Voting Foulup in Dickson, Too?
At least two voters in Dickson County have experienced the same kind of incorrect ballot problems that affected at least 2,266 early voters in Shelby County, the state Democratic Party and a Dickson lawmaker said Monday. HERE. DesJararlais Has a Primary
Despite some suggestions to the contrary, Congressman Scott DesJarlais says he’s not taking his victory in the 4th Congressional District primary for granted. He’s even bought one TV ad in the primary season. HERE.
House Finance Chairman’s Finances
Rep. Charles Sargent is taking some heat for collecting 80 percent of his campaign money from outside his Williamson County District. Sargent’s challenger, Rob Hathaway, is a political newcomer who said voters are tired of feeling like their voice is shouted down by giant checks and special interests. Sumner Money Sizeups
The Tennessean has stories on campaign financing in Senate District 16, an open seat, and on two Sumner County House races (including Debra Maggart’s District 45. Non-endorsements Noted
There’s a flap over the Hamilton County Education Association not endorsing two longtime members in ongoing races. Rogers Gets an Endorsement
Courtney Rogers has been endorsed by state Sen. Kerry Roberts… and also has a press release taking a swat at Rep. Debra Maggart for using her state office phone number in campaign materials. HERE..
Tennessee Republicans this year had a window of opportunity to trim $23 million from the budget’s pork-barrel buffet that’s annually lain before them in the late hours of the legislative session. But, as often the case, the home-cooked political victuals proved too toothsome to pass up.
They opted instead to heap their plates and hand taxpayers the tab in advance of hitting the exits and heading for yonder hills, dales and campaign trails.
So begins a TNReport review of the end-of-session squabble over “local projects” in the state budget, which includes some fresh quotations. House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, admitted that the late-stage discernment of waste in the budget ultimately amounted to legislative “gamesmanship” — that, truth be known, there wasn’t much taste on anybody’s part for reducing tasty government handouts sure to wow the folks back home when it comes time for incumbents to brag on what they brung em’.
“It always happens at the end of the year. These are the things you just have to work out and take care of,” Sargent told TNReport.
Nevertheless, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, who presides over the Tennessee Senate, said he doesn’t think voters of a fiscally conservative bent ought to be of a mind to make the GOP’s big-spenders pay come election time.
Ramsey, a “huge believer in preserving history, preserving our roots,” suggested it’s natural to make taxpayers pick up the slack when private-sector fundraising for cultural-heritage conservation efforts comes up short.
“I think that fits right into my basic philosophy in general,” said the Blountville auctioneer, who often sells himself as a friend of Tea Party conservatives.
Still, Ramsey conceded not everyone may agree with every aspect of discretionary government spending in the coming year’s budget, especially when you get down to details.
He acknowledged that one of his own rather infamous pet projects — the Birthplace of Country Music Museum — probably “sounded awful” to those of a mind to zero in and identify the particulars of potential government waste. But GOP legislators even in the House rallied around the proposal to capture $500,000 from taxpayers’ wallets to help fund the $13 million as-yet-unfinished tourist trap located in Bristol, Virginia, just across the street and the state line from Bristol, Tennessee.
…”Republicans spend just like Democrats. When you’re in control, you’re going to spend money,” Owen said. “There’s an incentive there to spend taxpayers’ money on things that really don’t benefit taxpayers as a whole, that go to benefit a select few.”
News release from House Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE, Tenn.–The pocketbooks of all Tennesseans are getting help from the Legislature with the passage of two major tax cuts.
The House of Representatives today overwhelmingly approved the repeal of the death tax and the reduction of the food tax on two separate votes. Both bills have long been a major priority for many Members of the House Republican Caucus who believe the bills will help taxpayers keep more of their hard-earned money and place Tennessee on better economic footing.
“This is a landmark moment for Tennesseans,” stated House Speaker Beth Harwell (R–Nashville). “We believe, when government revenues are higher, that money doesn’t belong to the State but to taxpayers and should be returned to them immediately. Our Republican Majority was placed here to balance the budget, cut wasteful spending, and lower taxes. Today we carried through on that promise.”
Representative Charles Sargent (R–Franklin), who guided the death tax repeal to full House passage, remarked, “Today is an exciting day. We looked at the numbers, rolled our sleeves up, and worked with Governor Haslam to come up with two bills that will really benefit all Tennesseans. The repeal of the death tax is especially noteworthy because it will help convince the job creators in our State to remain here and help grow our economy. This doesn’t benefit one group; it benefits any Tennessean who is concerned about job growth.”
House Bill 3760, the death tax repeal, phases out the death tax over the next four years, to a complete repeal by 2016. House Bill 3761, the food tax cut, lowers the sales tax rate on food from the current 5.5% to 5.25%, the steepest reduction in many years.
The food tax cut was the responsibility of Representative David Alexander (R–Winchester). Following the final vote on the bill Alexander stated, “This wasn’t a partisan move, it was a move to help every Tennessean. The Governor asked to work with us on lowering the food tax and this is the product of that hard work. It’s something we all can be proud of.”
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R–Chattanooga) added, “It has long been a principle that Republicans believe limited government is best. You do that by cutting taxes and ensuring Tennesseans keep more of the money they earn. In turn they will invest that money, the economy will grow, and new career opportunities will emerge.”
“These tax cuts are proof of our motto: It matters who governs,” concluded Representative Debra Maggart (R–Hendersonville) who serves as the Republican Caucus Chairwoman. “A recent study shows a repeal of the death tax ten years ago would have grown our economy an additional 14%. While the previous generation of leadership failed to take action, this generation of Republican leadership is committed to charting a new path that creates jobs and limits government.”
The bills are now sent to the Senate for action which is expected to come in the next week.
House Speaker Beth Harwell was declared the winner over Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey in a goat-milking contest held in conjunction with “Agriculture Day on the Hill” last week, but questions have been raised about cheating.
“I’ve been accused of that, but it was not me,” said Harwell after the event.
“I’ve never seen cold mild come out of a goat before. That’s all I’ll say,” said Ramsey.
A review of the TNReport video of the event shows both may be right. (Link below) House Finance Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, can be seen standing behind Harwell holding what appears to be a plastic cylindrical cup and, at one point while the milking is underway, a hand holding the cup appears beside Harwell’s bucket. In other words, it appears that someone poured extra milk into Harwell’s bucket.
The winner was determined by measuring which contender had the most milk in the bucket.
Going into the contest, Ramsey, who grew up on a dairy farm, had been predicting victory and describing himself as “the boot-wearing, tobacco-chewing” pickup truck driver facing “the Belle Meade belle.”
“Agriculture Day on the Hill” is an annual event put on by the Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation, wherein farmers put up displays of their products and meet with legislators. There are some freebies — including pint-sized bottles of milk handed out to lawmakers and other attendees.
The Tennessee Journal, meanwhile, reports that Sargent has received a letter “purportedly from TBI director Mark Gwyn,” notifying him that the agency has “opened a file on this matter” and warning that “a proven allegation of fraud could result in your removal from office” under TCA 8-17-106.
To see the video, click HERE. The actual goat-milking part begins about 1:30 into the tape.
News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
(NASHVILLE, TN), August 18, 2011 — The Chairmen of the Senate and House Finance Committees, Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) and House Speaker Beth Harwell (R-Nashville) today congratulated the state’s Funding Board for their accuracy in estimating Tennessee’s incoming revenue for fiscal year 2010-11. Chairman Randy McNally (R-Oak Ridge) and Chairman Charles Sargent (R-Franklin) said the Funding Board revised the final estimates earlier in the budget year than usual and were only .032 percent from the actual collections.
“We congratulate the Funding Board for hitting these numbers right on target,” said Senator McNally. “We asked them to bring us their estimates before the April collections were received so the General Assembly could finish on time this year, and they did so with extreme accuracy.”
The Tennessee State Funding Board was created by law and is comprised of Governor Bill Haslam, Comptroller Justin Wilson, Secretary of State Tre Hargett, Treasurer David Lillard and Commissioner of Finance Mark Emkes. The Board considers economic projections from the state’s top economists near the end of the legislative session before forecasting both how much Tennessee will need to close out the current fiscal year, and what to expect as far as estimates for the next budget year.
The Board projected $8.5 billion in revenues in forecasting the close of the 2010-11 budget year and were within $27.6 million of that estimate.
“The year end variance reflects barely a day’s worth of revenue,” added Sargent. “The state has benefited greatly from the Funding Board’s cautious approach in what is a very fragile economy.”
“Unlike Washington, Tennessee must balance its budget, requiring absolute accuracy in our accounting. The Funding Board predicted our fiscal future with unprecedented precision,” said Lt. Gov. Ramsey. “The quality of their work allowed the Republican majority to keep our commitment to be efficient stewards of taxpayer dollars.”
Speaker Harwell concluded, “I am very proud of the efforts of the Funding Board and their work with Chairman Sargent. In these difficult economic times, our numbers have to be on target so we can craft a responsible, balanced budget. In doing so, we have painted a sharp contrast with Washington and provided taxpayers with a clear model of what fiscally-conservative, pro-growth leadership looks like.”
Upping the stakes and adding drama to the Amazon.com tax-collection dilemma in Tennessee, the company announced plans Thursday for a 500,000-square-foot distribution center in Lebanon, Mike Morrow reports. The company said the facility will create hundreds of full-time jobs and that it plans to open the site this fall.
…. When asked Thursday afternoon for comment about Amazon, Yvette Martinez, a spokeswoman for the governor, replied by e-mail, “Hundreds of jobs for Middle Tennessee is great news.”
Rep. Linda Elam, R-Mt. Juliet, said the deal was a “wonderful” coup for Lebanon, but she said she did not know specifics about the sales tax arrangement.
“I would imagine it’s all under the same framework they agreed to previously,” Elam said. “I wasn’t involved in those talks.
“There are two ways to look at that. Are they all covered under the same deal, or do they have to be treated as they would have absent that agreement with the prior governor? On the other hand, you look at it and say because of that agreement with the prior governor they’re bringing thousands of jobs to three locations in Tennessee.”
Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, chairman of the House Finance Ways and Means Committee, the House sponsor of the legislation calling for Amazon to collect from customers, said Thursday he had been unaware that the announcement about Lebanon was coming.
“I’m glad to see companies want to locate here in Tennessee,” Sargent said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for people in Tennessee, anywhere in the state.”
When asked if he still planned to pursue efforts to force the company to collect the sales tax, Sargent reiterated his previous position.
“I’m going to get with the governor, Speaker (Beth) Harwell, Leader (Gerald) McCormick and see how they want to proceed on the bill, if they want to proceed, and where we’re going to head on that,” Sargent said.
“I don’t know what the incentive was to bring them to Wilson County, nor do I know what contract was signed on getting them there.”
House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick said Tuesday that he “really stuck my neck out” to defend jobs in the Oak Ridge area in the past, but does not plan to do so in the future because Sen. Randy McNally is pushing a bill that would hurt Amazon.com.
McCormick, elaborating on comments initially made to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press, said he thought a project dealing with low-level nuclear waste was unfairly attacked two years ago though a Democrat-sponsored bill banning such waste in Tennessee.
“It was an easy political target, but I stepped up, went out of my way and defended the whole thing,” he said in an impromptu interview with reporters. “I feel like I’m being repaid by him trying to run jobs out of my district.”
Amazon is building to distribution centers in Southeast Tennessee, one of them in Chattanooga Republican McCormick’s district.
McNally and Rep. Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, are sponsoring legislation that would force Amazon to collect sales tax from its Tennessee customers once the facilities are open. Amazon is adamantly opposed to the bill and its officials have threatened to abandon the Tennessee facilities if the legislation becomes law.
McCormick said he was not intending to be hostile toward economic development projects in the districts of McNally and Sargent, but would just stand back now.
“I’ve helped them before. I’m not going to do that in the future,” he said. “If I have to spend all my time defending my district, I don’t have time for helping other districts.”
McNally said the nuclear waste facility that McCormick mentioned is actually in the district of Sen. Ken Yager, R-Harriman, who represents Roane County.
“If he helped us, I would hope he helped us for the right reasons,” said McNally. “I believe he does things for the right reason… I’m sure that, if we have other issues come up, he’ll evaluate them on the merits, not on who the sponsor is.”
McNally said he believes that it would set “a bad precedent” for the state not to require Amazon to collect taxes when it locates in the state. The same is true for secrecy surrounding an agreement apparently made by former Gov. Phil Bredesen – and endorsed by Gov. Bill Haslam – to exempt Amazon from the need to collect state taxes.
“(The legislation) is not meant to hurt him or anybody in his district,” said McNally, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. “It’s just a bad precedent for the state to be getting into.”
In a couple ofTNReport articles from the Southern Legislative Conference, Mike Morrow reports on the controversy over Amazon.com collecting state sales taxes, which is a big issue for legislators in many states. One article is on an SLC meeting that featured reports on the impact of e-commerce. An excerpt: Dr. William F. Fox, director of economics at the University of Tennessee’s Center for Business and Economic Research, joined North Carolina’s secretary of Revenue, David W. Hoyle, in a presentation, and the message they brought was that Amazon has managed to create an uneven playing field and that Internet sales in general are having a huge impact on state revenues.
…”The Amazon part is only about 5 percent of e-commerce,” (Fox) said.
But Fox said his center’s research estimates the total of e-commerce is about $4 trillion, with about $46 billion in taxes due across the nation. He said most states surveyed are going to lose about $200 million or more this year due to uncollected taxes on e-commerce.
But the issue goes far beyond uncollected sales taxes, according to Fox. There was consistent growth in retail employment until about 2000, a rate of about 2 percent per year.
“Since 2002, retail employment in the U.S. has absolutely flattened out,” Fox said.
To put a sharper focus on it, Fox told lawmakers Walmart hires five workers for every million dollars in sales. Amazon hires one.
“As we move from people who buy on Main Street, and they move to buy from Amazon because of the tax subsidy that is implicit in the way we pay, we cost the economy four jobs,” he said.
The other article is devoted mostly to commentary from House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin, sponsor of legislation that would mandate Amazon collect sales taxes once it opens distribution facilities in Tennessee…. Even if Gov. Bill Haslam negotiates a deal to exempt Amazon.
Sargent’, the article says, has “used some of the strongest language of any legislator to express his opinion on Amazon.” For example: “We can find no legal basis for this alleged agreement. None,” Sargent said in a subcommittee meeting in May. “Nobody is above the law, and nobody can cut deals to circumvent the law.”
But his current rhetoric sounds considerably more ambivalent. For example: “I am definitely looking at proceeding on it,”
Several influential state lawmakers say they want to know what sales-tax break Tennessee is offering Amazon to entice the Internet-retail giant to build two distribution centers in Hamilton and Bradley counties, according to Andy Sher. “I think a number of people, representatives, would like to see what transpired, how it’s going to work, what are the consequences of this particular situation — and what consequences there could be for the future,” said House Finance Committee Chairman Charles Sargent, R-Franklin.
Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers contend the state has already or plans to exempt Seattle-based Amazon from collecting sales taxes on Tennesseans’ purchases from the company as part of the state’s incentive package.
“We want competition to be fair,” said Roland Myers, president and CEO of the Tennessee Retail Association. “Tennessee’s consideration of a plan to exempt Amazon from collecting state sales tax does the exact opposite and retailers across the state are justifiably upset.”
House Speaker Emeritus Jimmy Naifeh, D-Nashville, said he supports Sargent’s effort.
“I still haven’t found out how we’re going to go about giving them this excuse from [collecting] taxes. That’s the first thing I want to find out.”
But the story also indicates that, despite the talk, legislators have no firm plans to do anything about the situation.