News release from state comptroller’s office:
Allegedly, it was supposed to be used to clear a field for a police firing range. But documents and other evidence reviewed by the Comptroller’s Division of Investigations suggest that a bulldozer owned by the town of Monterey ended up on the former police chief’s property wasn’t going to be used for that purpose.
The investigators’ findings were part of a report that was publicly released today.
Monterey town officials obtained the bulldozer in early June of last year through the state’s military surplus program. In an agreement with the military surplus office, the police chief said that the bulldozer would only be used for law enforcement purposes and would not be leased to others, sold or otherwise disposed of by the town.
According to interviews with officials who were working for the town at the time, when the town received the bulldozer from military surplus, it was transported directly to the police chief’s property so a blade could be attached. The bulldozer was later moved back to town property after questions arose in a public meeting regarding its location.
ERWIN, Tenn. (AP) — The Unicoi County Sheriff’s Office has a better way of getting around in rugged terrain because of a military surplus donation.
Sheriff Mike Hensley told The Johnson City Press (http://bit.ly/TGB4ew ) the department now has two humvees that can be used to get to remote locations.
The department already had some four-wheel-drive SUVs, but they don’t have the off-road capabilities of the military vehicles.
“We use them on patrol, and we don’t want them to be torn up if we can keep from it, Hensley said of the standard sport utility vehicles. “They’re not designed to go into disaster areas like (the humvees) are.”
Hensley said his department recently picked up the vehicles in South Carolina at no cost to the county. Nearby Washington and Carter counties previously used the military surplus program to obtain vehicles. In fact, it was Washington County Sheriff Ed Graybeal who suggested Hensley look into the surplus program. Six weeks from when he applied, the vehicles were ready.
“It’s a good asset for the county,” Hensley said of the military’s surplus program. “That means we don’t have to buy it and we can use it. It is a good program.”
The four-wheel-drive Humvees have high ground clearance and will be used for off-road travel and also on snow-covered roads.
Hensley said maintenance records will be kept and the humvees must be kept by the department for a specified time, but then could be sold if no longer needed and the funds would go to the county. The sheriff said his department is checking what other surplus equipment is available.
“Since the war is winding down in Afghanistan, there’s more equipment coming in, and anything we can use here we’re going to try to get,” Hensley said.
State revenue exceeded expectations by $563 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, according to figures released last week, but Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes says that doesn’t mean legislators should get ready for a spending spree next year.
Of the total “overcollection,” as the surplus is called in state budget discourse, about $543 million is in money going into the state’s general fund and thus available for most any purpose. Of that, the commissioner said about $210 million is “baked into the budget” for the current fiscal year, which began July 1, and will be spent according to plans.
“Take that out and the real overcollection is $333 million,” he said.
The commissioner said $333 million may not go very far in state budget terms when health care inflation is expected to run about 7 percent in this fiscal year, driving up TennCare costs even without factoring in the potential impact of the Affordable Care Act. State spending on education can be expected to increase by $50 million or so because of enrollment growth and the like.
“All of a sudden you’re at $300 million just when you open the door (to look at options for the next fiscal year),” he said.
The state’s rainy-day fund, which was built up to $750 million at one point in former Gov. Phil Bredesen’s administration, fell to $250 million last year and will be built back to $356 million in the current fiscal year, according to budget plans. But Emkes noted that still only about half the former level exists and, given the uncertain economic times, it would be prudent to build up the fund further while surplus revenue is flowing.
The state’s July tax collections marked the 12th consecutive month in which total collections have exceeded the budgeted estimates, officials said. July sales tax collections represent consumer spending that took place in the month of June.
— Note: Gail Kerr, meanwhile, is soliciting suggestions on how to spend the surplus.
By Lucas Johnson, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey said Thursday that the state’s revenue surplus of more than a half-billion dollars should stay in the bank despite calls from Democrats to use it to offset tuition costs and provide tax relief.
The Blountville Republican spoke to reporters following a meeting at the Legislative Plaza. He said it’s bad policy to spend the money at this time because of future costs that may arise, such as expenses resulting from the new federal health care law.
“That’s not the way this should be used right now,” Ramsey said. “It’s good fiscal policy to keep that money in the bank until we figure it out.”
State Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes announced Wednesday that collections came in at $130 million above estimates in June, which brought the year-to-date surplus to $540 million.
News release from the House Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE – House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh (D-Ripley) issued the following statement on behalf of the House Democratic Caucus regarding the June revenue collections, which showed an over-collection of $116,563,000 for the month and $554,650,100 for the first eleven months of the fiscal year:
“Back in April, House Democrats predicted that Tennessee would have excess revenue well north of $200,000,000 based on trends in over-collections. On multiple occasions, we requested that the State Funding Board call a meeting to revise their revenue projections, so the state’s budget for FY ’12-’13 would reflect more accurate revenue figures.
“When the majority party ignored our calls, House Democrats put forward an alternative budget we felt was more in line with revenue trends. Our alternative budget was balanced, it cut the food tax by an additional .25 percent, it restored the 2 percent cut to higher education– which would have helped avoid the 6-9 percent tuition hikes we are seeing across the state.
“Our alternative budget put $20,000,000 into our community colleges and technology centers, avoided cuts to key services and reduced our reliance on bonds for capital projects. All this could have been done for less than the $200,000,000 we had in over-collections at the time.
“Now, with double that figure in over-collected revenue, we must act–at the very least–to lower the sales tax on food and stop tuition from continuing to climb. The economy is improving, but our families are still struggling. We have the means to make putting food on the table a little easier and make college a little more affordable. If we ignore this opportunity, it is simply irresponsible. It’s the people’s money; it should be used to their benefit–not for politics.”
— News release from Senate Democratic Caucus:
NASHVILLE -Senate Democrats are calling on state lawmakers from both parties to come together and stop the massive over-collection of taxes from Tennesseans.
The state collected an excess of $338 million in tax revenues that it isn’t spending for the fiscal year that ended June 30, according to the Tennessee Department of Revenue.
“This is your government, collecting more of your money than it can spend,” Senate Democratic Leader Jim Kyle said. “We have heard a lot of talk about tax relief, and now it’s time for them to deliver.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A proposal to make lowering the sales tax on groceries contingent on whether there’s a surplus in state revenue has failed.
The measure sponsored by Democratic Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle of Memphis failed to get a majority vote in the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday. The companion bill is awaiting a vote in a House subcommittee.
Under the legislation, half of the surplus would go toward student assistance awards.
Gov. Bill Haslam plans to trim the sales tax on groceries by one-quarter percent, down to 5.25 percent, in the budget year beginning July 1, which is projected to cost $21 million.
Haslam has said he wants to drop the sales tax on groceries to 5 percent in the next budget year.
By Erik Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn.– Tennessee should hold a $28 million general fund surplus in reserve in case state tax collections drop, state Finance Commissioner Mark Emkes said Monday.
Emkes is Gov. Bill Haslam’s chief Cabinet officer and said in an interview with The Associated Press that showing such restraint could help bolster the state’s case for keeping its high credit ratings.
“Let’s be prudent,” Emkes said. “Just because we have a little extra change in our pocket, let’s not go run out and spend it.”
The volatility of the national economy could seriously affect Tennessee revenues, Emkes said.
“We all know what’s happened in the month of August with regard to the debt ceiling, the stock market and the uncertainty,” he said. “I am very concerned about the sales tax revenue figures for August and the next couple of months based upon consumer confidence and the uncertainties that are out there.”