Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey on Thursday joined Gov. Bill Haslam in supporting the federal legislation requiring large out-of-state Internet retailers to collect sales taxes on purchases and said that U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn is “100 percent wrong” by calling it a new and unfair tax.
Further from the Richard Locker report: “She’s wrong on this. It’s not a new tax. And how can you say it’s unfair? It’s not a new tax and it is fair,” Ramsey told reporters.
Ramsey, R-Blountville, the speaker of the state Senate, said Tennessee could use some of the estimated $748 million it looses per year in uncollected sales tax on Internet purchases to reduce or eliminate other taxes like the “Hall” tax on interest and dividend income. “I’d love to take that money and reduce the Hall Income Tax. I’m in favor of eliminating it … but I think we could for sure get to where we eliminate it for people over 65.”
His remarks further illustrate how divided Tennessee Republicans are on the Marketplace Fairness Ac, which passed the U.S. Senate with bipartisan votes Monday but faces an uphill battle in the GOP-controlled House. Tennessee’s two Republican senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, voted for the bill, and Alexander is one of its leading proponents. But no Republican in Tennessee’s U.S. House delegation has come out in favor of it.
Blackburn, R-Brentwood, told the Chattanooga Times Free Press on Tuesday, “There’s nothing fair about the Marketplace Fairness Act” and, “We don’t need the federal government mandating additional taxes on Tennessee families and businesses.”
In the aftermath of House-Senate hostility at an end of the legislative session, the Senate Republican Caucus has decided to terminate a joint fundraising operation with the House Republican Caucus.
For years, the two GOP legislative caucuses have combined for fundraising to form the Tennessee Republican Caucus, which would solicit contributions and host events. The joint caucus then paid the fundraising costs and split the remaining money between the House Republican Caucus and the Senate Republican Caucus.
In the past two years, reports filed with the Registry of Election finance show the House Republican Caucus has received checks totaling $460,465 from the arrangement; the Senate Republican Caucus $425,590.
The Tennessee Republican Caucus still had a balance of $123,000 in the last report it filed, dated Jan. 25. That will now apparently be split between the House and Senate.Republicans as the arrangement ends.
News release from Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey
(April 19, 2013, NASHVILLE) – The 108th General Assembly today adjourned for the year after completing one of the most efficient legislative sessions in recent history. The April 19 adjournment marks the earliest the legislature has adjourned since 1990 using the least amount of legislative days since 1976.
“I’m extremely proud of the work accomplished by the General Assembly this session,” said Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville). “In contrast to the irresponsible spendthrifts who reside inside Washington’s beltway, Tennessee’s Republican Majority came together with members of the opposition to pass a balance budget that reduces taxes and returns much-needed dollars to the state’s rainy day fund.”
“Not only have we instituted job creating workers compensation and unemployment reforms, we also stood firm against a federal takeover of our health-care system,” Ramsey continued. “I’m proud to stand with Governor Haslam and Speaker Harwell at the helm of a state that consistently leads the nation in small government and low tax fiscal responsibility.”
“I’m especially pleased that we have restored the traditional pace of our legislative sessions. The longer a legislature is in session the longer the average taxpayer has to watch his wallet,” Ramsey concluded. “I have always maintained that an efficient and focused General Assembly can finish the people’s business on time and save taxpayer dollars in the process. This year we have firmly established that the days of legislative sessions creeping into late May and June are over.”
The 2013-2014 budget passed by the General Assembly includes $43 million in tax cuts comprised of reductions in the Hall, death and food taxes. In addition, the General Assembly placed $100 million additional dollars in the state rainy day fund for a total of 456 million.
Among the many highlights of the legislative session was the administration’s workers compensation reform which takes claims out of the court system creating fairness and predictability for job creators.
Also crucial to the General Assembly’s job creation agenda was the continuing reform of Tennessee’s unemployment system. This year, in addition to strengthening the definition of workplace misconduct, the General Assembly refused to fund Obama’s stimulus expansion of the system creating a saving of over $62 million for the unemployment trust fund.
Tennessee is currently ranked among the lowest states in the nation in per capita in debt and per capital tax burden. The General Assembly’s continued pro-jobs, fiscally responsible, small government agenda has resulted in a triple-A rated bond rating for the state.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to redraw Tennessee’s judicial districts for the first time since 1984 was killed on Friday when House members voted against it.
The lower chamber voted 66-28 to defeat the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Jon Lundberg of Bristol. The companion bill was approved 27-4 earlier this month.
The plan from Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey of Blountville would affect 22 counties in eight districts. The number of judicial districts has been reduced from 31 to 29.
Most of the House members against the measure said they felt if they were being dictated to by the Senate, particularly Ramsey.
“This bill came from the Senate, plain and simple,” said Rep. Bill Sanderson, R-Kenton. “They have been dictating from the get go how this session should run. Let’s draw a line in the sand. Vote no on the bill, because it’s not our bill.”
The proposal included input from the public and stakeholder groups and would have created separate judicial districts for Rutherford and Williamson counties because of population growth in the Nashville suburbs over the last three decades.
Two judicial districts in northeastern Tennessee made up of Lake, Dyer, Obion and Weakley county would be merged into a single district. Meanwhile, Coffee County would cease to have its own district and instead be folded into one with Cannon, Warren and Van Buren counties.
Ramsey has said the changes were not expected to affect the positions of existing judges, but that the elimination of two judicial districts will reduce the positions of two prosecutors and public defenders.
He estimated the cost savings of eliminating those four positions would be more than $600,000.
Rep. Tim Wirgau said before Friday’s vote that he’d like to see the measure held off for at least a year and lawmakers consider a plan where redistricting is done every two years or longer.
“Let’s put something in place so there’s a standard,” said the Buchanan Republican
As he leaves office Monday, Chattanooga Mayor Ron Littlefield faces a final defeat, reports Andy Sher — his effort to persuade the state Legislature to toughen Tennessee’s anti-gang laws. The problem for Littlefield’s Gang Free School Zone Act is its costs for housing gang members expected to go to state prisons under its effects.
By year 10, legislative analysts project it would cost $2.3 million annually to imprison an estimated 77 criminal gang members under the proposed law’s three provisions.
In the Senate Budget Subcommittee on Wednesday, the bill’s sponsor, Republican Sen. Todd Gardenhire, of Chattanooga, had an amendment that sought to provide funding for the bill in Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposed annual spending plan. It failed for lack of a motion.
The official death knell for this legislative session is expected Monday afternoon when the bill is scheduled to come before the full Senate Finance Committee.
“They can still hear it, but basically I’m told they won’t take action on it this year because of the fiscal note. If I can count correctly, if it wasn’t for the fiscal note, it would pass,” Gardenhire said of the bill which received an enthusiastic bipartisan thumbs up in the Judiciary Committee and its House counterpart.
After a Union County Republican event, Betty Bean reports that driving Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey around is more expensive than driving House Speaker Beth Harwell around. The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security provides security to both the Senate and the House speakers. Ramsey’s driver, Bill Taliaferro, is paid $38.71 per hour, while House Speaker Beth Harwell’s driver makes $26.65 an hour. Both drivers are eligible for overtime and retirement benefits.
Both speakers have 2011 Suburbans, but Nashville resident Harwell’s expenses are considerably less than Ramsey’s – $3,392 in gas and maintenance so far this year to Harwell’s $1,249 – because of his long commute.
“The Lieutenant Governor and Speaker retain their responsibilities and title throughout the year and each is assigned security (state trooper) for protective services,” said Department of Safety spokesperson Kevin Crawford. The troopers are paid per diem rates for lodging and meals when overnighting away from home.
…The most common justification for such practices involves pointing out that it’s nothing new. But Republicans used to rail against Democrats’ profligate spending when they were running the show in Nashville, so more than a touch of irony sets in at the sight of members of the tough-talking, budget-slashing new majority happily settled into the practices that they once deplored.
And the sight of state employees driving state vehicles to tote politicians like Mr. Speaker around the state to purely partisan events is almost as disconcerting as realizing that they don’t give a damn what we think.
From Chas Sisk:
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey may have a lot of clout around the state Capitol. But by one measure, House Speaker Beth Harwell appears to have greater pull.
For the second consecutive year, the representative from Nashville’s upscale Green Hills neighborhood managed to upset Ramsey, a farm boy from rural Sullivan County, in a milk-off Tuesday between the leaders of the state Senate and House of Representatives.
The event highlighted Agriculture Day, an annual event in which the Department of Agriculture, Tennessee State Fair and other farm-oriented groups set up shop in the corridors of Legislative Plaza.
Harwell went into the contest the underdog, despite having beaten Ramsey in a goat-milking contest a year ago. That event was marred by allegations that Harwell had been helped by a House member who surreptitiously poured a little extra milk in her pail. Smartphone video confirmed those suspicions.
Full story HERE.
Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell acknowledged Thursday that some Tennessee hospitals may face closure as fellow Republican Gov. Bill Haslam delays a decision on whether to expand the state’s Medicaid program under the federal health care overhaul, according to the Chattanooga TFP But the leaders, who back Haslam’s decision to continue negotiating with the Obama administration, say that’s life in the free market.
Ramsey, R-Blountville, said he’s heard the warnings from the Tennessee Hospital Association, but he still thinks “there’s a little bit of ‘the sky is falling’ out there with them when it really wasn’t.”
Still, he acknowledged, “obviously this is going to hurt. In some cases there may be hospitals that have to close — but look, if you want to operate in a free market, things like that happen. But I think overall they will figure out a way to cut this.”
Harwell, R-Nashville, told reporters earlier that some of her rural members have already been concerned about the fate of hospitals.
“There are some rural hospitals that will be hurt; there’s no doubt about that. But the health care industry is a changing industry and those that can’t keep up, they just simply can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry that that might happen, but again, if it was a little exaggerated, we’ll find out in the next six months.”
Hospitals have been counting on the expansion of people in the state’s Medicaid program, TennCare, through the federal Affordable Care Act to help offset special federal payments for people with no coverage at all.
Some state legislators of both parties are criticizing the push to end the legislative session quickly, contending the rush has led to confusion and limited vetting of bills by lawmakers working long hours.
House Calendar Committee Chairman Bill Dunn of Knoxville has become one of the first Republicans to publicly criticize the rush to adjournment, first in a speech to the House Republican Caucus in which he said some colleagues were left “glassy-eyed” by listening to bill presentations hour after hour. He repeated the criticisms in an interview aired Thursday on WPLN, Nashville’s public radio station, that irritated Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey.
“If the speaker of the Senate had to sit in on a committee and study 85 bills and sit there for six hours and try to do his work, he might have a different view,” Dunn said. “He doesn’t feel the pain that we are (feeling).”
Ramsey, specifically citing Dunn’s remarks, devoted the first portion of his weekly news conference later in the day to disputing the notion that lawmakers are working too fast in trying to meet the deadline he and House Speaker Beth Harwell have set for ending the 2013 session. At one point, they had set the date as April 19. Ramsey has since moved it up a day to April 18.
If the target is met, adjournment will come earlier than any annual session of the General Assembly since 1990, according to a listing provided by Ramsey’s office. Last year, adjournment came on May 2.
An effort to get 4-year-olds ready for school may be about to receive a fresh push from the federal government, but it faces stiff resistance from Republicans in Tennessee, observes Chas Sisk. Before pre-K could expand, a lot of details would have to be filled in. Obama has not been quick to do so.
A summary released by the White House calls for making pre-K available to all families making 200 percent of the federal poverty line or less, a population that includes more than half the 4-year-olds in the country. Obama has also praised programs such as those in Georgia and Oklahoma that are open to all of the state’s 4-year-olds, regardless of family income.
But his statements suggest Obama would like the states to come up with their own plans for making pre-K more available. He has not specified how the costs would be shared between the state and the federal government.
….Haslam said he spoke with Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan about pre-K expansion during a recent meeting in Washington, D.C.
“We obviously would have to see: Does it come with a lot of strings attached?” Haslam said. “There wasn’t a whole lot else that they could reveal to us.”
State Rep. Bill Dunn, one of pre-K’s fiercest critics in the legislature, said the cost of expanding the program could crowd out investments in other areas of public education.
“It’s been tried, and I think there’s a better use of the money,” he said. “The federal government is broke. … A program that has been proven not to be very effective — to go deeper in debt — that is not a wise choice.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey shares that skepticism.
“If the president actually proposes that, let’s take a look at it,” he said. “But my general philosophy would be universal pre-K is a colossal waste of money, and why borrow money to do it?”
But the proposal has its backers. House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh said he believes lawmakers are growing more receptive to suggestions that the state expand pre-K.
“At a national level, we certainly know pre-K is effective,” Fitzhugh said. “I know there’s a few colleagues of mine in the House that haven’t felt that way, but I do believe that the tide is turning a bit because the empirical evidence is just there.”
Haslam said that data, including the results from Vanderbilt study, will help him make up his mind on expansion.
“Is pre-K effective or not?” Haslam said. “We’ll have our own data to compare to. I’ll feel a lot better about using that to make our decision.”