- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

April 5

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on Gov. Haslam showing more leadership than legislators:

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam listened to reason and constituents to arrive at his decision last week to restore funding for case management services for some of the state’s most troubled residents. The same cannot be said for some of his fellow Republicans in the state Senate, who ignored both reason and public opinion in once again voting down the governor’s Insure Tennessee proposal.

Haslam included the restoration of funding for Level 2 case management services in additions made last week to his $33.3 billion budget proposal for 2015-16. The governor’s office said the bulk of the $330 million in new revenues comes from one-time sources.

Haslam wisely reconsidered cuts that would have curtailed Level 2 case management services, which are provided to as many as 50,000 adults with serious and persistent mental illness. The Bureau of TennCare estimated that enough clients would no longer qualify for the services to save the state $30 million - $10 million in state money and $20 million in federal matching funds.

People receiving Level 2 case management services typically have been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other serious mental illnesses. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, such patients are more likely to keep taking the medications that allow them to cope with their conditions. The risk of patients being in accidents, becoming homeless or turning violent is much greater if they stop taking their medications.

By restoring the funding, the administration is keeping a promise made upon the 2012 closure of state-run Lakeshore Mental Health Institute to ramp up case management services.

The Haslam administration split the funding between recurring money - funds that should be available year after year - and one-time sources. That means that more recurring funding needs to be found to avoid cuts in the next budget cycle.

The proposal earmarks $30 million in recurring money for increasing the state’s share of health insurance coverage for K-12 teachers under the budget amendment.

One-time revenues totaling $300 million would go to a host of projects and uses, including $120 million for the state’s share of a new $160 million Tennessee State Museum, $40 million to complete renovations to the Cordell Hull building and $17 million for maintenance, improvements and equipment for higher education and technical training. The proposal sets aside $50 million for economic development projects and doubles the amount set aside for cash reserves.

According to the administration, the windfall is the result of increased franchise and excise tax collections related to “an usual one-time event,” other revenues and savings.

The Republican governor’s flexibility and willingness to make adjustments in the best interest of Tennesseans stands in stark contrast with the GOP lawmakers who scuttled a second attempt to pass Insure Tennessee.

Insure Tennessee would have extended health care coverage to an estimated 280,000 low-income residents, most of them the working poor, at no cost to the state. A Republican-dominated committee nixed the proposal during a special session in February, sparking widespread outrage.

Democratic Sen. Jeff Yarbro of Nashville revived the effort in the regular session, but the Senate Commerce Committee shot it down last week. Sen. Ken Yager, R-Kingston, commendably voted to approve Insure Tennessee, joining Republican Sen. Doug Overbey of Maryville and Sens. Richard Briggs and Becky Massey of Knoxville in supporting the governor’s proposal.

The lawmakers who voted down Insure Tennessee failed the people of the Volunteer State. Haslam, in contrast, continues to show principled leadership through sensible, responsible solutions that benefit all Tennesseans.




April 6

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on D.C. being a political pinata:

The District of Columbia has long been a political piñata for ideological members of Congress who aspire to loftier office.

The potential candidates can impose their beliefs without fear on the capital’s citizens, who, having no meaningful vote, have no means of retaliating at the polls.

The appearance of adherence to principle plays well with the folks back home, and since most voters don’t care about the everyday doings of Washington as a city, it doesn’t hurt them in the more reasonable primary states.

Two lawmakers who regularly proclaim the superior wisdom of local government and the necessity of the federal government meddling in their affairs have decided that these principles stop at the D.C. line.

Congressional conservatives have earlier blocked the local government’s plans for needle exchanges, in a city with a high rate of HIV; to legalize medical marijuana; and to use public money to pay for abortions despite the high rate of teen pregnancy among the city’s poor.

Even now, conservative members of Congress are gearing up to overturn a D.C. voter-approved initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Conservative Republicans have threatened jail time for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser if she implements the initiative. So much for the primacy of local government.

Oddly, the federal lawmakers have not exhibited the same legal umbrage against the 23 states, including the entire West Coast, that have legalized marijuana for medical and/or recreational use. A bill that would allow the use of medical marijuana is moving through the Tennessee General Assembly.

Likely presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., and Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, have joined forces to repeal the district’s gun law restrictions, meaning concealed carry of weapons for all.

GOP presidential candidate Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas has announced his intention to overturn local D.C. laws having to do with gay rights, birth control and abortion.

Repealing the gun laws would be an interesting and perhaps deadly experiment. But Congress already has a testing lab for the unimpeded carrying of firearms in the capital - the 274-acre complex of the U.S. Capitol itself, which contains both houses of Congress, the congressional office buildings, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the botanical gardens and the Capitol power plant.

Try to carry a weapon anywhere in those confines and you’ll be lucky if the confiscation of your gun is the only thing that happens to you. The Capitol police have their own holding cells, but if it’s another federal agency, you might wind up in the D.C. jail, by all accounts a no-fun experience.

It’s only fair that the residents of the District of Columbia say to Congress: “If the unlimited right to concealed carry of semi-automatic weapons is such a good idea, you go first.”




April 7

Paris (Tennessee) Post-Intelligencer on online sales tax:

Finally, Tennessee may be getting around to seeing that online retailers from out of state pay the same kind of taxes that in-state companies do.

Out-of-state companies now pay a business tax only if they have a “physical presence” in Tennessee.

Online sales by companies out of state continue to grow, but many of these firms pay no business or sales taxes.

That puts Tennessee firms at a competitive disadvantage, paying taxes that others do not.

A bill named the Revenue Modernization Act was initiated by the governor’s office to level the playing field.

That level field applies to buyers as well as sellers. It would require out-of-state companies to collect a sales tax from Tennessee consumers who buy their services. Twenty other states have that kind of rule.

“Every year, more and more, as a percentage of total sales, online is getting a bigger market share,” a Nashville CPA told The Tennessean in Nashville. “If they do nothing, they will watch their sales tax revenue erode over time.”

But it may be easier to pass such a tax than to enforce it.

“Finding these people may be difficult,” a tax attorney said. “Most of the smaller businesses will not file Tennessee returns.”

At least, the legislature will be doing its part if it passes this proposal. The law should treat all retailers the same.



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