Apr 12 2013

Pennies from Haslam

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do.

Helping those who don’t need it over those who do.

According to a poll released in January, Bill Haslam has a 68% approval rating in Tennessee.

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.

Smokescreen in the Statehouse

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.

Leading from the back of the line

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”.

Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

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.

Causing real harm

Source: Census.gov

Source: Census.gov
2011 2010 2009 2008

While the poverty rate in Tennessee started climbing in 2008 due to the financial crisis, little has been done on the state side to help people ensnared in the bad decisions that brought the crisis on.

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%.

As for attracting jobs, the only job creation bill Gov. Haslam has passed is tort reform, mentioned above, which is actually associated with slower job growth.

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.

Apr 26 2011

100 Days of Less than Little

Posted by Steve Ross in State Politics

TN Gov. Bill Haslam

Yesterday, TN Gov. Bill Haslam celebrated his first 100 days in office with, what else, a snazzy press release.

This first 100 has been busy folks, not so much for the Governor, who has been more than willing to sit idly by as the more firebrand members of his party run the state from the General Assembly.

In the mean time, the good Governor has been biding his time, coming up with press releases, like the one from yesterday, taking credit for things that as a candidate, he might want to distance himself from.

But now, with three years before he has to tap daddy’s war chest again for campaign cash, Haslam is trying to deal with being overshadowed, and look good doing it.

Here’s his list of “accomplishments”:

• Proposing a strategic legislative package that focuses on economic development through education reforms targeted at creating a well-educated workforce and ensuring an attractive business environment in Tennessee;

• Signing his tenure reform legislation into law;

• Announcing a $40 million public-private charter school growth fund;

• Proposing a balanced state budget that is $1.8 billion less than the previous year’s budget;

• Proposing a 1.6 percent salary increase for state employees after four years without one;

• Announcing a Jobs4TN plan that identifies four key strategies which include:

    1. prioritizing the strategic recruitment of target industries;
    2. assisting existing Tennessee businesses with expansion and competitiveness,
    3. supporting regional and rural economic development strategies as well as investing in innovation and reducing business regulation;
    4. Announcing a top-to-bottom review of the department of Economic and Community Development as a pilot process for other state departments and agencies to follow;

• And conducting a thorough review of state rules and regulations.

What he didn’t focus on, and for good reason, are the real consequences of these “actions”, some of which a new blogger on the block helpfully laid out for us.

But what Haslam leaves out is, perhaps, the most important part of his presser.

He conveniently forgets that he started the ball rolling with an Executive Order exempting himself and his cronies from income disclosures.

He ignores the fact that he, and House Speaker Beth Harwell, have allowed the Tennessee Ethics Commission the body that might hear claims against this executive order, has been has been without a quorum for the entirety of his 100 days, something that Democrats on the hill have managed to miss over and over again.

He’s pushing to keep people from holding corporations responsible for their actions, ultimately hurting the very people who have already been hurt, once again, in the name of job creation, an erroneous assertion at best.

He ignores the 32% pay raises he’s given his cabinet, while handing out a piddling 1.6% to hard working employees, or worse pink slips as economic development strategy.

He made it tougher for teachers to teach without worrying about getting let go for making too much, and makes it harder for teachers to negotiate a fair wage for their service…something that will most certainly result in fewer teachers overall, and the best of the best leaving the state for greener pastures.

Oh yeah, that Jobs plan? All those closures are hurting rural areas, already suffering from around 14% unemployment, more than anyone else.

Truth be told, aside from enriching his cronies, and hiding his wealth, Haslam hasn’t done much. The heavy lifting has been done by the legislature, who is pushing the envelope even further than he’s comfortable with. This may be why he’s ready for them to head to the house.

At the end of the day, Gov. Haslam has fully ensconced himself as the Gubernatorial Spokesmodel, rather than the Chief Executive of the state. Until he decides to do more than roll over for the more radical elements in his party, he’ll continue to be nothing more than that.

Apr 06 2011

The “Anything But Jobs” Legislature

Posted by Steve Ross in activism, elections, State Politics

There’s been a whole lot of stupid coming out of Nashville this year, but based on what bills are flowing through the General Assembly, we’ve only seen the appetizer.

Rep. Debra Maggart (R) - Hendersonville

First on the list is Representative Debra Maggart. Following a line of Republican led disenfranchisement legislation, Maggart believes that your voter ID card, a document that has been used to identify voters for decades, is not enough. Nope, you have to have a photo ID no matter what.

Now, for a lot of us that doesn’t seem like a big deal. If you drive, you’ve got a picture ID, if you’re employed you probably have one too. But lots of people, whether you know it or not, don’t. For whatever reason, they don’t need one. Most of them are older, low-income, and minority voters. The act of going out to get a government issued photo id, where none has been required before, is an undue burden.

Further, there’s some question about the constitutionality of the bill. Similar efforts have been pushed in states like Georgia, Missouri and New Mexico, and all have been ruled unconstitutional.

The only way this bill would be constitutional is if there was a way for these individuals to get a free ID, if obtaining that ID was free of undue burdens (meaning additional locations and extended hours), and if there was substantial voter outreach (Source).

This, of course, presents two problems for the Republicans proposing these efforts. First of all, none of this is included in the bill and doing so would create a huge fiscal note, or additional cost to the state. Right now the fiscal note on this bill says not significant.

As Democratic House Caucus Chair, Mike Turner noted in this article the bill “amounts to a back door poll tax”.

Way to go. If this thing passes without some way to get free ID’s to people, it’ll end up in court.

Ahh, but the legislature is messin’ all up in that too.

This afternoon in the House Judiciary Subcommittee they’ll tackle the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, aka the Miscarriage of Justice Act of 2011.

Basically, all this bill will do is take away your right to sue if you’ve been wronged. Nothing big there right?

Here’s what one mother had to say about the bill.

Y’all, this is something even former Senator and Republican Fred Thompson is against.

So what does it do? It basically says that if you are the victim of some kind of malpractice you can’t file suit because you are no longer a “consumer”, you’ll have to go to the Attorney General’s office to get them to file suit. Good luck with that.

Oh yeah, if a Bernie Maddof wannabe takes all your money and runs, you’re screwed there too. Nice stuff.

All this goes back to what Republicans call “tort reform”, or what I would call the “Don’t Need No Accountability” movement. Because, as everyone knows if you don’t get caught you’ve done no wrong right?


And if the legislature takes away the ability for people to hold others that have harmed them accountable then no one is hurt right?


Last, but certainly not least, the legislature is ensuring Teachers have almost no workplace protections by introducing SB113 by Republican Jack Johnson of Franklin.

Rep. Maggart is sponsoring the House version of the bill, which moderates the stance somewhat, but Co-Governor Ron Ramsey isn’t budging. In fact, compromise is not an option as far as he’s concerned. Nope, teachers should have no right to work together to improve the working conditions that school boards invariably leave them in. They should just sit back and take it while they watch their salaries and benefits slip away.

That’s a sure fire way to attract the best and the brightest to the teaching profession.

Earlier today, the TEA, which has been leading the fight against this bill, delivered a petition with the signatures of 9000 supporters. Hopefully legislators will take the hint, but I’m not counting on it. They’re hell bent on getting what they want whether the people of Tennessee want it or not.

As far as they’re concerned, they’ve got the numbers in the legislature and until they don’t they’re going to do everything they can to make sure their donors get what they want.

In the mean time, the unemployment rate in Tennessee stands at 10.2%.

Way to bring in jobs Republican Legislators.