The governor will "re-engage" the legislature on school vouchers this year with the same plan that got tied up in partisan bickering near the end of the legislative session. Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey says he wants something more, and says he's working on getting the governor on his side.
As a federal court put its stamp of approval on Pilot Flying J’s $85 million class action settlement with some 5,500 trucking customers Monday, the governor said he is uninterested in talking about the developments with his family company.
“It’s just not something that I’m involved in or something that I’ll have a comment on,” he told reporters.
Under the settlement, Pilot Flying J agreed to pay companies some $56.5 million in fuel discounts it failed to pay out, plus $9.7 million in interest, $4.5 million in auditing costs and $14 million in attorney fees, plus other fees.
Nearly 60 companies opted out of a 5,500-entity class action lawsuit. Up to 20 of them have filed their own lawsuits. Meanwhile, the federal investigation is still ongoing.
Haslam, who spoke to reporters about the situation shortly after federal agents raided the family company headquarters in April, has since declined to take questions about its developments.
From the inbox:
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an agreement to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) with all normal operations from Wednesday, October 16 through Sunday, October 20.
“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam said. “I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week.”
The national park costs $60,100 to operate per day, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Sevier County has sent $300,500 to NPS to open the park for five days.
The state is paying 80 percent of the cost in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to fully fund operation of the park for five days.
An NPS report found that the 9.6 million visitors to GSMNP during 2012 had an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.
Haslam has worked with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who has expressed a willingness to assist financially with the reopening.
“I appreciate the cooperation and support of Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina,” Haslam said. “Together, we’ve been able to reopen the nation’s most-visited park during a key month for tourism in Tennessee.”
The park will open at 12 a.m. EST on Wednesday, October 16 and stay open until 11:59 p.m. EST on Sunday, October, 20 if the shutdown is not ended in that time.
Haslam told reporters that banks were already closed by the time the state was informed about how much money to wire to the federal government on Friday afternoon.
The governor said the closure of the Smokies is especially hard on the local economy, because this is normally the busiest time at the park. According to park officials, it averages about 1.1 million visitors in October alone.
"October for the Smokies and the people around it is like December for retailers in a mall. This is when all the business happens," he said. "Every weekend they lose is an irrecoverable revenue situation."
“They’re making headway, finally. I’m really hopeful by next weekend it will be over,” Haslam said. “I don’t have inside knowledge but just listening and talking to people there.”
Haslam’s comments about the shutdown came after his interview with Jon Meacham, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author of presidential history and Vanderbilt University distinguished visiting professor.