Haslam to AFP: Bring it on

As the governor plans his trip to talk about gas tax, Americans for Prosperity are planning their own sojourn to argue against an increase:

Haslam appeared undaunted that the group that helped defeat Insure Tennessee is once again lining up against him on the gas tax.

“Have at it,” the governor said. “That’s how democracy works.”

Jun 17, 2015 8:41 AM

State issues checks from TVA settlement

As part of a 2011 Clean Air Act settlement from the TVA, the state began distributing $26.4 million to local governments for environmental projects.

Jun 16, 2015 1:50 PM

Governor to hit the road to take Tennessee's temperature on gas tax increases

Low gas mileage isn't the greatest thing for a state roads budget that relies on per-gallon gas taxes to fund repairs. The governor is hitting those roads because he thinks there's got to be a change:

"You are paying on cents per gallon and that is going down," Haslam said. "But the cost of concrete, asphalt and engineering work has gone up, not down. We can't kid ourselves into thinking that we can keep doing that and things will be fine."

Haslam said he plans to travel the state "sometime in late summer or early fall" to talk about the issue and to help convince voters of the options and need for a tax increase.

"It won't just be a listening tour," Haslam said. "We want to show some things you could do in each community."

Haslam, whose Insure Tennessee plan to provide health insurance to 280,000 low-income state residents was killed by his fellow Republicans earlier this year, concedes he could face a similar uphill battle if he pushes for a gas tax hike. But he said he will have more time to make the case for a gas tax increase than he had for his Medicaid expansion plan.

"The reality is that we're going to have to do something and I think we're going to have to do something while I'm still in office," he said.

Jun 15, 2015 6:09 AM

Cannabis oil is legal (but that doesn't mean the law is clear)

The state doesn't seem particularly forthcoming with advice on how to follow the law that legalized cannabis oil:

There has been no advice to potential patients or doctors as to how they might follow the new law. Without that guidance, interested parents or patients are turning to the advocates who helped pass the law for help.

"We just want everybody who has the ability to use it to have access to it, and to do it the right way, and not get a product that's going to cause more problems in the long run," said Stacie Mathes, who's currently administering the oil to combat the seizures suffered by her nearly 17-month-old daughter, Josie.

The Tennessee Department of Health has done nothing to educate the public or doctors specifically about the new cannabis oil law, department spokesman Woody McMillin said. McMillin noted the department's legislative affairs office provides information about any applicable legislation to appropriate boards after each session; so far they've met with the Board of Osteopathic Examination this year but not the Board of Medical Examiners.

Jun 15, 2015 6:03 AM

State tax revenues over collected by nearly $500M

Nearing the end of state government’s fiscal year, Tennessee has collected nearly one half billion dollars more than expected, according to state officials.

Revenues totaled $974 million for May, when $50.5 million more than expected pouring into state coffers. Overall, the state has collected $495 million more than anticipated in the first 10 months of the budget year, with $452 million overcollected for the general fund, according to the Department of Finance and Administration.

“May collections recorded significant gains in sales tax revenues as well as corporate tax payments,” said Larry Martin, commissioner of the department, in a press release. “All other taxes, in total, showed marked improvement over collections of one year ago and were more than the budgeted estimates for May.”

The state collected $20.5 million extra in sales tax last month, a growth rate of about 9 percent, according to the agency. Franchise and excise taxes combined totaled $16 million more than the $50 million the state expected.

The only major taxes that came in below expectations last month were the inheritance and estate tax and the tobacco tax, which fell about $1 million and $500,000 short, respectively.

Jun 11, 2015 7:19 AM

Governor urges cities to help with 'changing' legislature

The governor says legislatures have changed:

Haslam told reporters after the speech that once powerful institutions like lobbyists, the media, chambers of commerce and hospitals no longer carry as much sway with the General Assembly.

“We have a changing Legislature and the old ways of doing things won’t necessarily work,” Haslam said. “So I think you’ve got to be visible and present here.

“It’s just a different world,” said Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor. “You can’t rely on sending a rep to do what they’ve always done and expect the same results.”

Jun 10, 2015 6:52 AM

Crowe fully converted on Insure Tennessee?

Sounds like Rusty Crowe is fully in support of Insure Tennessee:

One of them, state Sen. Rusty Crowe, R-Johnson City, said he was perfectly fine with the public knowing of his health care coverage. Crowe, who helped defeat Insure Tennessee during a special session in February, only to play a crucial role in trying to revive it a month later, said he is now convinced the plan is a good thing for Tennessee.

That’s also the thinking of 64 percent of state residents polled on the subject by Vanderbilt University.

Crowe also told the crowd Wednesday that politics and ideology are the reasons many of his Republican brethren on Capitol Hill are willing to turn down nearly $2.8 billion in federal funds to help the low-income Tennesseans. Officials with Tennessee Health Care Campaign and the Tennessee Justice Center, two groups that helped to organize the Town Hall meeting, noted that Gov. Bill Haslam negotiated with the Obama administration to get a Medicaid waiver for Insure Tennessee.

May 27, 2015 10:11 AM

State gets new $46,000 logo, for some reason

It is apparently the state's interest and state's task to make the rebranding permanent. Tennessee Watchdog first reported on the planned change before Channel 4 uncovered a $46,000 contract with GS&F to create a new logo for the state that doesn't really incorporate the flag or anything particularly Tennessee-ish besides the postal abbreviation.

May 21, 2015 7:23 AM

State revenues rosey in April

Tennessee government collected $90 million more than it expected to last month largely thanks to growth in franchise and excise taxes which help make up the "bread and butter" of the state's revenues, said the state Office of Finance and Administration.

“The significant improvement in April taxes reflects an increase primarily in franchise and excise taxes, and we also saw moderate growth in sales tax receipts which indicates increased consumer confidence,” said Larry Martin, Finance and Administration commissioner.

Combined, franchise and excise tax collections amounted to $73.3 million more than the state’s budgeted estimate, for a growth rate of more than 12 percent over last year. Accounting for an unexpected dip in revenues last year due to two one-time tax payments, franchise and excise taxes are up about 10 percent over last year.

Sales taxes climbed $12.2 million above expectations and 5.6 percent over this time last year. Other taxes topping expectations last month include privilege taxes, Hall income taxes and tobacco taxes. Inheritance and estate tax collections, business taxes, gasoline and motor fuel collections all fell below expectations.

Year to date nine months into the fiscal year, state revenues are $444 million more than anticipated.

May 14, 2015 7:30 AM

Haslam's chief of staff leaving for private sector

Known for his role as a strong arm in the governor’s office, Chief of Staff Mark Cate plans to step down from his post after this summer to launch a strategic consulting and management firm, according to the governor’s office.

Cate, who began as a special assistant to Haslam, took the role of chief of staff in 2012. A press release from the governor’s office describes Cate as a top advisor, strategist and negotiator for the administration.

“Mark has been a key player and a valuable part of our team since my first campaign for governor,” Haslam said in a statement. “He is talented at keeping a lot of balls in the air at the same time and keeps us moving forward as a team. I wish him and his family all the best in his new endeavors. I will miss having him in the Governor’s Office.”

Cate managed Haslam’s initial gubernatorial campaign and, in state government, has overseen large projects including the civil service reform known as the TEAM Act, worker’s compensation reform, and the Drive to 55 initiative, including Tennessee Promise.

GOP lawmakers have quietly expressed frustration with Cate over the last few legislative sessions, describing his tactics as hardball and aggressive. Announcement of Cate’s eventual departure comes at the same time some legislators are complaining about the administration releasing details of their health plans to the media. Asked if there is a link between the two matters, Haslam spokesman David Smith said, "None whatsoever."

Cate will continue in his position until the summer and a replacement has not yet been named, according to the administration.

May 13, 2015 4:03 PM