised $154,127 for the fourth quarter – the campaign’s best fundraising quarter to date.
Said Representative DesJarlais. “I ran for Congress because I wanted the people of Tennessee’s Fourth Congressional district to have an independent, conservative voice in Washington. From the beginning, I promised my constituents that above all else, I would never lose sight of the fact that I work for them. I’m committed to continuing my efforts to bring common sense, conservative solutions to meet the challenges that our nation faces.”
On Friday, the DesJarlais campaign launched a district-wide radio ad buy highlighting Congressman DesJarlais’ conservative record, including votes to repeal Obamacare and his work to reduce spending and our national debt.
The radio ad is available at: www.scottdesjarlais.com/radio
— UPDATE: Andy Sher has some details on the donations: His FEC report shows donors including leadership political action committees affiliated with House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia. Each contributed $5,000. Prosperity PAC, associated with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., gave $5,000.
Kock Industries PAC, which is associated with the controversial Republican conservative industrialists David and Charles Koch, gave $2,500 to DesJarlais.
Jimmy Haslam III, the brother of Republican Gov. Bill Haslam, gave $3,500 while Jimmy Haslam’s wife, Susan, gave $2,000 to DesJarlais. Colleen Welch, Vanderbilt University’s director of nursing and wife of Republican developer and fundraiser Ted Welch, gave $850.
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) — One day after the Tennessee Valley Authority board extended a pay freeze for a second year, a report shows TVA President and CEO Tom Kilgore’s compensation increased by $352,000 in fiscal 2011, to $3.95 million.
A TVA filing Friday with the Securities and Exchange Commission shows compensation increased for all five of its top executives.
Kilgore is one of the highest paid federal employees in the United States.
A TVA spokesman said Thursday after the board extended the pay freeze for fiscal 2012 that the SEC filing could show increases in long term pension and some other compensation.
The Chattanooga Times Free Press reports that TVA Personnel Vice President Janet Heron said Friday that the nation’s largest public utility tries to “provide a competitive compensation package that rewards performance.” (http://bit.ly/snhoab )
By Eric Schelzig
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Bill Haslam’s second executive order as governor was a pledge to promote greater transparency in Tennessee government. Almost six months into the Republican’s administration, there’s little that shows an enhanced dedication to openness.
Though aides in January touted the transparency order as a major development, that claim had already been undermined by directive No. 1 from Haslam, which scuttled requirements for the governor and his top aides to disclose the amount of their outside income.
“He got off to a rough start with that significant step back,” said Dick Williams of the advocacy group Common Cause. “It kind of stuck out like sore thumb.”
And Haslam hasn’t done much since then — either through legislation or action — to deliver improvements in openness in state government over what existed under his Democratic predecessor, Phil Bredesen.
For example, when Haslam decided to raise the salaries of 15 department heads by at least 11 percent, he didn’t see fit to inform the public or lawmakers, who only found out about the change weeks later from an Associated Press analysis of salary records.
Robert O’Connell, executive director of the Tennessee State Employees Association, said the hefty raises for Cabinet members came a shock because other government workers were only slated to receive a 1.6 percent bump.
“It’s conceivable that they may be necessary,” O’Connell said. “But the way we had to find out that it was happening? That left state employees sort of raw.”
The independent union that represents staff employees at the University of Tennessee is unhappy with Chancellor Jimmy Cheek’s $27,600 raise, reports Megan Boehnke. Local United Campus Workers President Tom Anderson said in a release that the chancellor’s raise is more than his annual salary and “almost twice what the lowest-paid UT employees earn in a year.”
Faculty and staff across the Knoxville campus are slated to get a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment and a 3 percent merit pool, according to the budget approved by the board of trustees on Thursday. The merit pool represents 3 percent of the total payroll, but only high-performing employees will get a boost and the amounts vary, UT President Joe DiPietro said.
“This raise won’t even cover the increase in employee health insurance premiums, never mind the other costs that have gone up in the four years since our last raise,” Anderson said in a statement.
DiPietro, who attended the UT Foundation board meeting on Friday, defended the 8 percent raise for Cheek. That bump is within the pool available for other employees at Knoxville and is also a result of market research showing Cheek is underpaid compared with people in similar positions across the nation, he said.
Pushing for better pay at the University of Tennessee, members of United Campus Workers at a midday Wednesday rally heard some good news, reports the News Sentinel. Their pay raise, budgeted last week by the state Legislature, just got a little bit larger. “We found out confirmation this morning that … the UT system has approved a 2 percent increase across the board with a $1,000 minimum,” UCW-CWA President Tom Anderson said after the small gathering at the Torchbearer statue, synchronized with UCW events at 11 other colleges.
The General Assembly passed a budget on Saturday night that included $45 million in higher-education capital improvements and delayed maintenance funding as well as a 1.6 percent pay raise for employees. Although this was an improvement, Anderson said he’d hoped for a more noticeable pay raise. Meanwhile, in Memphis…
The University of Memphis’ lowest-paid employees, who polish floors, empty trash and clean bathrooms, demonstrated Wednesday for equitable pay raises that move them closer to a living wage, reports the Commercial Appeal. A dozen or so employees gathered on Central near Patterson to press their case for the low-paid employees to receive bigger pay raises than 1.6 percent approved by the General Assembly in May.
Waving signs proclaiming “Living Wage Now,” they aimed their plea at U of M administrators and Tennessee Board of Regents officials who will decide how state money will be parceled out. The informational picket came amid rumblings the University of Tennessee system is looking at minimum pay raises well above 1.6 percent.
The event was staged by United Campus Workers, which is working to form a union at U of M, the Workers Interfaith Network of the Mid-South, a social justice organization, and the U of M’s Progressive Student Alliance.
When the recession was in full swing last year, the state put a freeze on all routine raise, but according to WSMV-TV, taxpayers did pay for some state workers — people connected to the most powerful lawmakers in the state — to get raises. The Legislature amended the budget last year to say raises were contingent on how much the state made. Because revenues were low, no workers got routine raises last fiscal year. Some received more money because of promotions to new jobs, obtaining advanced degrees or equity adjustments.
But the I-Team found powerful lawmakers gave their staffers raises for none of those reasons. Legislators doled out more cash simply because they felt their staff deserved it.
“Unfortunately, it looks like it’s a question of who you know, not what you know,” said John Lachs, Vanderbilt University philosophy and ethics professor.
The I-Team found Lt. Gov. and Speaker of the Senate Ron Ramsey approved pay hikes for 18 senate staffers last fiscal year at the same time both former Gov. Phil Bredesen and the Legislature didn’t allow raises for the other 42,825 employees of the state.
They even sent state workers a letter letting them know raises were not possible because of state budget constraints.
So how did these staffers get raises?
Records obtained by the I-Team show the staffers got what’s called a “classification upgrade.” That’s when a raise is given to keep a salary competitive.
These staffers didn’t get a promotion. They didn’t receive more schooling to earn a higher salary. They just got it because Ramsey felt they deserved it.
“There’s nothing wrong with that — nothing,” said Ramsey.
“Do you think the rest of state workers, when they learn of these classification upgrades, will feel that way?” asked I-Team reporter Caroline Moses.
“I do,” Ramsey said.
The Senate staffers who received 4 or 8 percent raises last year all either work for committee heads or the Senate speaker and had their salaries approved by Ramsey, who said he gave them raises because they took on more work.