Seems like my early predictions are coming to fruition.
In his March release, it says he’s announcing the “Tennessee Plan” which was supposed to be something like the Arkansas Plan…but different. Unfortunately, this was…at best a fib. The Governor hasn’t released any specifics of the “Tennessee Plan” to the Feds, and as such, the plan doesn’t exist anywhere except in the Governor’s imagination.
In the eight months since the announcement, there’s been a bunch of nothing from the Governor.
Budget talks in November revealed what folks call the “woodworking effect”…or what happens when people start actively looking for insurance only to find out they qualified for Tenncare all along. That “effect”will be a budget buster to the tune of $172m for the author (Gov. Haslam) of the state’s largest budget to date.
It’s important to remember…these aren’t people who suddenly qualify for Tenncare…these are people we should have been covering all along.
As the year comes to a close, we are starting to hear about major cuts to rural hospitals, most of whom are the only lifeline rural families have. These cuts are just the prelude to closures, that will mean rural folks will not only NOT have access to coverage, but likely die in an emergency because needed care was too far away.
Our neighbor to the north…Kentucky, is both running their own exchange and expanding medicaid. Kentucky has been in the spotlight of what the Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare” is supposed to do and be…a way for all people to get health insurance coverage that is within their means.
A recent article in the Indianapolis Courier-Journal could have just as easily been written about the differences between Kentucky and Tennessee. In fact, it practically is.
Both Gov. Haslam (TN), and Gov. Pence (IN) both want to embark on Medicaid expansion in a way that would mean working poor people would have to pay for some of their healthcare costs…which means that suddenly someone making 101% of poverty would have a whole lot more out of pocket expenses than someone making just a few dollars less a pay period at 99% of poverty.
There are over 500,000 people not currently enrolled in Tenncare that live in households making $25,000 or less (133% of poverty) in Tennessee. That’s a lot more than the 330,000 predicted to come on line under Medicaid expansion. The difference is the impact of the woodworking effect.
Gov. Haslam and Gov. Pence want these people to pay more for two reasons:
1. It will cost them less making them seem more fiscally conservative, even if they aren’t.
2. They claim it will keep people from “taking advantage of the system” and add some “personal responsibility” to the program.
That’s a slap in the face to working folks…to assume that they would game the system just because they “could”. Working folks don’t have time to game the system, they’re too busy working.
This is about people…people who live all over the state.
People who live in remote areas because that’s where their work is. Farmers, businessmen and women, children and the elderly…people just like us city folk…that just happen to live in the country.
Over half the state’s population lives in Tennessee’s mostly rural 80+ counties. That’s a lot of ground to cover for the 3.4m who don’t live in Tennessee’s big 5 counties (35% of the population) or the other 10 with a healthy rural/urban mix. But not living in one of the state’s largest counties doesn’t mean people should be without a hospital…and due to the economic realities of providing rural healthcare…that’s the fate they face.
In a release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, Chairman Turner called on the Governor to act…rather than let people needlessly suffer:
“This Christmas, Governor Haslam has the opportunity to give thousands of working men and women in Tennessee the best gift possible – longer and healthier lives,” said Chairman Turner. “I understand it will be difficult to get the expansion passed in the legislature, but the Governor owes it to the people of our state to try. If he stands by and does nothing, the hospital closures, the jobs lost, and the premature and preventable deaths of Tennesseans will rest squarely on his shoulders.”
It is a preventable tragedy. One that is so easily preventable, its almost madness that we’re even discussing people lives in such a flip manner. When Lt. Gov. Ramsey says:
“obviously this is going to hurt. In some cases there may be hospitals that have to close — but look, if you want to operate in a free market, things like that happen. But I think overall they will figure out a way to cut this.”
I’m sure the families of the people who suffered thanks to the “free market” Ramsey describes will understand.
After all, ideological purity is much more important than someone’s life.
What about Speaker Harwell? She’s only slightly more sympathetic:
There are some rural hospitals that will be hurt; there’s no doubt about that. But the health care industry is a changing industry and those that can’t keep up, they just simply can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry that that might happen, but again, if it was a little exaggerated, we’ll find out in the next six months.”
As for Governor Haslam…he hasn’t compared the human cost to an ideological test yet…in fact, he’s done what most folks with his pocketbook do to working folks…ignore them.
The worst thing about the layoffs, departures of services, and eventual closures of rural Tennessee hospitals is that it will be a slow decline…much like what many rural communities have already seen as businesses leave their communities and their populations age.
Hospitals are community pillars. They are institutions that help hold up the towns they serve. As they close…and they already are, the towns they serve and the people around them will suffer health related challenges…and economic challenges as the jobs the hospitals once hosted also disappear…and along with them, their trained, well paid workforce.
Ramsey, Harwell and Haslam will say I’m exaggerating…but its already happening…just not all at once. The slowness of it all will give them time to shift blame, distort reality, and manufacture scapegoats.
Hopefully people won’t fall for that.
Just look at Kentucky.
The irony is…the largely rural districts that vaulted them and their Republican colleagues into power…are the ones that will suffer most.
That suffering means more tragedies…and preventable decline for communities that cannot afford to bear them.
The following is an editorial penned by the University of Memphis College Democrats. It is published here in its entirety.
Tennesseans face a leadership crisis due to the self-serving mismanagement of our state by Governor Bill Haslam. So far, during his more than three years in office, Governor Haslam has abused the public trust in order to enrich him and his friends. As dogged investigative reporting offers more insights into the nature of this administration, the public is learning just how pervasive and damaging Governor Haslam’s “leadership” has been for the middle class Tennessean, and why it is imperative that we consider House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh for election as our next governor:
• Governor Haslam awarded a $330 million contract for the management of state buildings to Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), a company with which the Governor has over $10,000 invested. The Governor maintains a close relationship with JLL executives, inviting them to an “intimate dinner” at the Governor’s Residence during the contract bidding process in April 2012.
• Governor Haslam’s family company, Pilot Flying J, is currently under investigation by the FBI for knowingly withholding fuel rebates from trucking companies with which they do business. The investigation calls into question the Governor’s business integrity and is indicative of a culture of blatant disregard for middle class workers within the Haslam Empire.
• Bill Haslam failed to disclose that he paid lobbyist Tom Ingram for political advice while Ingram lobbied on behalf of a coal company hoping to mine beneath state parks.
• The Haslam Administration outsourced a million dollar contract for maintenance of the state’s fleet of vehicles to Bridgestone/Firestone, a company once headed by Mark Emkes, Haslam’s former finance chair. The bloated deal includes massive markups that waste taxpayer dollars. For instance, a $1.74 headlight bulb cost Tennesseans $12.
• Haslam outsourced the state’s motor pool to Enterprise for the price of $739,000, despite the fact that state employees used only $450,000 worth of services. General Services Commissioner Steve Cates began pushing for the deal around the time that he hired former Enterprise executive Kathleen Hansen to head General Services’ motor vehicle management division.
• Governor Haslam appointed Brad Martin interim President of the University of Memphis. Martin was the CEO of Saks Inc., and hired Haslam as an executive, when the Securities and Exchange Commission investigated the company on charges of fraud for withholding millions owed to clothing retailers. Martin is also conducting Pilot’s internal investigation regarding the withholding of fuel rebates.
• Haslam appointee Kate O’Day, head of the Department of Children’s Services (DCS), resigned amid an investigation into the deaths of 31 children in DCS care.
• Under Haslam’s guidance, the State of Tennessee awarded a $200 million-plus contract to provide health services for our state’s inmates to Centurion, which employs the wife of the head of the Tennessee Department of Corrections, despite concerns about the company’s qualifications and the fact that Centurion’s bid came in almost $20 million higher than its competitor’s bid.
This laundry list of scandals, mismanagement, and disregard for the livelihood of Tennesseans is emblematic of the leadership crisis facing our state. Haslam’s passion for political patronage endangers the welfare of ordinary Tennesseans and threatens to cause serious long-term damage to the state we all love. For the good of the state, Tennesseans need a candidate for governor whose leadership offers a clear contrast with Gov. Haslam and his self-serving Capitol Hill cronies.
Leader Craig Fitzhugh ran the Bank of Ripley in a clean and honest manner; Governor Haslam has been an executive at two companies that federal authorities have investigated. Leader Fitzhugh has given nearly 20 years of his life to a career in public service aimed at increasing the well-being of all Tennesseans; Governor Haslam has spent his ten years in public office focused on the financial fate of his inner circle. Leader Fitzhugh has been a champion of bipartisanship during his years in Tennessee politics; Haslam has spinelessly rubber-stamped the agenda of the most radical state legislature in Tennessee history. For these reasons, we urge Craig Fitzhugh to enter the 2014 Governor’s race.
At the end of Don Sundquist’s tenure as Governor, it was revealed that Sundquist gave no-bid state contracts to his business associates, and then the FBI raided the business offices of a close friend of his. The parallels with Bill Haslam are striking. Tennesseans had the good sense to elect Phil Bredesen after the mismanagement of the Sundquist years; and, after four years of Haslam’s underhanded governance, we are confident that the sensible citizens of our state will have the wherewithal to elect another serious leader who is committed to serving all Tennesseans. We are confident that Craig Fitzhugh is that leader.
Charles Uffelman–University of Memphis
President of University of Memphis College Democrats
Matt Strauser–Princeton University
Now, anyone with half a brain in their head should have looked at this promise pretty skeptically. Its just like any other promise a politician makes, subject to change based on future events.
And while the notion of “running government like a business” may seem like a good idea, 2010 was just two years after businesses…really big businesses…essentially tanked the economy by screwing over people who just wanted to own a home.
So, maybe we didn’t ask the right question at the time. Maybe we should have asked, “What kind of business?”
Of course, a fawning media, ready to crown a victor well before the election, didn’t help with the questions. They were falling all over themselves to use every adjective they could to make Haslam seem inevitable.
30 months into this term, the shine is starting to wear off with the media, and problems both inside and out of his administration have more than a few observers wondering about the Governor’s decision-making and the patronage system that has emerged.
Riding a wave of Republican victories across the state, Gov. Haslam was inaugurated with a newly ensconced GOP led House and Senate. While the Governor was just getting settled in, the legislature went to work, removing collective bargaining for teachers, instituted a photo ID bill for voting, and passed a bill allowing corporate contributions to political campaigns, among other things.
By the end of the 2011 session, many on both sides of the aisle rightly asked who was in charge of the state…the Governor or the Legislature? By 2012 the Governor started getting his sea legs, even if the legislature continued dragging him further to the right than most thought possible.
A post-mortem of the Gov.’s second year in office, noted that Haslam had a hard time reigning in the far right elements in the legislature. In the days following the end of the 2012 session, a slew of articles noting both the secrecy of the legislature and the Executive Branch intent on keeping information about the workings of government from the people, under the guise of “privacy”. One such effort sought to shield the owners of companies from public disclosure of their receipt of cash grants from the state.
All of these things led to the state being saddled with the dubious distinction of having the worst State Legislature in the US in 2012, and led to many questions, including those wondering if Gov. Haslam would ever live up to his “moderate” public image?
Apparently, the Gov. had other things in mind…like fulfilling the worst fears of what “running Government like a business” can be.
With the passage of the TEAM Act, a bill that radically changed the way Civil Service jobs are awarded, and which led to the hiring of what one writer called his patronage chief, Larry Martin, the nature of that “business climate in government” began to emerge.
Martin, who retired from First Tennessee Bank in 2006, also served as Chief of Staff for the Haslam Administration in Knoxville. While its not unusual for a political appointee to follow an executive from one place to another, Martin’s connections to the Haslam family are deeply rooted.
Both Jimmy Haslam and R. Brad Martin (U of Memphis interim president and chief Pilot internal investigator) served on the First Tennessee board while Larry Martin was COO of First Tennessee’s Financial Services division.
Another Haslam staffer, Mark Emkes, a Director at First Horizon (Parent Co. of First TN) became Director of Finance and Administration until he retired recently and was replaced by Larry Martin.
While the tangled web of business friends of the Haslam family that litters the upper echelon of the Haslam Administration is interesting, I’ll leave that for a future post to deal directly with the personal interests that have been rearing their ugly head for months now.
In June, a committee tasked with oversight of state contracts deferred the review of a contract for the Dept. of Corrections, that was awarded to a company employing the wife of Correction Commissioner Derrick Schofield…and cost the state $15m more.
This same group was also exploring looking into contracts offered to Enterprise Rent-a-car and Bridgestone, the latter formerly headed by recently retired Director of Finance and Administration, Mark Emkes.
But it doesn’t end there.
The Governor recently awarded a $330 million contract to a company he listed on his disclosures as an investment, one of the scant few I might add. He also signed a law that benefitted a business buddy in Gatlinburg and says he’s unconcerned about a coal company that has ties to his family business.
All of this leads us to a report from NC5 yesterday that alleges inside dealings on contracts by Tom Ingram, who, until recently was paid privately by the Governor.
This after several administrative problems involving child deaths at DCS, and the rewards totaling $1m that went to the TN Dept. of Labor after misspending $73m of unemployment money, which ultimately led to the Governor seeking cover behind newly appointed State Chief Operating Officer Greg Adams.
Apparently, “running government like a business” in part, at least, means placing layers of folks between you and government so you don’t really have to take responsibility for governing.
Of course, this is going on while the FBI and IRS are investigating the family business. An investigation that, while not directly connected to the Governor yet, certainly puts a pall on the overall outlook for Tennessee’s first family.
Which brings me back to something I said at the beginning…just what kind of business did candidate Haslam intend to model Tennessee government after?
While the jury may be out on that question as a whole, the evidence is pointing to the same kind of crony capitalism that brought down the banks in 2007-08 and is causing his family business all kinds of trouble right now. The kind that works with its friends at the expense of everyone else.
And while the Governor has enjoyed a certain measure of teflon like “unstainable” status in public opinion, one has to wonder how many scratches that surface can withstand before the public turns their back on the Governor.
What should be even more troubling for the Governor is that while he’s taken some dings to his image, the investigations into poor management and potential misdeeds in his administration are just beginning.
And just like most things, the bandwagoneers in the media will eventually jump on this en masse to do the thing they like doing more than building someone up…taking them down.
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.