Surprised by lackluster state revenues, the governor expects this year to be the toughest yet to craft a spending plan, he said immediately following his first morning of yearly budget hearings.
Between state revenues lagging roughly $100 million below expectations in the first quarter and built-in increases in education and TennCare funding — as well as increased Tenncare enrollment — eating up new dollars, Gov. Bill Haslam said he will have to consider more in the way of reductions this year than he had in years past.
“Hopefully, we’re being very strategic and surgical in this instead of just saying, ‘OK, we’re going to take 3 percent everywhere,’” Haslam told reporters.
Beginning his fourth year in office, this is the first with revenues falling short of forecasts, he said. The drop could mean losing dollars slated for this year — which ends in June — and shrink the pool of money available for the state to divvy out in 2014-2015.
“There’s a recurring effect to that. I think it’ll just make our decisions all that much harder,” said Haslam, who is beginning to hear proposed budget plans from state agency leaders this week.
He is asking them to present plans for 5 percent in department reductions, but said he expects any cuts he makes to be “strategic and surgical” enough to go easy on agencies that have seen hits to their budget in recent years.
With problems plaguing the federal government’s system signing people up for health insurance, Gov. Bill Haslam said it’s hard to say whether he made the right decision leaving Tennessee’s portal to the feds.
“It’s hard to know the exact answer to that,” said Haslam in Nashville Wednesday. “In the end, we felt like it was their program. They’re the ones who suggested it and it would be better in this initial stage if they ran it. The thought being at the time that having two cooks in the kitchen when you’re trying to put together something that complex would make it that much more difficult.”
At times prior to passing on the exchange, Haslam argued Tennessee could run the exchanges “better and cheaper” than the feds. He later worried the federal government would still control most of the exchange. At the same time, the GOP-led legislature began pushing against taking on a piece of the Affordable Care Act.
Tennessee is one of 27 states leaving the exchanges to the federal government to control. Seven other states partnered with the federal government and 17 independently set up their own. Haslam pointed to mixed results among states that chose to run the exchanges themselves.
Problems with the federal exchanges are complicating Tennessee's other health care decision, he said, which is whether officials can agree on a state-specific plan to take advantage of federal dollars to expand Medicaid. It "would be a stretch" to have a plan to pitch to state lawmakers by Jan. 1, he said, after originally planning the decision could come by summer's end.
“I’m not going to project a date when something may or may not happen. We’re continuing discussions. Like I said, it’s definitely gotten harder in terms of this because HHS (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), like I said, definitely has their plate full trying to deal with all the issues they have.”
Tennessee’s senior senator is demanding the president fire his chief secretary overseeing Obamacare to hold her accountable for the exchanges’ rollout this month.
The demand from the Senate floor this morning comes less than 24 hours after Tea Party rival Joe Carr shot out a press release calling for her resignation first, suggesting “Alexander’s refusal to call for her ouster is further proof he is well to the left of the conservative mainstream.”
Alexander, a ranking member of a key committee overseeing implementation of the Affordable Care Act, filed legislation yesterday requiring the Obama administration develop weekly reports on usage of the 36 federally-run insurance exchanges -- including Tennessee's -- after requests for that data went unanswered.
Alexander’s remarks as prepared:
The President should ask the Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius, to resign her position because of the disastrous rollout of Obamacare.
Taxpayers have spent $400 million to create exchanges that, after three and one half years, still don’t work.
As a result, the WH had to announce last night that the key enforcement mechanism to their individual mandate, a 95 dollar fine, will be waived until the end of March 2014.
That's fine for those currently without insurance, but for the millions being forced into the exchanges and losing their current insurance plans, there's no relief, just higher prices, a likely lapse in insurance coverage, a broken website and broken promises.
We already know of 1.5 million Americans who are losing their policies because, on January 1, many insurance policies that they now have will not be legal under Obamacare and because the exchange will not be working they will not be able to choose another policy.
At some point there has to be accountability.
Expecting this secretary to be able to fix what she has not been able to fix during the last three and one half years is unrealistic.
It is throwing good money after bad.
It is time for her to resign and for someone else to take charge.
No private sector Chief Executive Officer would escape accountability after such a poor performance.
And the principle of accountability is not foreign to the public sector.
Admiral Hyman Rickover, father of the nuclear navy, told his submarine captains that they were not only accountable for their ships, but they were also accountable for the nuclear reactor on their ships. If anything went wrong with the reactor, their career in the Navy was over, the Admiral said.
As a result of that dose of accountability, since the 1950’s there never has been a death as a result of a problem with a naval submarine reactor.
Americans deserve that kind of accountability in the implementation of the new health care law.
Instead the Secretary appears not even to have told the President about known problems with the Obamacare website in the months and days leading up to the launch.
Despite repeated requests, she has refused to tell Congress or the public the reasons the Obamacare website continues to fail while insisting on more time and an undisclosed amount of money to fix it.
Before the Internet, RCA knew how many records Elvis was selling every day, Ford knew how many cars they were selling every day, and McDonalds could tell you how many Hamburgers it had sold each day.
Yet, under Secretary Sebelius’s leadership, the Obama administration will not tell us how many Americans have tried to sign up for Obamacare.
Or how many have actually signed up for insurance
Or what level of insurance they bought
Or in what zip code they live.
Not only can they not tell us, they have done their best to keep us from finding out.
With Wikileaks and Edward Snowden spilling our beans every day, what’s happening on the Obamacare exchanges is the only secret left in Washington.
The National Security Agency could learn some lessons from Secretary Sebelius.
Today I will ask unanimous consent to approve a six-page bill I introduced yesterday to require the administration to answer these questions every week.
Secretary Sebelius is not responsible for enacting Obamacare.
But she has been responsible for three and one half years for implementing it.
Now many Americans have only a few weeks to purchase new insurance or be without health insurance.
To expect Secretary Sebelius to correct in a few weeks what she has not been able to do during three and one half years is unrealistic.
It is time for the President to ask the Secretary of Health and Human Services to resign.
Almost two decades later, it's the deal that put Nashville on the cultural map: Bud Adams moved his NFL franchise to Nashville.
For all of the plaudits that Nashville has received over the last few years, becoming an NFL city put it in an elite club, showcased it on national television and made people unfamiliar with the city take notice. And it didn't hurt that the year they moved into their new, taxpayer-financed stadium, they came up a foot short in Super Bowl.
So how did Adams bring the then-oilers to Music City? It was a tough deal.
First, Phil Bredesen told the Nashville Post, the city had to be sure that Adams wasn't using Nashville as leverage. Though the two had bonded over a mutual love of art at an initial lunch and seemed to respect each other, Bredesen said that the sides needed to be sure they could trust each other. Bredesen was looking for a sports team — the under-construction downtown arena was built to NHL and NBA specs — and the NFL hadn't been considered an option. Adams was looking for a new stadium and had been flatly turned down by the mayor of Houston.
Enter the exclusive agreement. Adams secretly agreed to negotiate only with Nashville — and more importantly, to not take any deal back to Houston — and in response, the city came up with a $292 million package, including $80 million in bonds backed by taxpayers.
"I think Bud really appreciated Phil's straightforward, business-like approach to difficult issues," said lawyer Byron Trauger, the city's leading negotiator. "And I think that was something he had not previously seen in many political leaders.
"I found him to be a tough but fair negotiator. He was not present for most of the negotiations, of course, because in a deal like that the lead people would not be. But I remember two or three times as we were working on the deal, the lawyers and negotiators reached an impasse, and on those occasions then-Mayor Phil Bredesen and Bud would go into a room alone and work out the issue."
Bredesen said Adams was good for Nashville and agreed the Texan was a tough, but fair, negotiator. The only trepidation Adams had was when the bond referendum came up, Bredesen said, and the fervor with which opponents approached the vote was "second only to the county's liquor-by-the-drink referendum, I am told."
"He was very upset about it," the former mayor and governor said. "When we had talked originally, i think because of the political problems he had in Houston, he said, 'Look, if this requires a vote, I don't want any part of it.' And I assured him it did not, because it didn't. No one ever thought that part of the charter would be pulled out. By the time that happened, we were already a long way down the road. He said, 'Look, I trust you guys. I'm sorry it's come to this, but let's get it done and let's get the team here.' He stuck with us and we got the vote done — the 'yes' referendum — and I think it was very good for the team and the city."
One side-effect of the referendum? It was now a settled matter. "A lot of those folks who voted no have become Titans fans and some are even season ticket holders," he said.
With the deal done — and bridges burned in Houston, which never got a chance to counter — Adams' Oilers endured a lost 1996 season in Texas with dwindling attendance. The next year the team moved to Memphis, temporarily and then to Vanderbilt for a season in 1998. By 1999, the gleaming new stadium, now LP Field, was finished and witnessed a 13-3 regular season, the "Music City Miracle" in the playoffs and a run to the Super Bowl.