- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

Aug. 19

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee on Gov. Bill Haslam considering outsourcing management of government facilities:

At first blush, we find it a little alarming that Gov. Bill Haslam is considering outsourcing management of government facilities from Mountain City to Memphis.

Yet, we recognize the governor’s duty to find fiscally efficient ways to operate the state.

Before he embarks on this initiative, though, we hope he keeps his promise to do so in an open manner and that he presents a clear case to Tennesseans that such a move will actually save money.

The Haslam administration has been quietly moving to privatize the management and operations of practically all state government buildings and facilities, including state parks, not already outsourced to the international property management behemoth Jones Lang LaSalle.

Besides the parks, the initiative would include the management and operations of state colleges and universities, prisons and National Guard armories.

We find the plan a bit alarming because planning for such a sweeping change in the administration of state government had taken place behind the scenes with vendors without any public discussion from the governor or his administrators.

The plans first surfaced publicly with a “Request for Information for Facilities Management Outsourcing” posted Aug. 11 on a state Department of General Services website viewed mainly by potential contractors.

We also are mindful of the criticism leveled at Haslam two years ago for turning a $1 million contract with Jones Lang LaSalle to assess the condition of six state office buildings into a multimillion-dollar contract outsourcing the operation of several office buildings housing the central offices of several state agencies to the same company.

In Memphis, that assessment resulted in the state abandoning the Donnelley J. Hill State Office Building, after it was determined that because it was functionally obsolete, it would be cheaper to consider leasing space for the 900 employees who worked in the building. Some employees who worked there questioned that assessment.

We agree with the governor that it is the state’s job to provide “the very best services we can at the very lowest cost to taxpayers” and not to create jobs. However, there needs to be a real balance between fiscal conservatism and the general well-being of people.

By that we mean that outsourcing frequently results in layoffs or workers laboring for less money with fewer benefits. In some cases, companies even reduce workers’ hours as a way to get around paying some benefits.

When employees’ salaries drop and benefits are reduced, it causes fiscal hardships that result in them spending less on goods and services, generating less in sales taxes. They sometimes lose their homes. Some are forced to seek public assistance.

So, while privatization may save money on the front end, it could end up costing the state more on the back end.




Aug. 17

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on state regulations for coal ash sites:

The Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation has taken meaningful action to protect the public and the environment from coal ash mishaps at Tennessee Valley Authority power plants across the state.

The new regulations are more stringent than federal rules issued last year, and should provide another measure of safety to ensure an incident like the 2008 ash spill at TVA’s Kingston Fossil Plant does not happen again.

TDEC issued a Commissioner’s Order that directs the investigation, assessment and remediation of all coal ash sites, which are regulated as landfills by the state.

The order from Commissioner Robert J. Martineau Jr. encompasses all areas where coal ash has been deposited, including permitted landfills, landfills that existed before they were regulated and all surface water impoundments that contain ash.

The order specifically mentions the Allen, Cumberland, Johnsonville, Kingston, Bull Run, John Sevier and Watts Bar fossil plants. TDEC will set up a process with TVA in which TDEC will oversee TVA implementation of the federal coal ash rules and make sure TVA also meets state rules and regulations.

The order outlines a transparent process for TVA to follow, a move that should reassure people living near the plants. The federal utility will have to provide public notice on the examinations of its ash storage sites and any corrective actions taken, and a chance for the public to comment.

“Allowing the public input into the site investigation, assessment and remediation process is important to the quality of the final outcome at each site,” TDEC Deputy Commissioner Shari Meghreblian said in a statement.

Under the order, TVA would face fines if it fails to comply with requirements. These include $5,000 per each noncompliance and $1,000 for each day until it is remedied. The state could also assess further civil penalties.

The enhanced oversight is a direct result of the catastrophic Kingston spill, which dumped 5.4 million cubic yards of coal ash into the Emory River and the Swan Pond community of Roane County in December 2008. No one died in the spill, but several houses were damaged or destroyed.

The massive cleanup effort included river dredging, construction of a 13-mile containment wall - the longest ever built in the U.S. - a workforce approaching 1,000 at one point and the delivery of 414 trainloads of coal ash to an approved landfill in Alabama.

The cleanup, which took six years and officially ended in January, cost $1.134 billion. To pay for the work, TVA’s nearly 9 million ratepayers will have a 59-cent surcharge tacked on to on their monthly power bills until 2024.

TVA is moving from wet storage to dry storage at its steam plants, but TDEC’s action means that all its older sites will have to be inspected and brought up to EPA and state standards if necessary.

TDEC is to be commended for taking this meaningful step to protect public health and the environment.




Aug. 15

Chattanooga (Tennessee) Times Free Press, on partisanship within state’s Legislature:

Earlier this year, Tennesseans were cheated by Republican controlled legislative committees that refused to allow the state’s General Assembly to even take a vote on Republican Gov. Bill Haslam’s negotiated health care program called Insure Tennessee. The problem was purely partisan politics - our super-majority Republican Legislature torpedoed Haslam’s custom Tennessee program because it would participate in the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

Never mind that Haslam’s plan would have helped nearly 300,000 low-income but working Tennesseans gain health insurance. And never mind that his plan would have infused Tennessee’s budget with a guaranteed $22.5 billion in federal tax dollars we’ve already paid to help Tennessee extend that help to our poor and working neighbors.

In coming legislative sessions, it appears the Tennessee GOP is eager to repeat its partisan and myopic dollars-and-cents denial.

Haslam has been speeding along on a 15-stop transportation funding tour this week, working to build public momentum for new transportation revenue. But his fellow GOPers in the state House and Senate are already slamming on the brakes. The word on the street is that this proposal faces a replay of the Insure Tennessee non-vote vote.

In other words, look for another legislative committee to throttle common-sense progress and throw it into a trash can without even a full General Assembly debate - much less a vote.

Never mind that Tennessee’s growing population, increased transportation needs, a $6 billion highway project backlog and stagnated gas tax revenues - combined with similar denials of national transportation funding needs - are leaving our roads and bridges to crumble.

Instead, state Republicans seem to only see everything in GOP red and Democrat blue. Or put another way, the GOP says no to everything that isn’t a gun.

The GOP’s “no” mentality was the bottom line in a message being carried around the state this week by members of the Democratic Caucus.

“We have a super-majority that still seems to view itself as the opposition party,” said Sen. Jeff Yarbro, Democratic Caucus chairman.

The end result is that state Republicans now seem so wedded to polarization and fighting “government” that they’ve lost sight of the fact that they are senators and representatives because we voted them in to be our government. And that means we expect them to govern.

To quote a phrase from Yarbro (who’s only a first-term legislator, and therefore still fresh enough to be idealistic): “We end up having the wrong fights about ‘more’ or ‘less,’ instead of ‘better.’”

It reminds us of wonderful tributes earlier this year to the late Howard Baker, a Tennessee Republican and politician with the respectful legacy of the “Great Conciliator” because of Baker’s knack for achieving bipartisan negotiation to bring breakthrough change.

During those many Baker tributes, one Republican politician after another said we need more senators and representatives like him.

It’s a pity none of them really seems to want to be like him.



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