- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014
State employees, teachers won’t get pay increase

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday that he won’t be able to give state employees and teachers a pay increase next year mainly because of reductions due to an ongoing decline in revenue collections, which state officials are looking into.

The Republican governor discussed his budget proposal with reporters Monday. The state finance commissioner was to present the measure to legislative finance committees Tuesday.

Haslam said poor revenue collections are forcing him to make $150 million in reductions for the remainder of this budget year that ends June 30th, and $160 million for next year. Sales tax collections have fallen short by $33 million, and franchise and excise taxes - also known as business tax collections - are down $215 million.

The governor said state officials are investigating to try to find out why collections continue to fall short of projections.

“It’s our job to be digging to try to figure out is something changed fundamentally about that business or have they found a way to lower their tax payments to us,” he said.

Despite the low revenue collections, Haslam said he expects about $73 million in new revenue growth, of which $62 million will go to education. He said he also plans to spend $155 million on TennCare, the state’s expanded Medicaid program that covers 1.2 million Tennesseans.


House votes to clear way for Rocky Top name change

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The state House has voted to allow Lake City to change its name to Rocky Top despite ongoing legal efforts by the rights owners of the bluegrass standard to block the move.

The chamber on Monday voted 89-0 in favor of the measure sponsored by Republican Rep. John Ragan of Oak Ridge, who said the state would not be liable if the Gatlinburg-based House of Bryant wins its lawsuit.

If the Senate goes along with bill, Lake City could vote to make the name change official.

“Rocky Top” is the fight song of the University of Tennessee and is one of several state songs. And as one co-sponsor pointed out to jeers from his colleagues, it was also the name of an FBI bribery sting of state lawmakers in 2005.


Dickel sues Tenn. over liquor storage requirement

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Whiskey maker George Dickel is suing to overturn a Tennessee law that requires liquor to be stored in or around the county where it is distilled.

Dickel, which is owned by global liquor giant Diageo PLC, said it stores all of its Tennessee Whisky at its distillery near Tullahoma, about 60 miles south of Nashville. But other products made there are stored at a company-owned distillery in Louisville, Ky.

The lawsuit filed in federal court in Nashville on Friday claims that state law violates interstate commerce rights under the U.S. Constitution.

“Tennessee has never before sought to enforce the geographic limitations of the storage statute,” Dickel said in the lawsuit.

If the law isn’t tossed out, the company said it would have to decide whether to expand storage capacity in Tennessee or reduce production of spirits other than George Dickel Tennessee Whisky at the distillery, which would likely lead to job cuts there.

The case follows a legislative fight over the state’s legal definition of Tennessee whiskey. Diageo led the effort to scuttle a year-old state law enacted at the behest of Jack Daniel’s, arguing that a provision requiring whiskey to aged only in unused barrels to be too restrictive on smaller producers.


Health deadline brings last minute surge

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - Tennessee health care volunteers and insurers were flooded Monday with a last-minute surge of consumers hoping to sign up for health coverage by deadline.

For some, it was a day of waiting and frustration because the federal government’s website for choosing a health plan ground to a halt under the demand of people seeking coverage by the deadline. For others who had been locked out of insurance because of the high cost or a pre-existing condition, the delay was not so bad.

The state’s largest health insurer, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, reported a surge of phone calls to its call center.

“We have seen 127 percent call volume increase,” Mary Danielson, a spokeswoman for Blue Cross Blue Shield, said in an email to The Associated Press. By 2:45 p.m. E.S.T., the insurance company had received 1,857 phone calls compared to 817 calls on the previous Monday, she said.

Certified assisters who help people sign up for coverage were seeing a rising demand for help enrolling, but officials had planned on a last-minute crush of requests, said Teri Woodmore, a spokeswoman for the Tennessee Primary Care Association.

Federal figures show that between Oct. 1 and March 1 there were 77, 867 Tennesseans enrolled in insurance through healthcare.gov.

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