The Tennessean reports that Music Row-affiliated companies have spent more than $4 million to lobby Congress during the past three months alone ($12.2 million in the past year as of Sept. 30) as key proposals intended to benefit music makers — artists, songwriters and guitar builders — have run headlong into well-funded opposition. Music industry campaign contributions have likewise flowed directly into the re-election campaigns of lawmakers backing key bills, with three Tennessee lawmakers emerging as among the top congressional recipients of music business contributions in 2011. (They are Sen. Bob Corker and Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Jim Cooper.)
Tennessee retailers joined in a Washington lobbying excursion Wednesday to promote legislation mandating that Internet retailers collect state and local sales taxes. Several Tennessee newspapers have stories on the expedition today.
From the News-Sentinel: Morgan Hardy watched in frustration as a man walked into his comics and games shop last week, picked out what he wanted to buy, and then used his cell phone to order the merchandise on eBay. By ordering online, the customer was able to avoid paying the 9.25 percent sales tax he would have been charged if he’d bought the goods in Hardy’s store.
“Customers are getting more brazen,” said Hardy, who owns Organized Play in Knoxville’s Old City. “They have to. It’s tough times for everybody.”
Hardy and other small retailers from across the country lobbied Congress on Wednesday to fix what they say is a loophole that gives large online companies a significant price advantage over smaller mom-and-pop businesses. Remote sellers, such as online retailers, are not required under federal law to collect and remit sales taxes on goods sold in a particular state unless they have a physical presence, or nexus, within that state.
From The Tennessean:
Lebanon business owner A.J. McCall traveled to Washington Wednesday to promote a bill that would let states collect sales tax on items sold online.
…”Every year a greater percentage of our business goes to the Internet,” McCall said. “If you can go on one person’s website and buy something without having to pay tax, and then you go (to my store) and you have to pay tax, it’s really a fairness issue.”
McCall is seen as an unlikely spokesman for sales-tax fairness because his company, D.T. McCall & Sons, has been under investigation since last year on allegations it had underreported cash purchases to avoid sales tax.
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation spokeswoman Kristin Helm said Wednesday the case will soon be closed “with no criminal prosecution” at the request of Wilson County District Attorney Tommy Thompson, who took over the probe.
Text from the White House press office:
THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat. Well, welcome to the White House, everybody. I see a whole bunch of people who are interested in education, and we are grateful for all the work that you do each and every day.
I want to recognize the person to my right, somebody who I think will end up being considered one of the finest Secretaries of Education we’ve ever had — Arne Duncan. (Applause.) In addition to his passion, probably the finest basketball player ever in the Cabinet. (Laughter.)
I also want to thank Governor Bill Haslam of Tennessee for taking the time to be here today, and the great work that he’s doing in Tennessee. I’m especially appreciative because I found that his daughter is getting married, and he is doing the ceremony tomorrow, so we’ve got to get him back on time. (Laughter and applause.) But we really appreciate his presence. Thank you.
Gov. Bill Haslam’s push for the federal government to let states seek an exemption from performance standards under the No Child Left Behind school reform law has earned him a supporting role at the White House, reports Michael Collins. Haslam will introduce President Barack Obama today at a White House briefing in which the president will offer states guidance on how they can get around some provisions of the decade-old law, a White House official said Thursday.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in August the administration would allow states to seek a waiver under the law. The Obama administration will spell out today the terms that states must meet to qualify for such an exemption.
Haslam announced in July that Tennessee had become the first state in the nation to ask for a waiver under the law, which was enacted under former President George W. Bush. The reforms sought to hold schools more accountable for student performance and get better-qualified teachers in classrooms.
But states have argued the standards are too punitive and don’t adequately measure student achievement. About half of schools in Tennessee currently fall short of meeting the standards under the law, according to the “annual yearly progress” reports for Tennessee schools.
As now written, states have until 2014 to achieve 100 percent proficiency in all tested subjects — based on state-administered tests — plus a 90 percent graduation rate. Most Tennessee schools are expected to fall short of those standards next year.
Tennessee’s waiver request basically asks the U.S. Department of Education to drop the federal standards for schools and substitute Tennessee standards.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam says a new project completes a “monumental effort” to preserve the Gray Fossil Site in Washington County.
In a statement released in Nashville, Haslam said a recent $145,000 enhancement grant for the site helps create a unique educational opportunity for those who visit it.
The site was unearthed in 2000 by a state crew cutting a road through the property. It has since produced a rich supply of animal fossils, including dozens of tapirs.
Haslam said the site’s visitor center in its three years of operation has welcomed more than 250,000 visitors from all 50 states and several foreign countries.
The latest project represents the completion of the grounds and visitor amenities for the visitor center.
East Tennessee State University operates the site.
Hank Hayes provides a rundown on Gov. Bill Haslam’s appearance before Chamber of Commerce executives:
JOHNSON CITY — Partisan congressional struggles over federal spending and their negative effects aren’t good for Tennessee’s economic development effort right now, Gov. Bill Haslam told about 100 state chamber of commerce executives on Thursday.
“What’s happening in Washington is impacting businesses,” Haslam, a Republican, said during a talk at Johnson City’s Carnegie Hotel. “The way you create investment is to create an environment people feel confident and comfortable about investing in, and I don’t think any of us feel like we have that in our country. Forget which side of the partisan argument you’re on. I don’t think any of us would say that what’s happening out of Washington is leaving people with a lot of confidence, and I think we’re all feeling that right now.”
State government, Haslam said, is attempting to mitigate Standard and Poor’s downgrade of the federal government’s bond rating from AAA to AA+ amid Congress’ recent debate over raising the nation’s $14.3 trillion debt ceiling.
The News Sentinel today carries a national story on state and local governments hiring lobbyists to work in Washington at a cost of $1.2 billion over the past decade – complete with a state-by-state chart on the spending.
A related story by Steve Ahillen provides more Tennessee-specific information, including a report on the University of Tennessee’s full-time lobbyist in Washingnton. t has proved worthwhile to have someone (in Washington),” said Hank Dye, UT’s vice president for public and government relations. “If you don’t have somebody up there representing you, I think you’d be missing out.”
(UT) has a full-time Washington lobbyist on its staff, Kurt Schlieter, whose title is Associate Vice President and Director of Federal Relations. He has been on the job since 2003 after serving as legislative assistant and appropriations associate on the staff of then-Tennessee Congressman Zach Wamp. He makes $132,599.96 a year.
“There’s more lobbying done by the University of Tennessee than probably any other public institution in the state of Tennessee,” said U.S. Rep. John J. Duncan Jr., R-Tenn.
And, most, but not all, is done through Schlieter.
(Note: UT also has a lobbyist in Nashville, Anthony Haynes, who on occasion — as in combating the ‘guns on campus’ bill or dealing with budget issues — is assisted by Dye and others.)
A Washington Post blogger who has been looking at congressional redistricting in various states has turned his eye toward Tennessee.. …(I)n Tennessee, there’s still a difference between conservative and Republican. Despite DesJarlais’ 4th district having a Cook Partisan Voting Index rating of R+13 — i.e. heavily leaning toward the GOP — he represents a lot of conservative rural Democrats. And Fincher, especially in the eastern part of his western Tennessee 8th district (just west of Nashville) hs lots of conservative Democrats too.
Republican line-drawers’ first priority is keeping those two seats. Until last year, Republicans were still a minority in the state’s congressional delegation and that not-so-distant memory is likely to weigh heavily on the party.
Shoring up Fincher is job number one. The best thing for him would be to give away his eastern Democratic territory to somebody (Cooper’s 5th district, for example) and pick up more of the heavily Republican Memphis suburbs from Rep. Marsha Blackburn’s (R) very safe 7th district.
As for DesJarlais, sources say the GOP would like to make the unwieldy, 200-mile-long district a bit more logical. Currently, it incorporates disparate groups of people with little in common, stretching from near the Virginia border to near the Mississippi border.
The idea in his district is to cut out as many of the rural Democratic pockets as possible, and move DesJarlais into more Republican areas, with the most obvious solution being to take Murfreesboro from freshman Rep. Diane Black’s (R) safe 6th district. (Of course, this could also earn DesJarlais a primary challenge, given his many new constituents.)
The problem for the GOP, in this scenario, is that giving Murfreesboro to DesJarlais and taking the conservative Democrats out of Fincher’s seat makes targeting Cooper much more difficult, because the leftover Democrats will have to find a home. Blackburn and Black can both take on some of them, but only so many.
Blackburn, in particular, would already be giving up the heavily conservative Memphis suburbs for her district. The easiest solution, Republicans acknowledge, is just to pack as many Democrats as possible into Cooper’s district and assure that the DesJarlais and Fincher districts are safe for years to come.
WASHINGTON (AP) — Trying to make his case for overhauling the nation’s education laws, President Barack Obama is highlighting progress at a Tennessee high school as evidence that the proper incentives can help all schools succeed.
Obama focused his weekly radio and Internet address Saturday on Memphis’ Booker T. Washington High School, where the president delivered the commencement address Monday.
Graduation rates at the school, which is in a poor, crime-ridden neighborhood, have risen impressively in just three years. The school won a national competition to secure him as its speaker by demonstrating how it overcame challenges through innovations such as separate freshman academies for boys and girls.
“Booker T. Washington High School is no longer a story about what’s gone wrong in education,” the president said. “It’s a story about how we can set it right.
“We need to encourage this kind of change all across America. We need to reward the reforms that are driven not by Washington, but by principals and teachers and parents. That’s how we’ll make progress in education — not from the top down, but from the bottom up.”