Tag Archives: stateline

On What Excites Haslam as He Walks a Fine Line

Gov. Bill Haslam poinfed out to Stateline that there has been a dramatic increase in the number of consultants working for the Tennessee Department of Transportation. And that is used to make a point in contrating Haslam to some other Republican governors.
The problem, Haslam explains, is that the state instituted a hiring freeze and a salary freeze a few years ago. When engineers left, the state couldn’t replace them. So it hired consultants, including some of the same engineers who had just left. “It ended up costing us two or three times as much,” Haslam tells Stateline. “Well, that’s crazy. We think we can take, of that money, a good chunk of it and refurbish a bridge and build a new road.”
“This,” Haslam says, “is the kind of stuff that I get excited about.”
That alone makes him unusual among recently installed Republican governors. For most of the others in his GOP class of 2010, excitement has meant having Democratic opponents flee the state as a delaying tactic, showing up on vice presidential short lists and leading the national news. Wisconsin’s Scott Walker, South Carolina’s Nikki Haley, Florida’s Rick Scott and Maine’s Paul LePage, among others, quickly became national stars, symbols or pariahs — depending on one’s perspective.
With very little notice outside Tennessee’s borders, however, Haslam has had as much success enacting an ambitious agenda as any new governor over the last two years. One reason he has received little attention is that his priorities–government management, economic development and education, to the exclusion of almost everything else–reflect someone who gets excited about state budget line items, not national politics.
…Haslam’s most prominent role on the national stage so far hasn’t been as a Republican attack dog. It’s been as a lead advocate for a key bipartisan priority of governors and state legislators: federal legislation to require online retailers to collect state sales taxes. Haslam has been an eager supporter of Mitt Romney in both the Republican primary and the general election, but he still praises the Obama administration for its work on charter schools and teacher evaluations.
…What is clear is that Haslam will have to continue walking a fine line if he wants to appeal to his party’s most fervent conservatives and its more moderate members while advancing his ambitious plans. The next topic the governor wants to tackle is higher education. He says the state needs to address the “iron triangle” of cost, quality and access. But it’s a certainty that cultural issues will continue to intrude.
Haslam, true to form, downplays the differences. “Are there people within the party that come from all different perspectives? Sure,” he says. “But I don’t think there’s any sense that within the Tennessee Republican Party there’s this great divide and this battle for the soul of the party. I don’t think that.”

Republican Legislatures Liberalizing Liquor Laws Nationwide?

(Note: Stateline chose Tennessee as an example to illustrate a national phenomena of legislatures liberalizing liquor laws to promote sales and thus increase revenue. Coincidentally, this comes a a column written for Knoxville Business Journal, posted above, on liberalizing Tennessee liquor laws.)
From the Stateline story:
Last month, the owner of the Wine Chap store in Nashville did something that would have been illegal just a few weeks before. He held two wine tastings in the store, letting customers sample high-end summer whites and sip expensive Bordeaux for free. Richard Payne figures he sold 10 cases of wine because of those tastings.
He calls them “a good tool to get customers to try something that they might not have otherwise tried or thought too expensive.” But Payne isn’t the only one who made money from the tastings. The successful promotions meant extra tax revenue for the state of Tennessee. And that’s one of the reasons lawmakers there decided this year to allow restaurants, bars and liquor stores to offer free samples of spirits.
Across the country, Republicans swept into office in 2010 vowing to cut, not raise taxes, even “sin” taxes like those on alcohol and tobacco, which historically have tended to go up when budgets get tight. In the recession year of 2009, more than a dozen states relied on higher alcohol or cigarette taxes to help dig themselves out of budget holes.
But this year, Republican governors and legislatures decided they could generate needed revenue by changing their alcohol laws and leaving the tax rates alone.
Of course, legalized tasting of spirits doesn’t in itself mean more money for the state. But increased sales, particularly of high-end products, can generate quite a bit in taxes. Nationwide, state taxes on alcoholic beverage sales produced $5.5 billion in 2010, according to the most recent U.S. Census data. Alcoholic beverages are taxed at a high rate by all levels of government — more than 50 percent of the purchase price of a typical bottle of spirits goes to federal, state, or local taxes of some kind, according to the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS), which represents producers and marketers. DISCUS figures that alcoholic beverages bring in $41 billion a year in direct and indirect revenue for state and local governments. The group has lobbied in favor of free tasting laws.
“Policy makers at the state and local level are desperate to raise revenue without raising taxes or cutting programs,” says Ben Jenkins, vice president of government communications for DISCUS. “Modernizing dated alcohol laws is a positive way to do it.”