Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey would not predict what financial help the Nashville Amp bus rapid transit project could get from the legislature in 2015, but said state funding for the city’s program is "dead for this year."
“I do want to make sure that we’re using taxpayer dollars wisely and I do think some of this is just, again, emotion, that mass transit is good, cars are bad kind of thing,” the leading Senate Republican said. “And I’m not sure the Amp has ever been proven that it’s exactly what’s needed.”
The Senate Transportation Committee voted Wednesday to block state funding for Nashville’s $175 million bus rapid transit project, a budget amendment spearheaded by chairman Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican and U.S. Congressional candidate. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, was looking for the state to put in $35 million.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Tracy last year received a $5,000 campaign contribution from Lee Beaman, a main Amp opponent. Although Tracy told reporters he did not know Beaman was leading the charge to fight to the project, he said he knew of his opposition.
While Ramsey acknowledged the city is growing as a fast pace, he said Nashville is “not there yet” to need bus rapid transit and said “one year is not going to hurt anything.”
Dean will be termed out of office about a year from now, a fact when pointed out to Ramsey by a reporter led him to laugh and sarcastically reply, "He won’t?"
“This isn’t Atlanta and this isn’t New York City," he said. "Do we have some minor problems? Maybe. But I’m not sure that the city of Nashville is ready for a MARTA or ready for a METRO or anything like that. I won’t say nothing, but I do think we make sure that this is something that will be used and not highly taxpayer subsidized before we’re doing that,” he said.
House Speaker Beth Harwell didn't know about Tracy's budget amendment until after it was approved, the Nashville Republican told reporters. But she said she's unchanged in her opposition to funding the Amp ahead of other projects already on the state's priority list.
"We are underfunding our road projects across the state and I think they [state legislators] felt strongly that this was too big of an ask for any state money to be used for this project," she said. "I would agree with that."
The Senate has overwhelmingly approved a bill repealing a key compromise built into the 2009 so-called guns-in-parks law, although the House is planning to soften the measure before sending it to the floor.
The upper chamber voted 26-7 Thursday in favor of a bill sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, that would repeal local government’s ability to ban guns in their parks, essentially allowing gun possession by handgun carry permit holders in any park in the state.
The vote landed largely along party lines, although Memphis Democrat Ophelia Ford voted in favor of the bill and East Tennessee Republican Doug Overbey voted against.
Overbey told the Republican Caucus before the vote he’d vote “no,” pointing out the state permits discretion for private businesses to ban guns in their establishments but would refuse that power to local governments.
“To say a city can’t do that doesn’t make any sense to me,” he told the members.
The House version of the bill was taken off notice earlier this month, a moved designed to take a timeout to make the language “a little more palatable to our local governments,” House Speaker Beth Harwell told reporters after the Senate vote.
“We believe in Second Amendment rights. We want to be sensitive of that. We also want to be very sensitive of the fact that local governments have their place to play as well. These are local parks financed by our local government, patrolled by our local governments, so I think they should have some say,” she said.
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean wrote a letter last month asking lawmakers to reject the bill. Guns are currently banned in Metro's 121 parks and 19 greenways, per a vote by the Metro Council.
Gov. Bill Haslam has expressed “major concerns” over taking authority away from local governments earlier this year. Harwell and Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey together told newspaper reporters and editors last week they see the issue making it to the floor in both chambers.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey’s now 14-month old grandson is cancer-free after a six month bout with testicular cancer, including three rounds of chemotherapy, he told reporters Thursday.
“As speaker I can control things a lot by talking somebody into voting. You can’t wave a magic wand. You can’t do anything. It’s there and it’s way out of my hands,” Ramsey said.
WJHL-TV reported on the family struggle fighting his grandson Brigg's cancer. “I can’t watch it without crying,” he said.
The situation influences how he thinks about his role in the legislature: “The first way it affects you is, ‘I don’t need this. I’m going to stay home.’ Then there’s the 180 degrees from that. The reason I’m doing it is because of people like that, little Briggs, and make Tennessee a better place to live and to make sure we’re doing what’s right.”
Gov. Bill Haslam is uneasy over legislation that would stop cities from being able to ban handguns in their parks, he told reporters Thursday.
“If that property belongs to local governments, then their locally elected officials should be able to decide what happens to that property,” said Haslam who was mayor of Knoxville when the original guns-in-parks bill became law in 2009. “The way I understand it now, I have some major concerns.”
Nashville Mayor Karl Dean this week asked members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to take a pass on Senate Bill 1496 pitched by Sen. Stacey Campfield. The bill allows handgun carry permit holders to carry a firearm in any state, county or municipal park or recreation area, removing power local governments currently have to opt out local parks.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told reporters Thursday he is in favor of the bill, saying there are some things that should be left to local municipalities to decide and other issues the state should control.
“There are certain things that you leave up to local governments. Zoning, what works in Bristol doesn’t work in Memphis. Maybe alcohol laws based on the social values of that area, that people ought to be able to vote,” Ramsey said. “But when it comes to something as basic as a Second Amendment right, then that’s something the state ought to set.”
Unlike the state’s relationship to the federal government, Ramsey argued that local governments are political subdivisions of the state.
“If we’ve got 17 votes in the Senate and 50 votes in the House, tomorrow we can say that the state only has three counties. Middle, East and West,” he said. “The bottom line is I’m for the bill.”
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey expects the legislature will wrap up its work by Easter this year.
That means cutting out earlier than last year’s April 19 adjournment since the holiday falls on April 20. Word around Capitol Hill hints at leadership wanting to adjourn weeks earlier, but Ramsey held to mid-month when talking to reporters last week.
“That’s not rushing things. That’s just setting goals and working toward them. It really is,” he said.
For years, the legislature would stay longer through the spring, in part waiting for revised state revenue estimates based on collections due April 15. The administration and legislature would then factor those revisions into a constitutionally-required balanced budget plan for the state.
The days of waiting for those numbers are over, said Ramsey. Belief the legislature should wait for Tax Day data is an “old fallacy,” he said, pointing to many owing taxes are given October extensions paid long after the budget is approved. Instead, Ramsey said he expects the State Funding Board to revise revenue estimates down for the next fiscal year and have the legislature build their budget on those figures.
State revenues for the budget approved last year by lawmakers are off this year. As of December, collections are more than $170 million below expectations.
Key Republicans like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey and House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick say they’re beginning to reverse their opposition to tying prescriptions to the sale of certain cold medicines used to make meth.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mike Turner joined the chorus Tuesday, saying, “I think we’ve experimented, tried to do different things and the meth problem has just not gone away. I think we’re going to have to really toughen up on that.”
The shift comes a year after legislation requiring prescriptions for drugs containing pseudoephedrine failed to gain any steam on Capitol Hill. Backers of the plan said the move is necessary to tackle the state’s drug problem, but pharmacists argued the restriction is unnecessary and inconvenient for people in need of the cold medicine.
Nearly 20 cities took the issue up locally by passing ordinances requiring prescriptions for products with pseudoephedrine in the last year, but the Attorney General said last month cities will have to look to the state to legislate that kind of restriction. In recent years, lawmakers also have beefed up how it tracks people buying products with pseudoephedrine to curb meth production.
Currently only two states require a prescription for all purchases — Mississippi and Oregon — while others are considering the option. Some states like Kentucky limit the amount a person can buy in a year without a prescription.
In the face of criticism from the state Senate’s leading Republican, Gov. Bill Haslam said the key setback in striking a deal expanding Medicaid here is matching up what Tennessee lawmakers will pass and Washington will approve.
“I’m not going to waste their time or our time with a proposal that is either not going to go anywhere in Washington or not going to go anywhere in Legislative Plaza,” Haslam told reporters Wednesday. “We have a very difficult needle to thread here.”
Earlier this week, Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey said the governor is “wasting his time” trying to pin down a plan to offer healthcare to more low-income people on Tennessee's own terms using federal dollars from the Affordable Care Act. He said problems in Washington implementing the federal healthcare exchanges have convinced him the state should wait about two years before deciding whether to move forward.
In March, Haslam decided to pass up $1.4 billion from the federal government to expand the state's TennCare program to an estimated 180,000 Tennesseans, saying the state can't afford to make the Medicaid program available when Washington begins to phase some of the costs of expansion back to the state. Instead, he said he'd see a unique plan for Tennessee.
When asked by reporters if trying to satisfy both the legislature and Washington in a new plan was “almost an impossible task,” Haslam said “that probably speaks a little to the difficulty, quite frankly.
“I admit it’s a difficult task to find something that we think works for us and that will get approved by them. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do just to throw in the towel, either.”
Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius told reporters last week she has spoken with the governor several times about a Tennessee plan, but has “not seen specifics from the governor’s office.”
Haslam said he has had “specific conversations” with the department, and expects to pitch a plan to the federal government “in a short period of time” outlining what the administration thinks could be acceptable to both parties.