Tag Archives: Bill Haslam

G.O.P. ‘Balance’ Just More Pain for Average Families

A crisis in our state’s capitol: Too many Republicans.

A crisis in our state’s capitol: Too many Republicans.

The Tennessee House Republican Caucus released this week a movie trailer-style campaign video to highlight their members’ vote to support a federal balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

U.S. Sen. Bob Corker and every Republican in the U.S. House of Representatives support this measure. Mitt Romney campaigned on it in 2012.

When Republican politicians say “balanced budget,” they’re using coded special interest-speak for slashing investments in America so the rich can get more tax breaks.

A so-called “Balanced Budget” proposal sounds nice, but this reckless scheme would mean our government couldn’t take action during bad economic times.

For instance, if this idea had been in place before Bush’s Great Recession, 15 million more Americans would’ve been thrown out of work and our unemployment rate would have doubled.

It is already Congress’ job to pass a budget and make sure our nation is living within its means and making responsible choices.

The last thing we need is an amendment that gives Republican politicians an excuse to do nothing.

Our budget should be built on sound policy, not sound bites.

“Balanced”

To me, a “balanced” budget makes adjustments to both expenditures and revenues. That means a balanced approach would trim spending AND ask the wealthy to do their fair share.

But even modest (and popular) proposals to eliminate tax expenditures receive a full defense from Republican politicians and their big corporate backers. A complete expiration of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy? Nope. Unnecessary tax breaks for Big Oil? Forever. Tax breaks for U.S. companies that ship jobs overseas. You betcha.

In 2011, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said a balanced budget amendment without any tax increases “would necessitate deep cuts in Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.”

Not only are Tennessee Republicans proud to support a measure that would devastate the wealth and health of Tennessee families, this joke of a video production suggests that Tennessee Republican policy should be a model for replication.

After several years of GOP tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, this year, Tennessee has a more than $200 million budget shortfall.

And not one Republican is suggesting we return millionaire tax rates to their former levels.

For Tennessee Republicans, all the budget “balancing” will be at the expense of the working families and the poor.

If Republicans stopped putting millionaires and special interests ahead of everyday Americans, we could have a balanced budget.

Choices: Care for Grandma or Tax Breaks for Millionaires?

Grandma got haslamedIf given the choice between spending tax dollars on care for Tennessee seniors who need nursing home services or a new $100 million annual tax break for the wealthiest families in our state, which would you choose?

Republican Gov. Bill Haslam told grandma “you’re on your own” and chose to pad the pockets of his fellow millionaires and billionaires.

In a bit of solid reporting from The Tennessean, reporter Tom Wilemon found that 3,000 elderly Tennesseans who need nursing home care cannot get it because of Haslam budget cuts:

Under a program known as TennCare Choices, [some Tennessee seniors] could have selected either a nursing home or intensive at-home support from nurses and other health care providers. But the state, in an effort to curtail costs while meeting the health needs of aging baby boomers, set new rules that create a higher hurdle for families to qualify. Nearly 3,000 people who probably would have been judged to need nursing home care in early 2012 are instead getting only limited home visits.

The story explained in detail the horrific consequences some families and elderly couples are grappling with as a result of the Haslam administration’s decision to cut the nursing home program.

Cuts to programs for the poor and elderly are inevitable when the Republican governor and legislature place tax cuts for the rich and well connected above all else.

In the 2012 vice presidential debate, Joe Biden famously said, “show me your budget and I’ll tell you what your priorities are.”

Instead of strengthening healthcare security for elderly Tennesseans and working families, Haslam and the Republican majority prioritized tax breaks for millionaires and budget-busting handouts for business pals.

Haslam's tax cuts for the rich

Our economy grows strongest, not from the top-down, but from the middle-out and bottom-up.

Multimillion dollar tax breaks for Haslam and his wealthy friends undermine our economic future. As do skyrocketing out-of-pocket healthcare costs for some of our grandparents.

Ironically, the name of the nursing home program Haslam cut is “Choices.”

Tennessee seniors should remember this and choose anything but Haslam and his severe Republican majority come November.

Haslam’s Tuition Plan Shows Little Promise

Shiny Community College Push More Spin Than Substance

Trust MeBill Haslam is the most shameful kind of politician.

Don’t get me wrong. Haslam is surely a nice man. He’s probably a good father and husband. He presents well.

But his politics are shameful because, rather than fighting for the families he represents, he masterfully peddles false hope.

The most egregious example of Haslam’s hope peddling is, of course, Medicaid expansion.

Medicaid Expansion

Nearly a year ago, Haslam, in a big speech to the General Assembly, promised working families living without health coverage — more than 465,000 parents and children in Tennessee — that his office would submit a plan to get their families access to Medicaid coverage.

A year later, Haslam still peddles false hope talking about how hard he is trying. But he has refused to even produce a plan for public review. Leaders in the legislature filed an open records request to lay bare Haslam’s delay tactics.

Tennessee Promise

Much like his earlier initiatives, Haslam’s latest promise — a program to boost college graduation rates to 55% — is more publicity machine than actual plan.

Let me break it down for you. Haslam’s plan, called Tennessee Promise, would allow every high school graduate to attend community college free of charge for two years.

It sounds great when you hear it. But when you start scratching past the surface, you immediately uncover some inconvenient truths.

Tenn. Community Colleges Underperform Public Four-Year Colleges

Tennessee has the fifth lowest community college graduation rate in the nation. Only 8 percent of students graduate in two years and only 11.3 percent of students graduate within three years.

By comparison, nearly 20 percent of students graduate on time at four-year colleges and 45.5 percent of students graduate within six years — quadruple the rate.

Wow. Right? Public universities are four times more effective at getting students a degree than community colleges. The difference in graduation rates is even more pronounced among blacks and Latinos.

Breakthrough Collaborative, a national organization focused on boosting college graduation rates among underserved communities, issued a white paper in 2009 explaining why they focus on four-year college programs vs. community college.

“It is true that once students have their bachelor’s degrees, it makes little difference, in terms of earnings potential and job prospects, what path they took to get there. However, the likelihood of earning a bachelor’s degree is significantly reduced if a student starts her post‐secondary education at a community college, and the amount of time it takes to complete a bachelor’s degree (and potentially, the amount of loans a student accrues) is greatly increased. Additionally, research shows that the kinds of students Breakthrough serves—low‐income, minority, first generation—are less likely to transfer from community colleges to four‐year colleges and earn bachelor’s degrees. Therefore, the research supports the fact that students are more likely to complete bachelor’s degrees if they start their post‐secondary educations at four‐year colleges or universities.

If the research says the most effective way to increase college graduation rates is to send student to four-year programs, why does Haslam’s plan focus on the most ineffective way to boost graduation rates?

Mostly Re-Branding

Because it’s not a new plan. It’s just a bit of nifty re-branding.

As The Commercial Appeal’s Wendi Thomas put it, Haslam’s promise is “basically a repackaging of these Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, just expanded.”

Qualifying high school graduates in Tennessee can already get a $3,000 Hope scholarship to cover tuition at state community colleges — that’s about 80 percent of total tuition costs.

Both the Wilder-Naifeh technical skills grants and tnAchieves, which operates in 27 counties, work to close the community college funding gap even more.

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul

To make community college completely free, a roughly $800 gap per student, Haslam’s plan raids $300 million from the Hope Scholarship reserves, cuts Hope Scholarships by $1,000 for freshman and sophomores in four-year programs, and hikes tuition rates — again.

An official representing private colleges in Tennessee told WPLN Haslam’s plan isn’t fair to students in four-year programs.

“It’s a very laudable goal for the governor to want to provide access to the community colleges in this way, however, it really shouldn’t be done on the back of the freshmen and sophomores at the university level.”

Perhaps even worse is that Haslam’s funding mechanism raids the lottery scholarship reserves, which fund Hope Scholarships.

The Hope Scholarship was established to send more Tennessee students to four-year colleges. The program has been a smash success.

Unfortunately, Haslam’s new program cripples the Hope Scholarship’s ability to grow. With reserves down to $100 million, there will be no appetite to expand scholarships or increase grants, which is greatly needed due to inflation and year-after-year tuition hikes.

So instead of investing in four-year universities, which are four-times as effective at producing students with degrees, Haslam built a $34 million publicity machine that sounds nice but definitely won’t drive to 55.

Now that sounds like a clunker.

Haslam’s State of the State: Addressing Contradictions

Haslam Two FaceAfter a year of dithering on his stated aim to increase post-secondary graduation rates to 55 percent, Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday finally proposed a program to move toward accomplishing this goal.

Along with it, his budget includes college tuition hikes and scholarship cuts for freshman and sophomores.

Haslam has been using this kind of political doublespeak since he began running for governor four years ago and his State of the State speech Monday night was riddled with more of the same.

‘Tennessee Promise’

Haslam’s big announcement was a new $34 million government program, called Tennessee Promise, which would pay for graduating high school seniors to attend two years of community college free of tuition and fees.

Haslam budgets for the “Promise” by weakening the Hope Scholarship program and hiking tuition rates — again.

If the governor gets his way, Tennessee Promise would divert several hundred million dollars from the Tennessee Lottery reserve that underwrites the Hope Scholarship program. Haslam would also cut Hope Scholarship funding by $1,000 a year for qualifying freshmen and sophomores enrolled in four-year colleges.

To support two-year programs, Haslam’s plan would punish first- and second-year students at four-year universities. It would also severely restrict any future push to expand the successful Hope Scholarship program, which has provided high-performing students reliable tuition assistance, but hasn’t kept pace with inflation.

The father of the Hope Scholarship, now-Congressman Steve Cohen explained the problem with Tennessee Promise in an interview with The Commercial Appeal.

Preparing students to win the jobs of tomorrow is crucial for our state’s economic future, but stealing crucial funding from students and four-year universities to bolster two-year programs misses the point.

More Doublespeak & Contradictions

The ‘Promise’ was a glaring example, but there was plenty more Haslam doublespeak from his speech, where his actions have contradicted his rhetoric.

Teacher Pay: For months the governor has openly bragged about his intention to make Tennessee the “fastest growing” state for teacher pay. He repeated himself again at the State of the State.

Haslam did not mention that this year’s pay raise was financed with savings from the deep cuts Haslam’s administration made to the teacher salary schedule last year.

Taxes: Haslam yowled about a new $80 million budget deficit, but refused to acknowledge that his massive tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires, like himself, played any part in creating the deficit.

In fact, Haslam’s tax breaks for the rich, which will dig a $1 billion hole in the state budget over a decade, could have paid for his entire Tennessee Promise program and spared cuts to other vital programs that serve Tennesseans.

But Haslam and the Republican majority would rather cut programs for working families and saddle students with more debt than ask the wealthiest Tennesseans to do their share to invest in our economic future.

Healthcare: Once again, Haslam said how important it was for Tennessee families to have health coverage. He then told Tennessee’s uninsured, working poor to keep dreaming ‘cause Medicaid expansion ain’t happening on his watch.

Best Managed State: Haslam crowed about Tennessee being named third best managed state.

He left out that his Department of Children’s Services failed to respond to children in need or even account for more than a hundred dead children in its care.

Haslam also skimmed past the preventable deaths of disabled Tennesseans in the care of his Department of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.

Haslam glossed over his office management plan at the Department of General Services, which secured a $330 million no-bid, sweetheart contract for his business pals.

Never said a word about the $73 million of fraudulent and improper payments and crushing backlogs at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development.

What did you take away from Haslam’s State of the State?

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com

Haslam’s Astonishing Corporate Offer: Have a Skyscraper

Tower for SaleRather than building an economy from the bottom up and middle out, Bill Haslam has doubled down on risky mega-tax handouts that don’t always deliver the jobs they promise and too often favor big corporations instead of small business.

On Monday, we learned just how far Haslam’s administration is willing to go to please big corporations and CEOs.

In 2011, the Haslam administration packaged nearly $600 million worth of tax breaks and giveaways — including the 31-story Tennessee Tower! —  in an attempt to lure Sears to Nashville.

Watching Phil Williams’ report really leaves you wondering — with Haslam in charge, what part of our state isn’t for sale?

As soon as Haslam took office, his administration expanded Tennessee’s cash giveaways to big businesses even though The Nashville Business Journal reported that these programs gave more than $60 million to companies that never produced the jobs they promised.

Though the $100,000-per-job tax break never happened with Sears, another big corporation has benefited from a similar, secret arrangement.

Last year the Haslam administration approved a $30 million tax handout to Eastman Chemical, a Fortune 500 company and a big Haslam campaign contributor, for a project that might only add 300 jobs — that’s $100,000 per job.

In December 2012, The New York Times estimated that every Tennessee taxpayer chips in $249 a year — totaling at least $1.6 billion — to pay for state tax breaks and cash giveaways for big business.

The worst part of these giveaways is the absolute lack of accountability. In November, the state comptroller’s office issued a scathing report showing how little Haslam’s administration expects of the businesses lining up for a cut of our tax dollars.

We can’t make the critical investments our state needs to strengthen the middle class if we’re wasting our tax dollars on handouts that aren’t creating good-paying jobs.

To be fair, Haslam does believe in accountability for some Tennesseans — just not his administration or his business pals. In 2012, Haslam signed a law requiring drug testing for welfare recipients. So there’s that.

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com

Analysis: TN State of the State #TNSOTS2014

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome

Unicorns and daisies in stunning monochrome®

So last night Gov. Bill Haslam delivered his 4th State of the State address of his term.

It was the same kind of “long on promises and short on details” self-congratulatory affair that we’ve come to expect from the Governor, complete with that good ole fiscal conservatism that says tax cuts for people who don’t miss the money are better than services for people who need them.

It was only imaginative in the way it manipulated or simply omitted facts to further a narrative of success that most people haven’t felt yet.

The Governor talked a lot about education. Nearly half of the speech was about it in some way or another. But to start, we should probably cover some of the other topics, so they don’t get lost in the mix.

Long List of “Accomplishments”

The Governor started off with a long list of “accomplishments”. Real long. Like almost two pages of them.

Lots of accolades from being named 3rd best managed state in the nation (I couldn’t find that, but I did find us at 16th last year which is better than most, that one needs a citation.

He also noted our award for state of the year from Business Facilities Magazine. The magazine notes the state brought in 6900 new jobs, but that’s less than 3% of the 237,700 people who were looking for work in December. Hardly a stellar performance for the people actually looking for jobs.

Haslam also hailed the drop in space state offices occupy. He says this will save the state money. Unfortunately, even his own numbers, as reported by NC5 in Nashville, tell a very different story. NC5 could only find about $450,000/year of savings, and further found the math the Governor has used is more than a little fuzzy. Good to know as we head into the budget section of the presentation.

$260m + -$340m = cut taxes

Haslam laid out new revenues for the upcoming year of $260m. Of course, his projections for this year are already $171m off the mark, so who knows if this is real or more fuzzy math from the Governor.

He also laid out $340m in new spending ($180m in Tenncare, $40m in employee health insurance, and $120m for education). That leaves an $80m hole in the budget.

The Governor defended tax cuts for estate taxes and the Hall income tax as “revenue growth” policies. This is a common GOP refrain, that makes no sense and that has been proven wrong over and over again.

Gov. Haslam offered no proposal that would cover the $80m dollar shortfall, so there’s that.

Education policy du jour

Of course, education was a huge part of the speech, since that’s the one thing just about everyone agrees the state should pay for (within limits). The Governor hailed the gains in the state’s overall TCAP scores for 2013. There’s no question that seeing scores go up is a positive, but a seven point jump in two years when the national average is only one point, should be a cause for skepticism. Further, going back to 2003, the states scores have increased by 12 points (seven of those between 2011 and 2013).

Had the gains been a gradual upswing (they weren’t) they would seem to be the result of a policy decision. But a seven point swing in two years looks more like an outlier than a trend. This is something we’ll have to watch more in the coming years to see if a trend is actually established. My gut tells me no. The state scores have hovered in the same 3 point swing zone since 2005.

He also hit on all the “blame the teachers” policies his administration has been pushing since 2011, and vouchers…something drains resources from already under-resourced public schools.

Tennessee Promises, Promises

The biggest attention grabber was the “Tennessee Promise” program. Under this plan, high school students would be given two years of free tuition at a two-year school to get an associates degree. If they chose to move on to a four-year institution, they could begin as a junior.

On the face of it, this seems like a good and progressive idea. Get kids who might not have the resources or the grades to make it in a four-year school to get their feet wet in a two-year school, and parlay that success into higher educational attainment overall.

But he devil is in the details, and the plan to use money from the Tennessee Lottery Scholarship fund raised the ire of the panned the funding idea because it would drain the fund, and possibly hurt four-year institutions in the state, by draining away college Freshmen and Sophomores.

I’m also skeptical about the “endowment fund” that would pay for this program. How will the endowment be administered? Will it have a board packed with cronies like just about every other government institution in the state? What happens if it runs out of money?

Seems to me, the money would be better spent as intended…to fully fund college, and that more money should be allocated to higher education to bring tuition costs down, and maybe even attract out of state students that pay way more than in-state students do.

As for the Community Colleges, they’re critically important, no doubt. But shouldn’t they be focused on the things they’re already successful at…providing access to some General Ed. courses for students and graduating students who aren’t on a four-year track.

On a political note, the idea that this General Assembly would pass a bill that amounts to a new entitlement is cute. I don’t see it happening.

So there it is. The state of the state. The response from the House Democratic Caucus can be found here.

Vouchers, A Tight Budget And Accountability

Public_Education_Picture-

Not many people are talking about how a voucher system will effect rural schools in Tennessee. There are not very many private schools outside of urban areas, and so when tonight we will hear Gov. Bill Haslam talk about his voucher initiative. Where is that money going to go in every county?

This is a question rural legislators should be paying particular attention to, what is the needs of their district when it comes to education.

In an article from 2011, Pennsylvania addressed the same questions that Tennessee is facing today.

First, as the governor and nearly every local lawmaker says, the state is in financial trouble. The governor’s proposed budget slashes funding for many worthwhile programs, and offers up huge cuts for public education at all levels. We can’t afford to keep spending like we have been, Corbett and others have argued. If that’s the case, how can we now afford to create a new program that conservative estimates say will cost several hundred million dollars a year? If that kind of money is laying around, why can’t we restore some funding for public schools and universities? The simple answer is that the money isn’t there, and lawmakers would have to find other programs to pull the money from.
Our second problem is the lack of accountability and the fact that our tax dollars would be handed over to private, many for-profit, schools that don’t have to answer to anyone. They can hire whomever they want, teach whatever they want, and in the end, student achievement is beyond the purvey of the Department of Education.
Public schools are accountable to the state Department of Education, and to the local school boards. Private schools are…well…private. They have voluntary accreditations, but in the end, they are accountable only to the people who put up the money to own them.

By last fall, GOP Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett had a huge mess on his hands in Philadelphia.

Want to see a public school system in its death throes? Look no further than Philadelphia. There, the school district is facing end times, with teachers, parents and students staring into the abyss created by a state intent on destroying public education.

On Thursday the city of Philadelphia announced that it would be borrowing $50 million to give the district, just so it can open schools as planned on Sept. 9, after Superintendent William Hite threatened to keep the doors closed without a cash infusion. The schools may open without counselors, administrative staff, noon aids, nurses, librarians or even pens and paper, but hey, kids will have a place to go and sit.

The $50 million fix is just the latest band-aid for a district that is beginning to resemble a rotting bike tube, covered in old patches applied to keep it functioning just a little while longer. At some point, the entire system fails.

Things have gotten so bad that at least one school has asked parents to chip in $613 per student just so they can open with adequate services, which, if it becomes the norm, effectively defeats the purpose of equitable public education, and is entirely unreasonable to expect from the city’s poorer neighborhoods.

The voucher debate has been relegated to urban areas leaving rural realities basically invisible. The bottom line is if vouchers are introduced, small struggling school districts will financially get hammered. The loss of even a baker’s dozen handful of students could cost that school millions they can’t afford to lose.

So it is fair to ask, what is the plan for every school in the state and not just the ones that will be mentioned in the news cycle?

The Tennessean has a story today on how school voucher PACs have already spent close to a quarter of a million dollars in Tennessee ahead of this year’s election.

And on a final note, Tennessee Education Report has interviewed Speaker Beth Harwell who addressed vouchers.

2) If a voucher program is implemented, would you consider independent funding of the voucher students, i.e. funding their tuition through new state funding rather than by redirecting BEP and local funds that would have gone to the LEA?  If the voucher program is limited, as Governor Haslam would like, this could be a relatively inexpensive way to test whether vouchers can raise student achievement without penalizing LEAs for the experiment.

I want everyone’s voice to be heard throughout the process, and welcome all ideas. However, we are already anticipating a tight budget due to revenue shortfalls, so a new funding source may not be possible at this at this time.

Once again, what is the plan?

As Brandon discussed last week, there needs to be a conversation on the facts of education reform. We don’t want to be another Pennsylvania.

What you won’t hear in Gov. Haslam’s “State of the State” address

For Haslam...a lot is better left unsaid.

For Haslam…a lot is better left unsaid.

Tonight, Gov. Haslam will deliver his “State of the State” address. I expect it will go a lot like last year’s address, keying in on education and fiscal restraint. He might say something about Tenncare expansion, but if he does, it will only be to say we can’t afford to take a couple of years of free money to care for 180,000 people in our state…because, you know, free money from the Feds is too costly when you’re terrified of the Lt. Governor.

Haslam will have to face the fact that revenue collections are $171m short for the first 6 months of the year. That’s a lot of scratch any way you slice it. Perhaps this isn’t the economic miracle that he thought it was.

Of course, lower tax collections means the Governor has an excuse to cut necessary services. Every year he’s been in office he’s directed all departments other than education to cut an arbitrary 5% from their budgets…all while lowering taxes on folks who make their money through investment income.

All of this fits neatly into an ideology that’s centered around the”haves” and “can’t haves”…a worldview the Governor doesn’t explicitly articulate, but one he is a studious acolyte of.

But there’s so much more you won’t hear from the Governor.

Giving our money away to other states

Giving our money away to other states

You won’t hear that his Tennessee plan for Medicaid Expansion is a plan in name only, or that, as of today he’s surrendered $85,000,000 of Tennessean’s Federal Tax dollars to other states because he thinks a health insurance plan based on Republican ideology, and authored largely by the Heritage Foundation, aka Obamacare, is a clunker.

You won’t hear about government contracts he supports with a company he formerly invested in, or that an audit calls that same contract into question, or that when he tried to get more government money for his former investment he was told no by members of his own party.

You won’t hear anything about any of these issues, or the contract he gave to his Finance Commissioner’s former employer, or the contract General Services awarded to Enterprise-Rent-a-Car after hiring one of its former execs.

You won’t hear him talk about his economic development plan that includes paying $100,000 per job to a company that gave over $36,000 to his campaign, and is represented by his under the table paid “advisor” Tom Ingram.

You will hear how he’s running state government like a business…he just won’t mention that business is his family business, Pilot Flying J which is under Federal investigation for defrauding clients.

I mean, there’s a whole page of questions and an hour long special to boot.

But despite all this graft, regular Tennesseans must suffer cuts because a state with one of the lowest tax burdens on the wealthy in the nation must find more ways for them to accumulate wealth so…they will “create jobs” even though business leaders say tax cuts don’t create jobs, and so does a study from the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities.

You probably will hear him crow about education, but he won’t mention the reforms he’s taking credit for were first offered by a Democratic President, and put into action by a Democratic Governor.

You won’t hear him talk about our poverty rate that is higher than the national average, or our jobless rate is higher than the national average.

You won’t hear him talk about any of these things because he doesn’t have to. This is just another victory lap in a life of victory laps for a Governor that likely won’t have anyone running against him in the fall, and that feels he can act as he pleases, so long as it doesn’t raise too much of a stir so as to damage his widely held image as a “moderate”.

So enjoy the kabuki theater that will be tonight’s State of the State address, which will be aired online and on your local PBS station.

It’ll be a doozie…I’m sure.

Obamacare Better Than Haslam’s Empty Promises

Haslam Medicaid PlanLast week Gov. Bill Haslam admitted the Affordable Care Act’s Medicaid expansion would make a big difference for working families and the struggling hospitals in Tennessee.

Even so, immediately thereafter, Haslam said there’ll be no Medicaid expansion, comparing federal health reform to a “clunker,” a run down car, as his reason for not expanding health coverage.

From Memphis Daily News, here’s Haslam:

“It’s all this federal money. It will help hospitals and it will give people better health coverage. All of that is true.”

So what’s Haslam’s reasoning for rejecting healthcare coverage for the hundreds of thousands of Tennesseans who are in need?

“The flipside is Medicaid already takes up a huge portion of our budget. As we expand that, that will make a bigger issue.”

Haslam says caring for working families is too expensive. Predictable, but what he doesn’t say is that taxpayers and the insured already care for people without insurance — in the most expensive and ineffective way possible — through emergency rooms, increased premiums and higher hospital fees.

Haslam’s second excuse is an insult to anyone who’s lived without health coverage.

“The expansion didn’t provide a way to have better health outcomes. It just increased the number of people we covered.

Some truth to Haslam’s blathering excuses: Health coverage saves lives. And being alive is a better “health outcome” than being dead.

dark_bill haslam

In 2009, the American Journal of Public Health published a study that found 45,000 deaths a year are linked to lacking health coverage. The study says uninsured, working-age Americans have a 40 percent higher risk of death than working-age Americans who have insurance.

Health insurance also protects our security and livelihood.  As of 2013, medical bills were still the number one cause of bankruptcy in America.

Haslam then said, “I honestly think we can do it better.”

Then do it. Last March, Haslam promised he was working on a plan to expand Medicaid. Nearly a year later, we’re still waiting — to even see the plan.

Working Tennesseans who don’t have insurance through work are counting on the governor to live up to his word. Hospitals and the healthcare workers, too. Just show us that this wasn’t just a political red herring.

Instead Haslam seems content doing nothing and selling his mirage as a healthcare plan while still blaming President Obama and Democrats for even passing Medicaid expansion, the aforementioned “clunker.” More from Haslam:

“So they are saying, ‘Here’s a clunker. Do you want this clunker?”

Yes, people want it. From October through December, 6.3 million Americans signed up for Medicaid health coverage.

Even if Medicaid health insurance were an unpopular “clunker” — it’s not — it’s clear families living without health insurance would rather have a real car from Obama than the empty promise of a great car from Haslam, maybe, someday.

Brandon Puttbrese is a public relations specialist and former communications director at the Tennessee Democratic Party. Find him on Twitter and Facebook.com

Dodging Obama Lays Bare Haslam’s Unprecedented Secrecy

President Barack Obama will visit Nashville, Tenn. today to echo themes from his State of the Union address — expanding high-quality pre-kindergarten and raising the minimum wage so that people who work hard and and play by the rules can afford to live with dignity and raise a family.

With official White House visits, it’s customary for governors to spend some time with the president. But Bill Haslam’s office says the governor only has time to greet Air Force One. And that’s it.

The rest of Haslam’s day is top secret. From the Nashville Post:

His spokesman Dave Smith said the governor “has ECD meetings out of state,” but did not respond to a request late Wednesday seeking details about where the governor was going and with whom he was meeting.

Details about who the governor meets with have been kept hidden from reporters since the beginning of his term. Requests to review the governor’s calendar have been repeatedly rejected by his administration citing “deliberative process privilege.” Governors in other states have made their schedules available for public inspection.

hidingHaslam’s blatant dodge of President Obama is not surprising, but stonewalls built around routine schedule requests are troublesome.

It would be unremarkable if this were the first time Haslam claimed special privileges to cloak his office’s doings from the public, but it’s not.

Today’s snub to transparency is part of a much larger pattern of secrecy —

The closed-door meetings with old business partners who suddenly win no-bid contracts, the constant special interest dealing and unprecedented secrecy have wholly undermine his credibility with anyone paying attention to his actions.

Transparency and accountability are linked hand in hand. Taxpayers cannot hold politicians accountable when they refuse to be open and transparent on basic issues. And Haslam has refused to be open and honest — even with something as simple as his schedule.

He won’t come clean about his secret relationships with lobbyists, and he still insists on hiding his income tax returns (probably because he pays a lower tax rate than working families in Tennessee).

With Haslam’s track record, it’s clear why Tennesseans don’t trust politicians or believe that they’ll put our families’ interests first.