- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

March 31

The Post-Intelligencer, Paris, Tenn., on executions costing more than prison:

The leading killer of inmates on Tennessee’s death row is neither injection nor electrocution. It’s natural causes.

Since the state resumed the death penalty in 2000 after 40 years without it, nine death row inmates have died of natural causes and one committed suicide. Six were executed.

Supporters and opponents of the death penalty alike find evidence in these numbers to support their positions.

Those who believe the death penalty deters crime say the problem is the lengthy appeals process open to condemned prisoners. Cases typically drag on for years as appeal after appeal work their way through state and federal courts.

Sentences of the 76 now on Tennessee’s death row date to 1978.

Those who consider the death penalty cruel and unusual punishment point out that providing for those on death row is more expensive than sentences of life without parole.

The reason for multiple appeals is the dread of executing an innocent person, and the state has every reason to go to extra lengths to avoid that. Sometimes the appeals lead to exoneration.

If Tennessee were to outlaw the death penalty, the need for the extensive appeals would vanish.

The crucial point is that the death penalty, once carried out, can’t be reversed. It’s too late then to say, “Oops.”

Future generations will likely see the injection gurney and the electric chair as the moral equivalent of hanging or the guillotine. They belong in the history books.




April 1

The Tennessean, Nashville, Tenn., on state being a political test tube for Koch brothers:

By the time this session of the Tennessee General Assembly comes to an end, Tennesseans understandably should feel a little like the animals used in laboratory experiments - at least the ones that survive.

Our state, thanks to the dominance of a single political party, has been selected for a series of not-so-scientific experiments. The objective? Whatever Charles and David Koch want it to be.

The billionaire Kochs do not live in Tennessee and never have. That is not important, as they, through their group Americans For Prosperity (AFP), and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), also not Tennessee-based, are increasingly deciding what laws the General Assembly should impose on the people of our state.

The Kochs are famous nationally for using their fortunes to advance causes that promote their interests or simply their philosophy, and increasingly they are getting involved in state legislatures. Invariably, their agenda is anti-worker protections, anti-environmental regulation, anti-health care reform. In other words, “anti-” the kinds of laws that majorities of Americans tend to support. And ALEC’s lobbyists have been busy in Tennessee for a few years now, usually drafting so-called model legislation such as the failed attempt to emulate Arizona’s unconstitutional 2010 immigration reforms and trying to spread fear of Muslims with anti-Shariah legislation.

The force of the Kochs came down last week when the Tennessee Senate voted to stop Nashville’s Amp project. StopAmp.org Inc. publicly thanked AFP for its help. Regardless of what you think of the pricey and controversial bus rapid-transit project, such out-of-state interference is troubling, because it supersedes local knowledge and authority on either side of the issue.

Apparently, there is more to come. AFP’s state director, Andrew Ogles, says that “Tennessee is a great state to pass model legislation that can be leveraged in other states.” Such words give no assurance these organizations care whether the laws that are passed help or hurt Tennesseans. They just need an easy “win” so that they can boost their influence against elected officials elsewhere.

A chief casualty of their success is likely to be local autonomy - a principle that used to be celebrated by Tennessee Republicans, until they found the supermajorities allowed them to forgo principles.

How these leaders can trample local government while complaining of being overrun by federal authority themselves requires a high level of myopia.




March 28

Jackson (Tenn.) Sun on budget cuts:

Tuesday is April Fools’ Day, but what Gov. Bill Haslam will be offering up is no joke. Haslam must make last-minute adjustments to his proposed $32.6 billion 2014-15 state budget, and the adjustments, in this case, will not be good news. State revenue collections are significantly behind 2013-14 budget projections. That shortfall must be made up through adjustment to next year’s budget. Where will the cuts come from?

State revenue is running about $260 million behind budget estimates. The state funding board made some adjustments earlier this year, but a shortfall of $125 million to $150 million still is needed.

Lawmakers are bracing for Haslam’s recommendations because they likely will impact constituents. Among items that could be on the chopping block are eliminating state employee raises and reducing higher education funding. Hitting state employees in the pocketbook and reducing higher education funding, which leads to higher tuition rates, hit constituents hard. And that is not something lawmakers want to do in an election year. Still, the cuts have to be made.

Cutting state spending and reducing state taxes are always popular topics when politicians run for office. But this week is when the cut spending/lower taxes rhetoric meets reality. Somebody has to pay for state government, or services and benefits must be cut.

Among Haslam’s proposals during his State of the State address this year, he pledged to give teachers a raise to make their wages the fastest rising in the nation. That will be hard to do along with cutting raises for state workers. Another hot topic for Haslam has been higher education and the need to put more degrees into the hands of more Tennesseans. Again, the problem is how to pay for that. Raising college tuition only makes achieving that goal harder, even unlikely.

One thing we likely can count on is that state lawmakers are unlikely to put up much of a fight to Haslam’s proposed cuts and replace them with their own. That only would put them on the same hot seat with Haslam. And, remember, it’s an election year.

Stay tuned for Tuesday’s budget cut announcements to see how they mesh with lawmakers’ past rhetoric about tax cuts and spending priorities. It should be interesting.



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