Tag Archives: Taxes

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

No One Likes Making Tough Decisions

Memphis City Councilmen Jim Strickland (Left)
and Shea Flinn (Right)

Budget time can be contentious, regardless of the organization. As we saw in the waning days of this state legislative session it can be VERY contentious.

City budgets are no different, and are also facing the same pressures, if not more acutely, than the state government.

On June 8th, the Memphis City Council approved a budget for the coming fiscal year. The process had been contentious. In fact, if you just look at the articles by Amos Maki of the Commercial Appeal you can see just how much shifting had to occur.

But it seems there’s still a problem. A looming court decision over school funding could mean a tax hike of 52 cents per $100 of assessed value on property in Memphis, which, according to a presentation given by Councilman Shea Flinn on June 8th, already has the highest property tax rate of any urban county in the state.

To put that number in perspective, a person with a home valued at $170,000 would have to pay $225 in addition to the $3100 already paid to the City and County.

Flinn’s presentation laid out two options for dealing with the issue, wait and see, and his own proposal which would increase the tax rate by 17 cents over the next three years to cover the cost of the judgement.

In talking to Flinn yesterday, he expressed that while he preferred the proposal he laid out to prepare for this issue, a proposal that was defeated at the meeting on June 8th, he was also open to other ideas.

Yesterday that “other idea” was proposed by Jim Strickland. In a letter to Mayor Wharton and the City Council, Strickland offers an alternative that involves rolling back pay increases to city employees.

I don’t want to get into which one is better or worse. That’s not the point. The point is that there are now three ideas, wait and pray with a likely huge one time tax increase, a smaller tax increase spread over 3 years, or cut salaries. There are likely many more possibilities out there.

The issue for me is, there are 13 members of the City Council, and only two have come forward with a proposal to keep property owners from seeing a huge GOTCHA when city property tax bills come out in July. Or worse, when another whole round of bills have to be mailed out later in the year.

I don’t know about you, but I pay a mortgage. Every month a huge chunk of what I pay is put in escrow for my property taxes. If my tax bill increases, so does my mortgage payment. It’s already hard enough for me and thousands of people like me, who have seen a significant drop in income to make that monthly payment. God knows paying between $75 and $225 more this year is a burden for something that you would think would already be covered in a tax rate that’s 150% of Knoxville and 175% of Nashville. Where the hell is the money going?

I applaud Strickland and Flinn for at least putting something out there, but I wonder where the other 11 are and why they haven’t stepped out to deal with this issue. I also wonder why the administration didn’t deal with this in their budget in the first place.

No one likes making tough decisions, but like Flinn said at the end of this article:

We got elected to make the tough decisions. Do the damn work.”

I couldn’t agree more.

To GOP: Governor Says Pre-K Cuts Not On The Table

According to Gov. Phil Bredesen, the GOP better move along.

Changing the way Tennessee’s pre-kindergarten program is funded is among the budget cutting options being considered by the GOP, House Republican Caucus Chairman Glen Casada said Monday.

Republicans have been working on an alternative to Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen’s proposal to lift a sales tax cap for big ticket items to help bridge an $85 million budget shortfall.

Casada said the GOP idea could be released Tuesday, but declined to provide details about how the $83 million annual pre-K budget would be affected, except that it will be funded next year.

“We’re looking at … funding mechanisms for pre-K,” he said. “We’re not looking to delete pre-K.”

Bredesen was cool to the idea of changing the funding.

“As far as I’m concerned education — including pre-K — is not on the table,” Bredesen said.

The Jackson Sun weighs in with an editorial in this morning’s deadwood.

Republican lawmakers have yet to reveal details of their recommendation for the pre-K program. But, clearly, the goal is to cut state spending by $85 million. Perhaps they have found another means of funding pre-K, but that seems unlikely.

Pre-K costs the state $83.5 million, with $80.5 million coming from state funds and $3 million from the state lottery. The program is operating in 934 classrooms and has a current enrollment of about 18,000 students. Since its inception in 2004, pre-K has served more than 77,000 students. Bredesen’s long-term goal for pre-K is to make it available to every child in Tennessee.

The state’s pre-K program has been a success in helping prepare children for school. Getting the right start on education is critical. Children who begin kindergarten unprepared, often are left behind and never catch up.

Balancing the state budget is a must. But lawmakers should not do so on the backs of pre-kindergarten students.

Morning Coffee – Death And Taxes

Tis Tax Day, campers, where if you haven’t done your taxes, you are are going to have to do them today by either waiting in line for hours at your local accountant, cuss at your computer screen or rush to the post office to make sure Uncle Sam doesn’t get you.

I always have a visual of a Zombie Uncle Sam lumbering into my house and holding my feet until coins come out of my pockets. During this recession, he would be lucky to get seventy-eight cents and pocket lint, but I digress.

Taxes make even the most reasonable person stressful. I find that when you talk to someone about taxes, they usually have a surly tone.  I did better with my tax refund than I’ve had in 25 years of filling these pesky buggers out. I actually got some money back. I don’t love paying taxes but I like roads and schools and stuff. Call me nutty.

On to the what the night shift of the Tennessee blogosphere had on their minds since we last met.


Wamp Implicated in C Street Tax/Ethics Complaint

Let’s say you are a member of the US House of Representatives who is also running for the Republican nomination for Governor of the 17th largest state by population in the US.

Let’s say that, in the course of your tenure in Washington, you have lived in a residence that has provided room and board at rates far below the market value.

Let’s also say that this residence has been, tangentially, in the public eye thanks to some well publicized scandals of either current or former residents.

Let’s say that, when asked about this some 8 months ago you hedged rather than actually dealing with the issue.

Finally, let’s say that two organizations; one dedicated to ethical behavior and another made up of Clergy Members who feel the organization running the house is using IRS tax exempt status set aside for church organizations in error, have filed complaints against the proprietors of the house and it’s residents.

What would you do?

DENY, DENY, DENY.

“this complaint is baseless because I pay fair market rent and my housing arrangements have always fully complied with the U.S. House of Representatives rules and regulations.

DEFLECT, DEFLECT, DEFLECT:

Rep. Wamp said his base rent, excluding food and other expenses, was $600 a month. That has been unchanged for years, but he noted he moved into a smaller room with no bathroom. He now spends about six to seven nights a month at the residence, he said.

“I have an eight-by-ten room with no closet,” the congressman said. “I have to walk to the other end of the house to use a bathroom.”

DEFEND, DEFEND, DEFEND:

In a recent interview, Rep. Wamp, who has lived at C Street since at least 2002, said, “I’d say that a lot of the members of Congress don’t know any more about their landlord than I know about this foundation and their tax exempt status. So unless you want to do an expose on 435 members, then in my opinion, we’re kind of being singled out.”

Wamp could have dealt with this issue when it first surfaced last summer, but apparently it wasn’t a big enough deal. Now that there’s an ethics complaint and an IRS investigation, I wonder how big of a deal it is now?

If Wamp wants to hold ANY ELECTED OFFICE, he needs to get his head straight on what is ethical and legal behavior and what isn’t. Unreported subsidized rent is neither ethical or legal. If Wamp didn’t know that, he just needs to fess up and correct the problem with the IRS and Congressional Ethics pannels. If he doesn’t, these questions will continue to dog him throughout the campaign, which is just fine by me.

For more information on the current complaints, watch this segment from TRMS:

Visit msnbc.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy