Tag Archives: spending

Beacon Center’s annual “pork” roundup for 2014 issued

Every year, the Beacon Center’ reviews comptroller audits and media reports on Tennessee state and local government foulups in the past year and spending that Beacon doesn’t like, declaring the result a “pork report.” The 2014 version is now available.

News release from Beacon Center of Tennessee
NASHVILLE—The Beacon Center of Tennessee today released its ninth annual Tennessee Pork Report, which exposed an astonishing $609 million in state and local government waste. The $609 million is the highest amount of government waste uncovered in a single year since Beacon started publishing the report.

Examples of wasteful spending outlined in the 2014 Pork Report include:

•More than $180 million in wrongfully paid unemployment benefits by the Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development, which includes benefits to felons and dead people. This blunder takes the prize of “Pork of the Year” in the report. (Note: Previous post HERE.)

•A school district with a $48.4 million blunder, where equipment—including computers and even cars—somehow came up missing. (Note: It’s Shelby County. Commercial Appeal report HERE)

•$42.2 million on a swanky jetport in Cleveland to service high-end fliers. (Note: This disapproved spending item echoes a ‘Tennessee Watchdog’ report HERE.)

•$33 million towards a riverboat dock in Memphis that has been an unmitigated disaster so far. (Note: A WREG-TV report in May put the figure at $43 million.)

•A record-breaking $1.9 million wasted on state-owned golf courses.

“With more government waste, fraud, and abuse this past year than any before, the 2014 Pork Report will leave taxpayers seeing red,” said Beacon CEO Justin Owen. “It’s time for Tennesseans to start holding their elected officials accountable for the rampant misuse of their hard-earned money.”

The waste of taxpayer money found in the 2014 Pork Report comes from state and local government budgets, media reports, state audits, and independent research conducted by Beacon Center staff and scholars. (Note: PDF version of the full report is HERE.)

… “The Pork Report is an important tool for any taxpayer wishing to rein in wasteful government spending,” said Ben Cunningham of Tennessee Tax Revolt. “There is an especially troubling amount of fraud taking place at the local levels of government, and as a taxpayer advocate, I understand the importance of exposing that for taxpayers across our state.”

The Beacon Center of Tennessee is an independent, nonprofit, and nonpartisan organization dedicated to providing concerned citizens and public leaders with expert empirical research and timely free market solutions to public policy issues in Tennessee. The Center’s mission is to change lives through public policy by advancing the principles of free markets, individual liberty, and limited government.

AT&T, Nursing Homes Tops in Millions Spent Lobbying Legislature

As much as $67 million was spent on lobbying state lawmakers last year while taxpayers spent $38 million on the total operating budget of the Tennessee General Assembly, according to reports filed with the Tennessee Ethics Commission.
The commission, which oversees enforcement of state lobbying laws, says in its 2012 report that 525 people registered as lobbyists for 1,639 clients. (Note: The report is HERE.)
Both the lobbyists and their clients are required to file two reports per year on compensation paid to lobbyists and lobbying-related expenditures such at TV ads or mailings that urge citizens to contact legislators in support or opposition to a pending bill. The reports do not give specific figures; instead they report a “range” — for example, between $10,000 and $25,000.
Separate reports must be filed for receptions, dinners and the like hosted by lobbyist employers for lawmakers.
For 2012, the reports filed show:
— Lobbyist compensation totaled a minimum of $22 million and as much as $48.5 million.
— Lobbying-related expenditures totaled at least $2.9 million and as much as $18.1 million.
— Lobbyist clients spent $565,318 on 73 events to which legislators were invited during 2012.
The combined totals for lobbying compensation, related expenditures and hosted events are at least $25.6 million and at most about $67.1 million.

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Obama: Other Republicans Should Be Like Bill Haslam

Shunning the partisan rancor surrounding the nation’s latest budget battle, President Barack Obama on Monday praised Tennessee’s top Republican as a model for a stubborn Congress, according to Chris Carroll.
Hosting the nation’s governors at the White House, Obama singled out Gov. Bill Haslam as a flexible leader House and Senate Republicans should imitate. The mention came right after the president slammed fiscal hawks for refusing to bend on $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts scheduled to begin Friday.
Nine congressional Republicans call Tennessee home and consider Haslam an important political ally. But unlike them, Obama hinted, governors know “compromise is essential to getting things done.”
“That’s how Governor Haslam balanced his budget last year in Tennessee while still investing in key areas like education for Tennessee’s kids,” Obama said. “Like the rest of us, [he knows] we can’t just cut our way to prosperity. Cutting alone is not an economic policy.”
Called “sequestration,” the automatic cuts comprise part of a 2011 deficit reduction bill. They were designed as an incentive for Congress to find a reasonable path toward eliminating $1.5 trillion over the next decade. Lawmakers failed, and the sequester could trigger as early as Friday.
Haslam was unable to respond to Obama’s compliment as planned. He was scheduled to present the Republican reaction after the president’s speech, but a “family health situation” prematurely brought Haslam home to Tennessee, according to spokesman Dave Smith.
In a statement, Smith hinted the governor doesn’t mind how the president views him.
“The governor’s style is to build consensus, and he’s done that during his time in office” Smith said, mentioning the governor’s efforts on teacher tenure and civil service reform.
Democrats support a mixed approach to avoiding sequestration. Obama’s deficit reduction plan includes $1.5 trillion in spending cuts and new revenue from closing various tax loopholes.
Many Republicans have a two-word solution: Spending cuts.

Spending in TN Congressional Campaigns: $15.7 Million

Post-election disclosures filed with the Federal Election Commission have pushed total spending in campaigns for Tennessee’s nine U.S. House elections — all won by incumbents — to about $15.3 million, though the congressmen collectively still have more than $6.8 million cash on hand.
Embattled 4th Congressional District Rep. Scott DesJarlais, a doctor who has dealt with controversy during and after the election over his involvement in abortions and sexual relations with patients, had the lowest cash-on-hand balance of any incumbent: $15,661.
DesJarlais spent $1,257,651 during the campaign, including $439,369 disclosed on his final report covering the last days of his race against Democrat Eric Stewart, who spent a total of $700,575.
Here’s a list by district of total expenditures and remaining balance for the other incumbent Tennessee congressmen as reported on the FEC website:

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Report Shows DesJarlais Drained Campaign Account With Late Spending

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — While Republican U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais may have persevered through a series of damaging revelations to win a second term in Congress, he all but exhausted his campaign account.
DesJarlais, a Jasper physician who had sexual relationships with patients and once urged one of them to seek an abortion, spent $1.25 million on his campaign to defeat Democratic challenger Eric Stewart, and was left with just $15,660 on hand when the dust settled.
DesJarlais has been left largely isolated in Congress following his victory. For example, he was the lone Republican member of Tennessee’s congressional delegation to be left off Lamar Alexander’s bid for a third term in the U.S. Senate.
But DesJarlais has rebuffed calls for his resignation or that he abandon intentions to run for another term representing the 4th Congressional District. That hasn’t stopped several Republicans from expressing interest in running for the seat, and DesJarlais’ depleted campaign coffers will do little to dissuade them from mounting a bid.
DesJarlais spent $439,639 in the final reporting period, with about $330,000 going toward TV advertising and $61,000 to direct mail. (Note: The FEC website says his total spending for the campaign was $1,257,629; the remaining balance, $15,660.)
During his 2010 and 2012 campaigns, DesJarlais tried to cast doubt on reports of violent behavior and multiple affairs before his divorce was finalized in 2001. But court transcripts released the week after the election showed he admitted to eight affairs, encouraged a lover to get an abortion and used a gun to intimidate his ex-wife during an argument.
The sworn testimony also revealed for the first time that the congressman had agreed when his ex-wife had two abortions. DesJarlais publicly opposes abortion rights.
The Tennessee Department of Health has begun an investigation into a complaint filed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington that DesJarlais should be disciplined for conducting an inappropriate sexual relationship with a patient. The watchdog group has also filed an ethics complaint in the U.S. House.
Among the other freshman Republicans who won second terms, Rep. Diane Black of Gallatin was left with $336,203 on hand after spending $3.2 million in the cycle, including $1 million in loans repaid to herself from her 2010 bid. Chattanooga Rep. Chuck Fleischmann had about $51,000 on hand, while Rep. Steven Fincher of Halls had $1.5 million.

Yager Says THDA Will Get Special Scrutiny

News release from Senate Republican Caucus:
NASHVILLE – State Senator Ken Yager (R-Harriman), Chairman of the Senate State and Local Government Committee, said today he has put the Tennessee Housing Development Agency (THDA) on notice regarding his committee’s intentions to carefully review their spending practices. THDA came under fire after lavish spending on employee-related activities was uncovered in an investigative report by WTVF-TV in Nashville. The State and Local Government Committee reviews THDA’s budget and is responsible for recommending changes to the full Senate in the agency’s spending plan.
“It is essential that not only you but also the entire agency recognize that THDA is a state agency,” said Chairman Yager in a letter to Perrey. “This demands the agency have the fiscal discipline that is expected of every state agency. In fact, the nature of the agency’s work is such that it should be held to an even higher standard.”
“The Senate Committee I chair on State and Local Government will be reviewing the progress you make in implementing needed reforms in the coming months,” the letter continued.
THDA was created by the General Assembly in 1973 to provide housing assistance to Tennesseans in need by offering a variety of housing-related programs, especially for those with low incomes. Until October, the agency was led by Executive Director Ted Fellman.
Perrey was questioned by Yager on Monday regarding the expenditures at a meeting of the Joint Fiscal Review Committee, which also has legislative oversight responsibilities for state spending.
“We’ve lost sight of the good you do because of these outrageous activities that were funded through your budget,” Yager told Perrey at that hearing.
He also asked Perrey about whether he expressed concerns as a former THDA Board member before being selected as the new Executive Director. Perrey said he was not aware of some of the more lavish expenditures but pledged that they would not be repeated.
“Director Perrey has given us his word that the Agency will not repeat these excessive expenditures and we are going to hold him to that,” added Yager. “We will be holding THDA fully accountable for the dollars they spend.”

TN County Government Spending Exceeds Revenue

Many Tennessee counties have been spending more money than they take in as revenue, according to a new report from the state comptroller’s office.
An excerpt from the report (full text HERE):
Total revenues for all Tennessee county governments totaled approximately $11.65 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. In contrast, total expenditures for the same period were approximately $12.14 billion. Therefore, counties spent approximately $490 million more than they received in general and operating revenues.
County governments have seen sluggish growth in revenues over the last five years, as expenditures have exceeded revenues in each year over this time period. The slow growth includes years in which counties received federal money from the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. This trend indicates that either debt was increasing during the
same time period, or fund balances were decreasing, or both.
Total county-related debt in Tennessee increased almost $1.41 billion from 2007 to 2011. This indicates that many county governments are deferring debt prinicipal payments and other obligations to future years. Audits conducted or reveiwed for the fi scal year ended June 30, 2011, disclosed fund defi cits totaling $110.29 million in governmental funds in 14 counties. Audits also refl ected net asset defi cits totaling $83.24 million in enterprise and internal service funds in 14 counties.
Tennessee counties have avoided the bankruptcy crisis seen elsewhere around the nation as a result of the economic
downturn. Although bankruptcies have been avoided to date, concerns remain. Along with the substantial increase in long-term debt, liabilities continue to grow for other post-employment benefi ts, such as health insurance premiums, awarded to government employees after those employees leave public service. In addition, new accounting standards will require the recognition of signifi cant long-term pension costs. These costs, which previously have not been recorded on the fi nancial statements when they were incurred, will dramatically impact large and small governments alike.

Audit Finds $2 Million in Lavish Spending by HRA

News release from state Comptroller’s Office:
Taxpayer money has been used to cover $2 million for travel expenses, meals and entertainment, mobile communications devices and subsidies for a training complex and resort property used by the Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency, an investigation by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations has revealed.
Among other issues, investigators found that agency officials spent nearly $60,000 on an annual trip to Washington, D.C., more than $1.6 million to subsidize its training complex and resort property, $123,000 for gift certificates for training events, more than $100,000 annually on 160 mobile communication devices for employees, and thousands of dollars for extravagant meals and entertainment.
The Upper Cumberland Human Resource Agency serves 14 counties in the Cumberland Plateau region with a 63-member board comprised of various county and city mayors and derives the vast majority of its funding from state and federal governments.

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Losing Candidate Questions Spending In School Board Race

Unified Shelby County School board member Kenneth Whalum is questioning the connection between school board candidates endorsed by a public education advocacy group and the candidates’ allegiance to the Transition Planning Commission’s plan for merging the school districts.
“If our children are for sale, I need to know exactly how many votes they are worth,” he said in a press conference Monday outside the former election commission offices Downtown.
Whalum lost his bid for re-election by 88 votes to opponent Kevin Woods, endorsed by Stand for Children. If he must prove fraud to get a recount, Whalum said his lawsuit against the Shelby County Election Commission will include subpoenas for correspondence between the advocacy group Stand, the unified school board and the TPC.
“Oooh, I look forward to this,” he said.
Kenya Bradshaw, executive director the Tennessee chapter of Stand, is a member of the TPC.
Last week, Stand announced it spent $153,000 on seven local school board races, including Woods’ race against Whalum. Most of the money spent on the campaign, Bradshaw said, came from an out-of-town donor, whom Stand said gave $200,000.
Bradshaw would not identify the donor.
Whalum wants to know what influence that person may have had on the TPC or the school board. “If there is a connection between a sitting member of the TPC, sitting members of the school board and the single-source $200,000 contribution, we’ll find out.”
Last week, Whalum said he would not seek a recount. He said the onus was on him to win by an indisputable measure.
He changed his mind Sunday, at his wife’s urging, saying voting errors in the election itself, redistricting that moved him from his Orange Mound base and evidence that Stand had heavily invested in his opponent created a “perfect storm of coincidences” he could no longer overlook
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Mayfield Outspends Fleischmann, But Incumbent Has More Banked

Scottie Mayfield’s campaign spent more than U.S. Rep. Chuck Fleischmann in running for the 3rd Congressional District Republican nomination during the past three months, but the incumbent has substantially more cash on hand for the race’s final month, according to reports filed Monday.
A third candidate in the contest, Weston Wamp, is more or less in the middle of the other two, financially speaking.
Mayfield, a dairy company executive, reported receiving $182,696 during the second quarter while spending $380,180. The campaign listed a cash-on-hand balance of $218,638 on July 1.
Fleischmann’s campaign reported taking in $200,968 during the quarter while spending $230,639. The cash-on-hand balance was $730,538, which the congressman emphasized in a news release means that he “has over three times the amount of money that Scottie Mayfield does.”
It’s also more than twice the amount of cash that Wamp has on hand for the campaign windup.
“I am looking forward to the last three weeks of this campaign, and I know this support will allow me to spread my message of less government and a proven conservative record,” Fleischmann said in the release.
Wamp, son of former Congressman Zach Wamp, reported receipts for the quarter of $125,058, spending of $220,827 and a cash-on-hand balance of $340,336.
“We’ve exceeded our goals in funding Weston’s campaign and we are fully funded,” said Alexis Bogo, financial chair of the Wamp campaign in a statement sent to media.
The fourth Republican candidate in the GOP contest, Ron Bhalla, reported spending $14,145 for the quarter, leaving with a cash-on-hand balance of $1,310.
For the campaign since it began for Federal Election Commission purposes last year, Fleishmann has reported total spending of $493,555; Mayfield $633,344 and Wamp $267,486.
On the Democratic side, 3rd District candidate Bill Taylor reported loaning his campaign $6,300 during the quarter, boosting receipts to $8,411. Taylor spent $17,931 in the quarter and had $1,418 left when it ended, according to his FEC report. No new disclosure was available Monday on the FEC website for Democratic candidate Mary Headrick, who had a balance of $3,704 at last report.