Tag Archives: TNReport

Haslam: TN Has ‘best legislature in the country’

In a speech to the Republican Statesman’s Dinner fundraiser last weekend, Gov. Bill Haslam declared that Tennesseans have “elected the best legislature that we have in the country.”
From TNReport, which has a video of the governor’s remarks:
“Those supermajorities (in both the House and Senate) help make the governor a lot smarter,” he said.
Haslam added, “One of the things I am most proud of with this Legislature is that we are all about producing results. Tennessee in the last year has led the Southeast in job-creation and is fourth in the nation.”

State Spends $22M to Promote Filmmaking in TN

TNReport’s Trent Siebert has done a piece on state spending to attract filmmakers to Tennessee. It starts like this:
Did you enjoy ABC’s “Nashville” series? Good, because you’ll be paying for it to the tune of $8.5 million.
Millions of public dollars — in tax credits and, as of this year, via grants — have flowed into the state’s film incentive program to aid productions such as Larry the Cable Guy’s Christmas special, “Hannah Montana: The Movie” and promos for “Monday Night Football.”
In all, Tennessee is on track to fork over $22 million worth of handouts for Hollywood productions that are made in the state, a TNReport review of state records from 2008 to 2012 shows.
“This is one of the most insidious forms of corporate welfare out there,” Trey Moore, with the free-market think tank Beacon Center, said. “It’s hard to argue that this is a good deal for taxpayers.”
To put the amount in context: $22 million could pay for an additional 455 Nashville firefighters or five additional teachers in each of Tennessee’s 95 counties this year.

Haslam Keeps Secret Schedule (with no recedent for doing so)

Gov. Bill Haslam isn’t too keen on letting Tennesseans in on who he’s meeting behind closed doors, says Andrea Zelinski.
“There’s just a lot of discussions that we have, that any governor needs to have, as part of the decision-making process that we go through on so many different issues,” the governor said recently.
The administration rejected a request from TNReport in July to review or obtain copies of the governor’s calendar-scheduling planner dating back to his Jan. 15, 2010, inauguration through June 30, 2012.
Haslam’s office said his schedule falls under the protection of “deliberative process privilege.” The exception under common law allows for government secrecy in instances of communications, opinions and recommendations on policy issues.
However, the state government’s own open-records advocate, Elisha Hodge, says there’s no precedent under this exception in Tennessee to keep the governor’s calendar hidden from public view.
“In Tennessee, the deliberative process privilege has been discussed in a number of public records cases,” but never in the context of public officials’ calendars, said Hodge.
In the cases the judiciary did review, “the courts have never found the privilege to be applicable, based upon specific records that were at issue in the cases.”
Information like what’s on the governor’s schedule should be public, said Kent Flanagan, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government.
“I don’t want to know when he brushes his teeth, and I don’t want to know when he goes to bed,” Flanagan said. “But when he’s acting in the official capacity for the state of Tennessee, the people of Tennessee need to see how he’s performing his duties.”
The only way to challenge the administration’s stance would be to sue the administration and take the governor to court, which is a costly option.

TNReport Pans TN Pork

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.”

A Report on TNReport and Its Funding

The Nashville Scene has a long piece by Matt Pulle on TNReport, the political website, that is generally complimentary of its reporting while revealing the the previously-unrevealed source of its funding.
Excerpts:
It is against this backdrop of slimmed-down, lightweight news coverage that Tennessee Report (TNReport.com), a political website, hopes to thrive. Barely 18 months old and powered by two full-timers and one prolific freelancer, the site has been providing thorough and balanced coverage of state politics, along with surprisingly compelling footage of lawmakers in action.
With a narrow audience and financial backing from a conservative nonprofit based in, of all places, North Dakota, Tennessee Report may not mark the future of media. But it’s definitely part of the present. During the recently concluded legislative session, the politics-only site seemed to come of age, earning a devoted following among the folks who obsess over state legislators the way Arnold Schwarzenegger scopes out nannies.
“I read the Tennessee Report as much, if not more, than any of the dailies,” says Brandon Puttbrese, the communications director for the Tennessee Democratic Party. “For people who pay attention to state politics, they’ve become a must-read.”
On this issue — and perhaps this issue alone — the GOP agrees.
“How well read they are on the Hill? Very,” says Brent Leatherwood, the spokesman for the House GOP caucus. “Personally, I’ve added them to the other blogs and news sites I continually check throughout the day. I know others have done the same.”
Part of what makes Tennessee Report work is that it knows it has an audience: folks who find state politics more interesting than sugar-free margaritas. In trying to appeal to that crowd, the site can misfire, running dense, earnest stories that don’t end up saying anything. But the site’s keen attention to political maneuvers can also lead to some memorable journalism.
….Otherwise open and collegial, Engler refuses to divulge who actually pays the site’s bills. After all, its content is free to all and features virtually no advertisements. Someone has to be funding all this.
“We don’t discuss funding, and that’s our policy,” he says.
That policy is understandable, considering that — as the Scene learned — Tennessee Report is supported by the Franklin Center, a North Dakota nonprofit with deep Republican Party ties that backs similar political websites across the country. Jason Stverak, the center’s president, spent six years as the executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party, while Gwen Beattie previously worked for Jim Gilmore, the former Virginia governor and onetime Republican National Committee chair. In addition, the center has a close relationship with the Sam Adams Alliance, a Chicago-based nonprofit that has avidly encouraged the spread of the Tea Party movement.
“The Franklin Center is proud to support TNReport’s efforts to provide the people of Tennessee with more original content about what is going on in their government,” emails center spokeswoman Meghan Tisinger, who once worked for former Republican congressman John Kuhl. “The TNReport relentlessly works to promote transparency and keep Tennessee’s elected officials accountable through digging into the stories that the legacy media is no longer equipped to do.”
Still, despite the leanings of its backers, Tennessee Report shows not the slightest trace of partisan or ideological bias. In fact, the site runs press releases from the ACLU or, for that matter, any other organization with access to a fax machine. Meanwhile, Engler himself says the site will accept donations from people and groups of all political persuasions, provided the funding does not come with strings attached. So far, this arrangement doesn’t seem to trouble the Report’s readers.