Leaving the state Capitol Building Monday, Transportation Commissioner John Schroer found himself shaking hands with Lee Beaman, an early “Stop Amp” coalition financier, thanking him for prioritizing projects already on the state’s to-do list.
With Beaman and two others opposed to the downtown Amp bus project seated behind him wearing coalition stickers, Schroer had just finished painting a picture of the department at Gov. Bill Haslam's final budget hearing, which included an $8 billion backlog of projects, possible federal government cuts totalling $850 million next year and a need to focus on projects the state has already committed to.
“All projects within our per year have to follow and compete for dollars,” Schroer told reporters when asked about state funding for Metro’s Amp project which has met resistance from House Speaker Beth Harwell and Gov. Bill Haslam. “That will be one of the projects that have to compete for dollars like any other project across the state.”
TDOT and Metro are in the project’s design phase, according to Schroer, although he said the department has gotten no formal requests from the city for “for any financial help at this point.”
“I’ve got lots of things to look at. It’s a process, so we’ll go through our process,” said Schroer to the three coalition members after the budget hearing.
That’s 7,000 more than the state figured would sign up as a result of the Affordable Care Act, according to TennCare Director Darin Gordon, who says about 1,000 have been able to so far.
All together, organic increases in TennCare’s budget are expected to total $180 million out of $300 million new dollars the state expects to have to play with next year. Officials expect another $57 million in built-in education formula increases to also eat a chunk of available revenues next year.
“Will there be some cuts we’ll have to make in TennCare, you bet,” Gov. Bill Haslam said after yesterday's TennCare budget hearing.
The state also expects it will have to close out the 16,000-member CoverTN limited benefit health insurance program come the first of the year, said Gordon, although he said he thinks there's support in his agency to use reserve funds to keep the AccessTN program open for another year.
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.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development has launched a network of social media sites dedicated to quickly informing job seekers of local jobs, workshops, and job fairs via Twitter.
“The vision of the Department of Labor and Workforce Development is to have the most employable workforce for business and industry in the nation,” said Dustin Swayne, Labor Deputy Commissioner. “Social media provides an efficient and effective way of distributing information back to our customers.”
Social media is all about sharing information. With features like Retweet and Favorite, the broad-reaching capabilities of Twitter can easily inform the Twitter community about new local jobs. Job seekers on Twitter can easily discover their next job because of a tweet that was shared directly on a Twitter feed. Since Twitter is accessible from either a computer or smartphone, the free service Twitter provides can land a job seeker employment faster than ever before.
Multiple Twitter accounts were launched to direct job tweets to specific regions of the state. For example, a new job post located near Memphis does not affect residents in Cookeville. The Memphis job opportunity will appear on the @TNCCMemphis handle in order to focus job announcements in that area. Each handle is named ‘TNCC’ followed by the name of the city. Nashville’s Twitter account is @TNCCNashville and Dyersburg’s handle is listed as @TNCCDyersburg.
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.
The TNDP is staffing up, most notably by naming a new executive director/research director who will officially start work in January. Alan Secrest has 30 years of experience advising Democratic candidates, ranging from U.S. Rep. John Lewis and former Tennessee Congressmen Lincoln Davis and Bart Gordon to former Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell.
Three local professionals — Mark Epps, Nikki Holland and Heather Meshell — will also join the Party as staff this month.
“I am thrilled to welcome Alan, Mark, Nikki and Heather to the Tennessee Democratic Party,” Herron said. “With Alan’s coast-to-coast experience developing strategic and tactical plans for political clients and advocacy groups, his leadership will help maximize Democratic opportunities both in the near and long term.”
State Rep. Mike Turner plans to give up his leadership role in the House Democratic Caucus in January due to disagreements with the party’s state chairman Roy Herron.
“This is what it is: Roy is my friend and Roy is a good man. And I hope he’s successful. And he needs a caucus chairman that can work with him,” he said.
Turner said he wants the party to move in a more technology-oriented progressive manner, and Herron has more of a conservative, traditional approach. The decision to step down is “nothing personal,” he added.
“With the short time I’ve got left up here, I don’t need to be butting heads with the party,” he said. “Look, if I was 25 years old — hell, if I was 45 years old — I would keep fighting and try to get the party to go my way. But I’m not going to be here that much longer. I’ve got about two more terms in me, that’s about it.”
While Turner said he has taken an aggressive approach to dealing with the Republican Party, that’s not the tone the state party wants to set, he said.
Turner’s decision to step down from Democratic Party leadership follows the exit from the party of several staffers who cited Herron’s leadership style.