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Wamp gaining, but still has a big gap to make up

Weston Wamp has out-raised Chuck Fleischmann, but there's still $270,000 to make up to catch the incumbent.

Apr 16, 2014 7:13 AM

House passes Haslam's community college program

Despite concern the governor’s plan to guarantee two years of free community college will put too much pressure on community colleges, draw students from four-year schools and create a state-level entitlement program, the House endorsed the plan 87-8.

Approved by the Senate 30-1 on Monday, the General Assembly will next send the last dollar scholarship program to the governor for his signature.

The governor has spent the last year stressing emphasis on higher education in an effort to lift the number of Tennesseans with post secondary degrees from 32 percent now to 55 percent in 2025.

Although the legislation passed easily in both chambers, four-year institutions are worried the program will funnel graduating high schoolers into community colleges and away from four-year schools but have agreed to support the legislation.

No votes on the bill came from Republican Rep. Joe Carr of Lascassas, Glen Casada of Franklin, Jeremy Durham of Franklin, Andy Holt of Dresden, Judd Matheny of Tullahoma, Cameron Sexton of Crossville, Billy Spivey of Lewisburg, and Rick Womick of Rockvale. 

Apr 15, 2014 9:46 PM

Conference committee rubber stamps one-year PARCC delay

A compromise by the House and Senate to put off a controversial exam aligned with a new set of education standards is on its way to the House and Senate floors.

The legislation was agreed upon with no discussion by three delegates from each chamber in the House Speaker’s ceremonial office. It would put off for one year the PARCC exam, known as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness in College and Careers. It would also require the state to solicit bids for its next testing contract instead of adopting PARCC by default.

In the meantime, schools would continue to issue the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, known as TCAP, through the 2014-15 school year.

The new language is attached to a commonly agreed upon bill reigning in concerns over the Common Core education standards in how data is used and dispelling any belief the new standards are a directive from the national level.

Members of legislative leadership and the administration attempted to stave off harsher critics of the standards and new test and committee chairs sidelined bills going further. But opponents to Common Core rose up in the House earlier this session, believing that bill was not enough and a bipartisan band of lawmakers hijacked unrelated legislation and transformed it into a two-year delay in the PARCC exam and implementation of the education standards.

House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters this month she would try to rectify the situation while keeping the measure under her control by taking a separate bill to a conference committee.

The administration went into this legislative session expecting pushback on the Common Core and the PARCC exam, but refused to give ground to critics.

Apr 15, 2014 6:08 PM

Education reform bills melt down, then so does their sponsor

After a House committee yanked the life out of two of Rep. John DeBerry’s education bills, he snatched up his things, quietly stormed down the hallway to his office and slammed his heavy wooden door behind him.

The bang of the door and the crash of his things hitting the ground inside the small ground-level office of the calm yet emotional Memphis Democrat rang out in the hallway.

Moments before, no one on the 12-member Finance, Ways and Means Subcommittee Tuesday would give DeBerry a motion to take up his bills. Beyond the procedural lack of the motion making an up-or-down vote on his bills impossible, members failing to offer a motion on a bill is one of the chief insults a committee can bestow upon a bill or its sponsor.

DeBerry finds himself politically straddling fences in the General Assembly. Last election cycle, he was the chief beneficiary of campaign contributions from education reform advocates that tend to find more allies on the Republican side of the aisle. That, and his support for education reforms like vouchers and school choice, put his political views fundamentally at odds with the vast majority of his fellow Democrats.

The lack of a motion meant the committee killed two of his bills in the hearing Tuesday afternoon. One would have allowed the school districts charged with turning around the state’s worst schools — which largely sit in Memphis — to recruit students outside their school zones. Another would have lowered the voting threshold needed for parents to turn around management or operators of their struggling schools. Both were controversial, although less so than other education bills up for consideration this year.

Although the bills were on their way to the Senate floor, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said he wasn’t familiar with the legislation and isn’t surprised by the decisive move in committee to kill legislation when the legislature is looking to adjourn.

“We’re at the end of session where that’s what happens,” Ramsey said. “Bottom line is this is the time of year where stuff like that happens. That’s the reason why we have two houses, that’s the reason we have separation of powers, so nobody rubber stamps what the other person does.” 

Earlier in the morning, another bill DeBerry was rooting for also died. Noting a lack of support on the full Finance Committee, Rep. Bill Dunn withdrew a bill that would have allowed the state to pay private-school tuition for students attending the state’s worst schools.

Apr 15, 2014 2:28 PM

'Guns in parks' bill fails to get out of committee

Via AP, legislation aimed at overriding local bans on guns in parks died in subcommittee on Monday night.

Apr 15, 2014 11:31 AM

March tax revenue reflects mixed results

State tax revenue collections in March released today reflect mixed results, with the general fund under collected by more than $4 million for the month and by $263.9 million year-to-date, according to the Tennessee Department of Finance and Administration.

Total tax collections for the month were 2.10 percent above the March 2013 figure.

The numbers arrive as members of the Tennessee General Assembly are concluding their session amid sometimes-heated discussions about spending.  

“March collections continued to reflect weaker than anticipated revenues from the corporate sector, while sales tax collections were stronger,” Larry Martin (pictured), finance and administration commissioner, said in a release. “We believe the recent increase in retail spending is a reflection of renewed consumer confidence and indicates that the economy is slowly recovering. This growth is important in meeting current revenue projections on which the approved budget amendment was based.

“About a fourth of our corporate income taxes often — but not always — occur in the month of April,” Martin added. “We will work with the legislature and others to manage the state’s spending and resources regardless of the economic climate, as the state has always done.”

On an accrual basis, March is the eighth month in the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Sales tax collections were $9.4 million more than the estimate for March.  The March growth rate was positive 5.51 percent. For eight months, revenues are under collected by $23.4 million. The year-to-date growth rate for eight months was positive 3.58%.

Franchise and excise taxes combined were $11.7 million below the budgeted estimate of $199.9 million. For eight months, revenues are under collected by $227 million. The year-to-date growth rate for eight months was negative 13.51 percent.

Gasoline and motor fuel collections for March increased by 11.78 percent and were $7.4 million above the budgeted estimate.  For eight months, revenues are over collected by $3.1 million.

Tobacco taxes collections were $4.6 million under the budgeted estimate of $23.6 million. For eight months, revenues are under collected in the amount of $6.9 million.

Inheritance and estate taxes were over collected by $0.4 million for the month. Year-to-date collections for eight months are $17.6 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Privilege tax collections were $33,000 less than the March estimate, and on a year-to-date basis, August through March, collections are $7 million below the estimate.

Business tax collections were $3.7 million above the March estimate.

All other taxes were under collected by a net of $1.8 million.

Year-to-date collections for seven months were $257 million less than the budgeted estimate. The general fund was under collected by $263.9 million and the four other funds were over collected by $6.9 million.

The budgeted revenue estimates for 2013-2014 are based on the State Funding Board’s consensus recommendation of Dec. 19, 2012 and adopted by the first session of the 108th General Assembly in April 2013. They are available on the state’s website athttp://www.tn.gov/finance/bud/Revenues.shtml.

The Funding Board met on Dec. 10, 2013 to hear updated revenue projections from the state’s various economists. The board met again on Dec. 17 and adopted revised revenue ranges for 2013-14. The revised ranges assume an under collection from the July 2013 budgeted estimate in the amount of $111.2 million to $134.5 million in total taxes and in the amount of $126.1 million to $145.6 million in general fund taxes for the current fiscal year.

 

Apr 15, 2014 11:28 AM

Charter changes floated

A heap of changes to the Metro Charter have been proposed, including one that would shrink the council to 27 members.

Apr 15, 2014 9:44 AM

Lack of support in House kills Haslam's vouchers bill

Explaining the votes aren’t there for a school voucher program, Rep. Bill Dunn withdrew from consideration a controversial plan to give students at failing schools taxpayer money to attend private or religious schools. 

The Haslam administration's failure for the second time in two years deals another blow to the governor, whose legislative agenda has muddled through the General Assembly all session.

“I think today the children lost and the system won,” said Dunn, a long-time advocate for school vouchers after pulling the bill from the House Finance, Ways and Means Committee Tuesday morning.

“We’re now in campaign season and we just have to recognize that. I’m not going to give up on the kids and I’m hoping that the governor won’t either and that we’ll be back next year with it,” said the Knoxville Republican.

Some in the legislature have been hungry for a school voucher program for years, leading the governor to appoint a study committee in 2012 to examine what a program could look like in Tennessee. Haslam introduced a voucher program last year then pulled it off the table after Senators toyed with expanding it.

“We knew getting opportunity scholarships passed would be an uphill battle because some legislators wanted a broader bill and some didn’t want a bill at all," said Haslam spokeswoman Alexia Poe. "The governor has said all along that the proposal wasn’t a silver bullet but a piece of a larger strategy to offer more options for choice to families. The governor is disappointed that a bill that made it further than any other voucher proposal has didn’t make it to the finish line.”

The administration made a priority of the voucher bill this year but fought with the House over competing amendments. The bill languished in a key finance committee for weeks while advocates struggled to drum up the necessary votes to move it to the floor. Meanwhile, the Senate approved a voucher plan 21-10.

Dunn blamed the bill’s failure on politics in his chamber.

“I think children can’t vote, but people in the system can and it comes down to politics” in the House. “I commend the Senate for putting the kids first.”

Apr 15, 2014 9:38 AM

Open-carry shot down

Unpermitted open-carry was overwhelmingly defeated in a House subcommittee. The sponsor says he won't bring it to the floor.

Apr 15, 2014 6:58 AM

High gravity beer sales in grocery stores goes to Haslam

The General Assembly sends the governor the bill adding high gravity beers to grocery store shelves.

Apr 15, 2014 6:00 AM