The one thing Tennesseans can take to the bank is that the GOP led state legislature focused on just about everything except helping them take more to the bank through economic development or reducing healthcare costs.
The one thing the legislature did focus on was legislation intended to further the ideological aims of those who seek to send public money to private companies en masse. The school voucher bill, a top priority for the Haslam Administration, died when a certain Senator from Germantown wouldn’t let go of his designs on upping the ante.
Another school related bill suffering the same fate was House Speaker Beth Harwell’s pet project, an expansion of the state charter authorizer…an outright dig at the Metro Nashville School Board, who thwarted a charter operator over the ruling of the State Dept. of Education in the fall.
One final school related bill that did make it out of the contentious final days was a bill that allows “for-profit” organizations to operate charter schools. This bill happened so late in session, and among so many other things that I had to call the Senate Clerk’s office to confirm that it had been passed as the vote hadn’t been updated on the General Assembly website. As a side note, they were very helpful and tracked down the vote for me in mere minutes. Good job on that.
There were several bills that dealt with different kinds of justice. One such bill, which was actively pursued by Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, would have changed the way judicial districts were drawn in the state and reduced them by two. That bill failed Friday in a battle of wills. There’s no word as to whether it will come up again next year, as petitions for judicial elections will be released near the beginning of session.
While people expecting speedy justice from the judicial branch were spared, others were not so lucky.
Abused animals to the brunt of legislative beatings in the passage of a bill that would make it harder to document animal abuse.
Workers seeking justice for their injuries were injured when the legislature approved changes to the workers compensation system that further tilts it against them.
Municipalities seeking to ensure workers employed on government funded jobs likely took a hit to their bank accounts as a bill seeking to overturn local living wage ordinances made its way to the Governor.
People living on fixed incomes, especially those who were likely poor to begin with, may hunger for a change as they see one of the most popular programs anywhere cut. Meals on Wheels, the popular program that helps poor elderly people eat, got cut $2.3m because the state’s “rainy day fund” was more important to the Governor and Legislature than elderly people that can’t get around on their own.
And finally, property owners, seeking to, you know, make the rules regarding what is or isn’t allowed on their property, a foundational concept of common law, will now have to allow the storage of guns in vehicles by permit holders. Its like a liberty vs. liberty deathmatch.
One good thing on the legislative front. The Shelby County Public Defender’s office did receive additional funding from the state to bring them closer to parity with other smaller PD’s. Don’t think this was kindness. Chances are, the state would have been sued by the County if this hadn’t happened.
Taking a cue, perhaps, from his from his brother’s business practices, Gov. Haslam sought to bully the Feds into acquiescing to his less kind, less expansive form of the much touted but barely formed “Arkansas Plan” for Medicaid expansion. While the language may have been the normal flavor of milquetoast we’ve come to expect from the Governor, make no mistake about it, he was pandering to the far right wing of his base.
In an article in Saturday’s paper the Governor give a quick “post-mortem” of the session saying:
“I do think there was a lot accomplished,” said Haslam. “We passed a great budget that cuts taxes, adds to the Rainy Day Fund, gives a raise to employees, has really one of the largest increases for K-12 (school) funding that we’ve had in a long time and gave a significant amount of capital (construction funding) for higher education.
“And some significant legislation passed: one of the key issues I think is increasing access to and controlling the costs of higher education … allowing more families to afford college.”
I both covered and predicted this would be a post-session talking point. For a good explination of just who benefits from the tax cuts, check out paragraphs 6-8 at this article in the CA. Pretty sure you won’t find your income on the list.
Finally, in a dig to professional development in the state, the Governor closed 34 carreer centers statewide despite the unemployment rate increasing to 7.9%. I’m sure this money ultimately goes to business tax cuts somewhere, I just haven’t found it yet.
While the worst may not have happened, this time, there’s still next year, and plenty of GOP majority to push it through. The State House and 17 State Senators, along with the Governor will be in campaign mode as they push to the November election. Expect lots of pet projects to come up again, and less strife between the House and the Senate as they push to get back to their districts as soon as possible so they can amass the cash needed to try and win another trip to Disneyland on the Cumberland.
In the mean time, take a breath and know you’re safe for a few short months…assuming, of course, the Governor’s Administration doesn’t go full on Rick Scott on us.
After this session, I’m not ruling anything out.
Yesterday was a pretty huge day, and I’m not talking about the massive CNN fail regarding an arrest in the Boston bombing case.
Nope, I’m talking about right here in Tennessee.
Here’s what Senator Jim Kyle had to say about the Ram-it-through budget session yesterday.
Gramatical errors in the heat of battle, and on twitter for that matter, be damned…he’s right.
Yesterday the Tennessee House and Senate approved the Governor’s budget, largely sight unseen.
One member of the House GOP caucus even complained that, and I’m paraphrasing – “…his constituents didn’t send him up here to vote on a budget without reading it.”
But that’s what happens when the date session ends is more important than the content of the bills that are passed.
Today, the legislature should adjourn for the year, which is comforting in one way, but also terrifying.
Legislative efficiency shouldn’t be measured in time. But that seems to be the measure the GOP leadership in the House and Senate prefers to measure their success.
When the legislature closes today, it will mark the shortest session in recent memory. But lets not confuse that with a lack of legislative decisions that will negatively impact people in this state for years to come.
Truth be told, there are plenty of ridiculous and unnecessary bills that were rammed through the legislature, and very little dissent on the majority side to stop them in their tracks.
The high point of dissent seems to be focused on just how dumb or widespread the dumb should be, as we saw will the killing of the Voucher bill, though other measures died in recent days as well.
A full accounting of what passed and what didn’t may take weeks to complete, but the budget decisions, and in particular the cuts, will be felt for some time.
One of the most heartless decisions cuts $2.3m from the “Meals on Wheels” program. According to the Tennessean, the cuts would impact over 1000 seniors and deliver 150,000 fewer meals in the state.
What’s most sick about this decision is that the state has a projected $100m surplus in the upcoming budget year. In the past, these budget projections have been conservative. This year alone, we anticipated a $200m+ surplus. We hit that mark last month, with three more months in the fiscal year left.
While the policy implications of the session that’s about to end will leave folks like me with weeks of work, we can’t forget the political implications of ending session early either.
Legislators can’t raise money during session until after May 15th. Ending session early means nearly a whole month of fundraising for folks.
While it may seem that this additional opportunity would be evenly distributed, the truth of the matter is the party in power has a distinct advantage over the minority party. Don’t think for a minute that this reality is lost on the GOP.
While the public face of a early end to session will be focused on the idea of “efficiency” that I mentioned above, behind the scenes there will be a great deal of work done to secure the political future of the majority party with an eye toward expanding their ranks in 2014.
Of course, neither group can start collecting anything until session ends. Once it does I’ll have a list of resources for you so you can not only follow the action, but support Democratic candidates.
One of the things almost everyone mentioned in my reader survey is the lack of haiku on the blog.
With that in mind, here’s the first installment, of what I hope to make a weekly series…
|Campfield runs from child,
On his way to his latest loss,
What a punk move dude.
As the session ends,
The boot of Ramsey,
Elected as a moderate, the words out of the Governor’s mouth certainly don’t lead anyone to believe he’s a firebrand.
Of course, word and deed are two different things.
The truth is, Gov. Haslam’s positions further a system of government that focuses on helping those who don’t need it rather than helping those who do.
If you have had access to things like healthcare, education, and capital among others throughout your life, its fairly simple to rationalize that people who lack access, do so out of choice rather than necessity or circumstance.
Further, it is easy to rationalize that people are choosing to be personally irresponsible rather than circumstances getting in the way. Circumstances for someone who’s had all his worldly needs taken care of their whole life are just excuses, right?
From there, its a short trip to they don’t deserve help, which is the position of the GOP generally. They don’t believe that circumstance has anything to do with outcomes. They believe that if you’re not doing well, its because of something you did or didn’t do.
Of course, the reality is very different from this belief. And while Gov. Haslam’s commitment to this belief may not be as strong as other members of his party, its there, just obscured in his mushy language and by those firebrands who trumpet it from the highest mountains.
The most obvious example of this idea is found in the Tennessee General Assembly’s GOP caucus. To hear some in that august body tell it, folks that aren’t making it just aren’t trying hard enough.
Rep. Casada’s “Just get a job”, statement from the 2010 session is one of the better examples, though the just killed Oliver Twist Act comes in a close second, if only because the GOP Senate caucus itself understood the bill would show too much of the this belief to the general public.
To be honest, the list of outrageously ridiculous bills are too many to mention. But they do give the Governor something he desperately needs…cover to do things administratively…in the background…that ultimately accomplish the very things the legislature seeks to achieve.
While the Governor isn’t being held accountable for the actions of the legislature, he also hasn’t chosen to take a stand on issues that don’t match up to his moderate image. The public has largely given him a pass on the more radical ideals that have come up…and by extension, that pass has included measures that he actually supports.
The sum total of Gov. Haslam’s legislative victories include the recently passed Workers Comp Bill which will only hurt workers, a bill that weakens teacher unions, and by extension, makes teaching a much less attractive profession, passed tort reform which was supposed to be a huge job creator, but really just “put a price on the life of the weak”, as Eric Stewart put it, put an end to the inheritance tax by 2016 which only impacted 900 people a year, and worked to reduce the impact of the Hall Tax on investment income through bills SB980 and SB0198.
None of these bills mean a hill of beans to regular people in this state.
Haslam even, at first rejected calls by Democrats to lower the sales tax on food before including it in his legislative package this term.
So while companies and the wealthy saw their taxes and potential liability drop by thousands of dollars each, us folks down here at the bottom get to see a $3.65/yr. tax cut in sales tax on food…which at best will buy you a frozen burrito at your local “Quick Stop”.
That is supposed to be “moderate governance”.
Both the legislative victories, and foil legislation, mean to distract people from real policy changes that are occurring in the agencies the Governor’s office has direct control over.
Over the past two years, the Governor has taken steps to tighten requirements for people that receive state services, without input or direction from the legislature. This effort hasn’t been reported on in the media. In fact, there are few who even know about it outside of providers. But it is happening, and the pinch is on those who need these services to, in some cases, survive.
This is all done in the service of “efficiency”. Unfortunately, efficiency really means making it as hard as legally possible for people to receive services they qualify for, which is a big part of the reason there are 98,000+ people who qualify for TennCare, but aren’t on the rolls. They are being turned away on technicalities, artificial barriers, rather than reality. Damn the consequences.
In the process, many of them are racking up huge hospital bills that lead to bankruptcies, or uncompensated care that puts the viability of hospitals in danger.
That’s not efficiency, its slow suicide.
You might think that falls on the Federal government, but because Tennessee basically runs all Federal social services through block grants, it is incumbent on the state to both apply for additional grant funds and budget for these things.
That hasn’t happened at all. In fact, every agency other than education was asked to cut 5% from their budget at the direction of Gov. Haslam last year.
That 5% may not seem like much, but when you consider many of those dollars are matched one for one (or more) by Federal dollars, it adds up quickly and to much more than 5%.
In fact, every bill supported by the Governor, with the exception of the Democratic sponsored cuts to the sales tax, does nothing to help create jobs or give Tennesseans a leg up to bettering their circumstances. All of them help wealthier people save money, which has never created a single job ever.
And so, I circle back to the beginning. The reality for the 2.6m people Tennesseans who are either in poverty, or one month of earnings away from poverty, and the 2.2m more people who might make it through two or three months without earnings before they lose everything, this Governor has done absolutely nothing to benefit you at all.
That’s 75% of the state’s population. Nothing.
And while Gov. Haslam may currently enjoy a 68% approval rating for now, that goodwill will be short lived if conditions don’t change rapidly.
Based on his actions thus far, things will only get worse because he hasn’t done anything but support pennies of annual tax savings for most Tennesseans when he could have been investing in their future.
Because in the end, Gov. Haslam and his GOP friends in the legislature believe that if you aren’t making it, its not because of your circumstances, or bankers that tanked the financial system, or laws that actually slow job growth when they’ve been billed as job creators…its because of something you did to yourself.
So much for being a moderate.
With a little time for reflection I say, “How do you like me now?”
Since last Wednesday’s decision to forego the expansion of Medicaid, and over $1b in Federal funding to do it, lots of people have sounded off on the issue. One of the best mashups of coverage came from Tennessee Values Authority over the weekend.
Pulling information from national and statewide sources, TVA shows in pretty stark terms the reality behind the rhetoric that the Governor used, to try and paint the Federal Government as inflexible and unwilling to compromise.
The Governor followed the lead of most other southern GOP lead states in effectively denouncing that favorite whipping boy of the Obama Administration…Obamacare. However, that wall isn’t as solid outside of the South. Maine is reconsidering, and seven other states with GOP Governors have accepted expansion.
This is one reason many thought Tennessee would be the next to break ranks.
In his address, the Governor invoked the “Arkansas Plan” as a model he hoped to pursue…with some tweaks.
The “Arkansas Plan” is an idea, still in the incubation stages, that would purchase private insurance through the state-run exchange for people, and include Medicaid “wrap-around” coverage.
But Gov. Haslam isn’t seeking to duplicate the idea of the “Arkansas Plan”. In fact, there are two stark differences between what Haslam proposes and what Arkansas proposes.
1. Arkansas will provide insurance to Medicaid expansion recipients with the same level of service as other Medicaid recipients. Gov. Haslam seeks to ask people to make co-pays above and beyond what Medicaid allows. This is likely in search of driving down premiums, but not actually serving more people.
2. Arkansas is running its own healthcare exchange, Tennessee is not. So Arkansas has more flexibility in terms of the market it will be seeking to provide services in. Tennessee locked itself into the Federal exchange back in December.
It should be noted, the “Arkansas Plan” has only been approved in concept, not practice. Arkansas will have to gain final approval from the Feds before they can head down this path.
In essence, Gov. Haslam has sought to make a modification to a plan that has only been tenatively approved, by adding things his administration knows full well would not be approved, and then saying “all or nothing”.
Haslam reported today that HHS head Kathleen Sebelius said “We want to work with you”. Of course, that doesn’t mean, “we’ll give away the farm”, which is what Haslam actually wants. So, nothing has changed.
In the end, this is not a good strategy if you want to get something done. Great strategy if you’re playing to a base that doesn’t like the idea in the first place.
Truth be told, Gov. Haslam is politically stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, he has his moderate image that helped bring him widespread support across the state. On the other hand, he cannot exert the same Executive authority as 44 other Governors, whose states require a 2/3 majority to override a veto.
His decision on Medicaid Expansion is part of a strategy that would allow the Governor to “save face” with Conservatives, while looking reasonable to his moderate base. What’s more, it plays into electoral politics and is hoped to hold back a primary challenge from the right. Something the Governor might not survive if the ultra-conservative wing of the GOP has a single standard-bearer to rally behind (Haslam received 47.4% of the votes in the 2010 August Primary, not a majority).
Another reality is there is little possibility the legislature would approve expansion anyway, so why risk the political capital? A bill sponsored by Sen. Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) to prohibit the state from participating in Medicaid Expansion, has sailed through committee and currently stands in final stages of approval. The bill was opposed by the Haslam administration, but still likely had a hand in the final decision on Medicaid.
The legislature must do something to approve expansion, as it requires accepting and spending Federal dollars. Considering all these variables, from a political perspective, there wasn’t much the Governor could do, despite the support of the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce, the Tennessee Hospital Assn., the fears of Hospital CEO’s, whose patients Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey is willing to sacrifice as victims of the free market even in rural areas which the majority of his caucus represents.
Despite those apparent challenges, the Governor could have shown some leadership instead of trying to deflect blame and come out in support of the idea, even if the nuts and bolts weren’t worked out. In doing so, perhaps some members of the GOP caucus would have given him the latitude to still uphold the Hastert Rule and Reagan’s 11th commandment, the only two rules that seem to matter in GOP politics.
I know, its asking way too much.
Over the course of the past several days, I’ve sought to chronicle what will likely happen to rural communities as a result of this decision. The posts will be linked below, but in simple terms, this will be economically devastating.
Over 9000 rural jobs hang in the balance, with a direct economic impact of over $400m in actual wages lost in those areas…not to mention other jobs that will be lost in the area due to decreased demand and spending.
But the impact isn’t limited to rural counties…though it will have a far deeper and wider impact there. Hospitals in the state’s largest counties, Shelby, Davidson, Knox, and Hamilton all are impacted, bringing the total employment impact to 21,000 jobs lost.
This, after several economists predicted an increase of around 8000 jobs by 2019. Not a huge number, but better than potentially losing 21,000.
And so we find ourselves stuck between policy and politics once again. Its become a common thread in recent years. The end result, hard working people lose.
God knows, if ever there was time for a candidate that actually gave a damn about the folks who do the work that actually gets things done, that time is now. But they must get out there and start doing, rather than just talking. Talking and not doing is what got us into this mess in the first place…and it started well before Democrats started losing seats en masse in 2006.
Finally, I would just like to leave you with this video, that you’ve probably already seen, from the Colbert Show. Honestly, no one could have said it any better.
Medicaid Expansion: Is there a downside?
Bill Haslam’s Death Panel
More on the Haslam Death Panel
The Economic Impact of Hospital Deserts
Distant Care – Existing Hospital Deserts
What does Medicaid expansion actually do?