The mirage of integrity and honesty that Bill Haslam’s high-priced handlers have built around him drew major blows Monday.
Republicans for Healthcare (GASP!)
First, a group of Republican state senators in Tennessee turned the pressure up on Haslam to expand Medicaid — or at least unveil the “expansion plan” he’s been hiding for nearly a year.
The Republican doctors and pharmacists in the Senate announced they want to do “something” for the working poor. In this case, “something” is, in fact, better than nothing.
And while their plan is hazy at best, it’s a sure sign they recognize there’s a big problem brewing on the horizon if Tennessee continues to reject more than $1 billion worth of annual healthcare funding — widespread hospital closures.
When a hospital closes, it can take a whole community down with it. Some hospitals have shut down services in rural areas.
Yet Haslam has does nothing but blame Washington for his refusal to produce a plan like more than a half dozen Republican governors have already done.
More Guilty Pleas at Haslam’s Pilot
Secondly, three more employees of Pilot Flying J, the company owned by our “trust me, I’m a businessman” governor, pleaded guilty to stealing millions of dollars from company’s customers.
Ten — 10 employees of the governor’s company! — have plead guilty to fraud for scamming Pilot customers with a jacked fuel rebate program.
This is important because Haslam ran for office on his business credentials. Only to find out his company has been cheating working people and small businesses for years.
Now Haslam has routinely said he has nothing to do with Pilot’s management. A convenient answer. And maybe so, but it’s worth noting that Haslam’s Pilot holdings are the only piece of his vast investments that were left out of his blind trust. It’s a sign he wanted to stay involved with the family business, and he’s never answered for it.
Facts Enter Education Discussion
Third, on Monday, the top-down, one-size-fits-all education policies Haslam has been pushing through the legislature met a formidable roadblock — a TREE.
As has been custom the past few years, corporate education organizations have trotted out their privatization policies at the beginning of each legislative session. Their glossy, well-funded presentations always grab headlines and typically re-affirm Republican efforts that privatize public schools, divert money from our students’ classrooms and devalue educators.
This year, however, a new group, Tennesseans Reclaiming Educational Excellence, kicked off the week with some analysis that threw cold hard facts into the discussion of reforms trumpeted by Haslam’s administration.
Several points of interest:
- Tennessee spends more per Teach for America intern teachers than any other state. Coincidence that Haslam’s education commissioner is a former TFA executive?
- 25 percent of Tennessee students grow up in poverty, and poverty remains one of the most reliable indicators of student achievement. Malnourished kids who’ve not regularly seen a doctor are not the best students.
- Tennessee has not added a single seat to pre-Kindergarten, a proven intervention to close opportunity gaps, since Haslam became governor.
Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education, was TREE’s featured presenter. From TNEdReport.com:
“Weiss discussed recent Tennessee education policy in the context of the drivers of educational inequality. She pointed to research suggesting that poverty is a significant contributor to student outcomes and noted other research that suggests as much as 2/3 of student outcomes are predicted by factors outside of school.”
The beauty of TREE’s press conference was two fold — one; they took some media coverage away from corporate education groups, and, two; they empowered our reporters with facts that have largely been missing from the education debate in Tennessee. Hopefully this presser will pay dividends for the weeks to come.
Sweetheart Deal for Haslam’s Business Pals Continues to Blow Up
And last, but not least. Perhaps, Bill Haslam biggest reason for a terrible Monday: the sweetheart contract he gave his Chicago-based business partners to rearrange state office buildings, which has outsourced Tennessee jobs and millions of tax dollars, has missed his self-proclaimed projected savings by $80 million and counting.
Haslam gave his business partners, Jones, Lang, LaSalle, a real estate corporation, a $330 million non-compete contract to shuffle state offices. Under the cooked agreement, the real estate company gets paid to make recommendations and sign leases for new office space, which creates an incentive for the company to recommend moving offices and selling buildings — even if it’s not in the best interest of taxpayers.
For instance, Haslam’s business partners got paid to recommend the Tennessee Lottery move out a building in MetroCenter the company called inadequate. Then got paid again to recommend the Department of Children’s Services move into the same building.
Haslam sold the plan by saying he’d save taxpayers $100 million. Just two years later, projected savings are already $80 million short, and anyone can see why. Haslam’s administration is decommissioning office buildings owned by the state in favor of renting space, which also has added costs. If renting produced such big savings in business, why doesn’t Pilot Flying J rent its truck stops and headquarters?
From healthcare to education and business fraud to business fraud, these are questions and issues I’m sure Haslam would prefer to not talk about.
But he asked for this job. And if he’s going to waffle, claim ignorance or push destructive policies, he should have to answer for it.