- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:

May 25

Knoxville (Tennessee) News Sentinel on remembering sacrifices of Memorial Day:

Memorial Day is the traditional start of summer, but in addition to the cookouts and boat rides and trips into the mountains, please take time to reflect on the reason for the holiday.

This is the day set aside to honor those who died while in the service of the United States. They are legion.

Since the Battles of Lexington and Concord at the start of the American Revolution, more than 1 million Americans have died while serving in the military during wartime, according to numbers compiled by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Defense Department. No single number, however high it may be, can convey the sacrifices that American service members have made to establish and protect the liberties we all enjoy.

The tradition of decorating the graves of the fallen began in the South after the Civil War, that bloody and terrible conflict that nearly tore the nation asunder. Because this year marks the sesquicentennial of the end of the war, it is fitting that our thoughts turn, for a moment at least, to those whose blood, as President Abraham Lincoln so eloquently put it, consecrated the ground where they fought and died.

In 1868, Gen. John Logan, commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, the fraternal organization for Union veterans, proclaimed May 30 to be Decoration Day. Over time, people began referring to the holiday as Memorial Day. Memorial Day became the official name in 1968, when Congress moved its observance to the last Monday in May.

This year also marks the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. Victory in Europe Day was May 8; Victory over Japan Day is Sept. 2, the date in 1945 on which the Japanese surrendered and the world’s most devastating war came to a close.

Of the 16.1 million Americans who served during World War II, 291,557 died in battle and another 113,846 died while in service during the war. Estimates vary, but about 1 million World War II veterans - the Greatest Generation, to use journalist Tom Brokaw’s phrase - are still alive.

Many in East Tennessee have been honoring the nation’s war dead over the holiday weekend.

At the East Tennessee Veterans Memorial in Knoxville’s World’s Fair Park, volunteers read aloud 6,222 names of men and women from 35 East Tennessee counties who died during active service in the military. Sadly, 22 new names were dedicated at the memorial.

Please take a moment out of this day to remember those who sacrificed everything so we can enjoy our freedoms. Better still, take a moment to pick up some fresh flowers, take them to a cemetery and place them on a veteran’s grave. Though Knoxville National Cemetery in North Knoxville and the state veterans cemeteries on Lyons View Pike and Gov. John Sevier Highway are obvious choices, veterans are buried in most cemeteries in the region.

Do not forget to enjoy this holiday, though. The burgers will be tastier, the lake more refreshing, the mountains more stunning, when we appreciate the many brave men and women who laid down their lives to secure our freedoms. Enjoying our nation’s bounty is one way to honor them.




May 24

The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, Tennessee, on SCS benefit:

Like a lot of other local government bodies here and across America, Shelby County Schools is experiencing a hangover. The cause: trying to finance European-style retiree benefits with American-style taxes.

The medicine won’t be easy to take.

The time has come, however, for board members as well as the Shelby County Commission to consider possible remedies that would reduce a $1.4 billion liability for benefits promised to school district retirees.

A list of steps that need to be taken in that direction starts with an increase in the $30 million a year the district has been devoting to the cost of the health and life insurance it has promised retirees. Experts projecting the future costs of those benefits recommend $120 million a year.

Other suggestions that merit consideration include eliminating coverage of employee spouses. Another idea: eliminating coverage for new employees who would be hired with the understanding that they would be responsible for their own post-employee benefits.

No more popular with retirees and current employees is the option of paying retirees a flat $10 a month for insurance for every year of service, a benefit that would deliver $300 a month to most teachers.

Not among the options is doing nothing. This is the classic case of chickens coming home to roost for a public education system and a local government that has been fair with its employees for the most part without due regard to devoting the resources to finance the approach.

The situation has been aggravated by the Balkanization of the county’s public education system, which now includes seven distinct school districts as a result of the merger of two county school districts and subsequent de-merger by suburban municipalities.

The state’s refusal to fully fund the schools according to the formula prescribed in the state’s Basic Education Plan is another factor.

The situation certainly is an encouragement for SCS to join several other school districts around the state in a lawsuit aimed at forcing Tennessee to adequately fund its schools. That could put another $103 million a year in SCS hands.

It’s a matter of concern for all of the county’s taxpayers, whether they have a direct stake in SCS or not. The state comptroller has suggested that in five years or less, local governments will be responsible for covering post-employment benefits in their annual budgets.

County government is ultimately responsible for SCS and its OPEB liability “as the funder of last resort,” as Shelby County finance director Mike Swift explained during a discussion of the district’s $1.45 billion unfunded obligation, also pointing out that the obligation could drive down the county’s bond rating.

Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell labels SCS OPEB as an albatross hanging around the county’s neck.

It has also been given the proverbial “ticking time bomb” label; when it explodes, it will not be good for Shelby County citizens, the school district or its retirees.

Supt. Dorsey Hopson predicts the debt will rise to $2 billion in five to 10 years if steps aren’t taken to address the issue. The district is on a tight timeline to take action, with the insurance policy year beginning Sept. 1 and open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act kicking off on Oct. 1.

How did this happen? The same way it has happened in city government and elsewhere. It’s the product of a way of doing things that seemed fine at the time - rewarding modestly paid public employees for remaining on the job with the promise of long-term rewards.

Ultimately, a price must be paid for that promise, and the time to begin paying it is now.




May 27

Chattanooga Times Free Press on the climate denial:

Climate denial is passé.

Especially in Tennessee and Hamilton County where the denial that our state and county elected officials seem to really excel at is revenue vs. need.

Several members of Hamilton County’s state legislative delegation defended their ‘just-say-no’ votes and stances on everything from Insure Tennessee to fully funding education to future consideration of gas taxes and sales tax reform.

Their standard answers during a two-hour discussion Tuesday with the Times Free Press involving Sens. Bo Watson and Todd Gardenhire, along with Reps. Gerald McCormick, Patsy Hazlewood and JoAnne Favors, was best summed up by Rep. Watson:

“Everyone seems to want to make this a revenue problem. It’s not. Growing our economy should add revenue (rather than raising taxes),” said Watson, adding that the state’s budget is currently based on a 3.7 percent increase in revenue from one of the best state economy-growth periods in years.

“But cost is outstripping” that revenue, he said. Primarily thanks or no thanks to health care costs.

It’s plain. Dollars and cents denial.

Watson and Gardenhire voted in committee to kill Insure Tennessee — Gov. Bill Haslam’s negotiated Tennessee version of the Affordable Care Act — you know, Obamacare, that would have paid for all of the costs of Tennessee’s expansion of Medicaid for two years and 90 percent or less of the costs thereafter to give health insurance the state’s 280,000 working poor who make too much to receive TennCare but still aren’t offered workplace insurance and can’t afford to buy separate commercial insurance.

Their excuse? Because of you folks out in readerland who “don’t understand” Insure Tennessee and because we “can’t trust the federal government.” Denial. It’s important to note here that McCormick carried the Insure Tennessee bill for Gov. Haslam and still believes the state should have taken the federal government’s guaranteed $22.5 billion. Hazlewood and Favors — like the rest of the General Assembly — didn’t get an opportunity to vote on the measure because it was killed in committee.

What about education? This is where Hamilton County leaders join the league of deniers, but first — our state lawmakers:

Gardenhire wants to hold schools accountable for students who graduate high school but aren’t college ready. If they go to college and have to pay for remedial classes, he wants the school system they graduated from to have to pay for those college remedial classes. Frankly, that’s a fine idea, except that part of the reason the kids are not college ready is because we haven’t fully funded education (through the Better Education Program or BEP) even to the level the state has already said was necessary. And McCormick and Watson maintain that some counties, including Hamilton, that have sued the state to get that full funding are “really just suing taxpayers.”

“If they are successful, it will destroy the state budget,” Watson said.

Meanwhile, in the Hamilton County Courthouse, Mayor Jim Coppinger is awaiting word from the county Board of Education after he asked the board for “a school budget with no increased revenue.”

“We’re not going to raise property taxes,” Coppinger said. “I’ve always said time and time again, it would only be a last resort to raise property taxes.”

This after Hamilton County Schools Superintendent Rick Smith toured the county with 11 public meetings making a case to add art and foreign language instruction in elementary grades and giving teachers a 5 percent pay increase. Smith noted this could be done with a 40-cent property tax increase that would add about $150 a year in taxes on the county’s average $150,000 home.

Employers are begging local leaders to improve education in Hamilton County — those same employers, by the way, who bring and keep jobs in Tennessee to grow the economy that Watson says should fuel revenue, rather than taxes.

Yes, folks. What we have here are so-called leaders of the state and county stripe engaging in revenue, taxes and need denial. So much so, that they don’t even want to say the word “tax.”

Instead, their message is this: We don’t have a revenue problem. Our problem is you people — you keep coming up with needs, and you need too much.



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