Sunday, March 30, 2003

As He Was Saying ...

Part 2 of the Flyer's interview with Governor Phil Bredesen.

Posted By on Sun, Mar 30, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Flyer: What was behind your recent proposal for delaying implementation of the state lottery's scholarship criteria for a year?

Bredesen: What I'm saying is that I think it is vitally important that we act like we know what we're doing and run this in a businesslike fashion. And that if we make commitments to families about what we're going to do for them, if they geta B average or a B-minus average or whatever it is, that we be prepared to honor those commitments.

When I started looking at the lottery in detail, which was after the budget had been sent to the printers and I had been asked by a couple of reporters to weigh in on a few of these details, I sort of looked around and thought, You know, these revenue estimates are very soft. [W]hat I said was,Why do you have to do it at all. Go ahead, implement the lottery, set the thing up. We can get it under way and next year we come back and revisit the issue of how much the scholarships and exactly what the terms of the scholarships are. Because you can still issue scholarships in September of 2004, they've got plenty of time to do that. And you're going to have two or three or four or five months of the lottery under your belt at that point.

[T]he conservative Republicans have some nonnegotiable demands about the way the lottery stuff has to be put out, and they won't go for implementation of the lottery absent knowing how all that stuff is going to work. So, fine. That may mean it doesn't work that way. But it certainly seems to me a reasonable, businesslike suggestion to make to the leadership.

In particular, how much you're going to give them and what are the rules for getting it. You can't make those decisions in a vacuum without knowing how much money you're planning to spend on them. If I say the scholarship is $4,000 and it's a three-point grade average, and it's the same amount of money for private and public schools, that gives you a different number than if I say it's $3,000 and it's a 2.75 grade point average.

There's a bill to bring the Med in Memphis, a 501C3 institution, under the liability limitations of 100 percent government hospitals. What's your attitude toward that?

I'm supporting it. The basic idea is the Med is even more than a quasi-governmental entity. It's got deep links to government. Other hospitals with less clear links to government -- to wit, Erlanger in Chattanooga -- have used their links to bring themselves under the limitation on awards that governments enjoy. Which is what now? $325,000 or something like that? It's a relatively small number. Since the Med is a serious hospital with one of the most serious emergency rooms in the United States, they have lots of potential for malpractice awards. If they could get a limitation they would save a lot of money. They estimate $2 million on their malpractice insurance costs.

If the hospital were just flat owned by county government, there'd be no question about it. They'd be subject to those limitations. Other hospitals with a connection, like Erlanger, which have boards appointed by the county mayor or something like that, have done private acts and gotten themselves included. And the Med has probably got more of a case to make than Erlanger. And I believe the one in Jackson has got the same situation. They should have done it years ago. It's not something new. But this year they've got a fiscal crisis, and they're making lists of things to do that can help them out. That's one they could clearly do to help them out, and I think it's fine. I'm supportive of it.

What's your take on the current welter of tort reform bills?

We have not yet had outrageous kinds of malpractice awards in Tennessee. Some malpractice rates have grown in anticipation that we could be next. That isn't necessarily to me reason to rush off and change the law. As I said during the campaign, I'm sensitive to it.

Do you regard the doctors' warnings as overheated?

They're seeing increases in their malpractice costs. No question about that. Number One: It's happening all over the country. Insurance rates in general are soaring these last couple of years. Number Two: The doctor-owned insurance company with which most of them have their insurance also paid out a huge amount of its capital in dividends the past couple of years. So, in other words, they're giving money back over here and charging some more back in premiums over here. Number Three: I don't see the evidence of those huge awards. You can't go pointing to those huge awards. In fact, Tennessee juries are proving remarkably conservative about this kind of stuff. I'm just saying I'd like to see a lot more evidence. You've got to diagnose the disease before you write the prescription. And I don't feel that I've diagnosed the disease yet. On the malpractice insurance costs, several things could be at the root of that other than crazy juries and greedy lawyers making doctors go out of business. We'll take a serious look at it. If it takes action, we'll propose it.

Wednesday, March 26, 2003

CITY BEAT

Property taxes are increasingly paying the cost of government.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 26, 2003 at 4:00 AM

HEAVY LIFTERS Property-tax payers, brace yourself.

Your share of the tax load is increasing, and it will get heavier if present trends continue and some new proposed tax-break policies are put in place to fight the war on blight downtown and the war on empty space in eastern Shelby County.

There are 280,756 residential parcels in Shelby County (and 25,925 commercial and industrial parcels). Their owners pay a combined city and county property tax rate that ranges from $3.79 in Lakeland, which has no city property tax, to $7.02 in Memphis, which has the biggest in the state. The rate in Nashville, for comparison, is $4.58.

In 1996, Shelby County got 50 percent of its revenue from the property tax. Now, the property-tax share is 62 percent. There is no reason to think that number won't keep climbing when the city of Memphis and Shelby County adopt their budgets later this year. As Flyer political columnist Jackson Baker reported last week, Governor Phil Bredesen is dead serious about cutting state revenues to counties. Shelby County currently gets 12 percent of its revenue from the state. The federal government's share, also likely to decrease due to the war in Iraq and the cost of fighting terrorism, is only 3 percent.

Meanwhile, two expanded tax-incentive programs are in the works or have been approved within the past year.

One, via the Memphis and Shelby County Idustrial Development Board (IDB), gives tax freezes to existing unoccupied offices and warehouses. Under the old rules, tax credits could only be given to companies that occupied new buildings. But speculation and overbuilding by developers in the 1990s created a surplus of empty space in so-called second-generation buildings.

The other, via the Center City Commission, would create a "tax-increment financing" district, or TIF, in much of downtown and part of Midtown. The theory of a TIF is that public investment sparks growth in the area that wouldn't have happened otherwise. The additional tax revenue that comes from the growth is dedicated to pay for the public improvements specifically within the TIF instead of mixing with general public funds.

So far, so good. But the history of tax incentives in Memphis and Shelby County for the last 20 years or so has shown that incentives tend to become entitlements. In other words, they are taken for granted and handed out generously to the deserving and not-so-deserving as Applicant A scrambles to keep up with Applicant B and so on.

If the second-generation principle catches fire in the suburbs, there could be a parade of lawyers and developers seeking tax breaks from the Industrial Development Board to level the playing field with competitors. The board, it should be noted, has recently shown signs of toughening its standards to punish or deny companies that promise more jobs and benefits than they deliver. But it's too early to say whether or not the liberalized second generation incentives will work the way they're supposed to.

The Center City Commission, on the other hand, can more accurately forecast the success of the proposed TIF district. The future "growth" in tax revenue is already in the cards. It comes in the form of expiring tax freezes that were granted 15-25 years ago. When the Rivermark, for example, starts paying property taxes, it's not exactly new growth. The building, once a Holiday Inn, is nearly 40 years old. The owner's tax freeze has simply run its course.

Incentives have their limits. The Sterick Building and other abandoned, once prominent office buildings and much of the Main Street Mall have defied 25 years of downtown revival. And, with the exception of AutoZone, subsidies have not lured a single large corporate employer to downtown.

Instead, the result has been a mixed bag of prizes, ugly ducklings, and oddities in the Center City Commission's real estate inventory. Also, the "center city" boundaries extend farther than you might think. Properties getting tax breaks in the name of downtown redevelopment include Malco's Studio on the Square in Overton Square, the Applebee's restaurant at 2114 Union Avenue, a Church's Fried Chicken at 925 Poplar, and a cluster of 20 apartment buildings in the 2200 block of South Parkway East.

In all, according to Chandler Reports, there are 254 properties to which the Memphis Center City Revenue Finance Corporation holds title. They include The Peabody and Marriott hotels, several apartments on Mud Island, the Morgan Keegan and AutoZone office buildings, various restaurants, and some eyesores. Their total appraised value, according to the Shelby County Assessor's Office, is $538 million. The property taxes on that would be $15 million a year if they were on the tax rolls.

Two big-ticket downtown public projects the FedExForum and the expansion of the convention center are not being paid for with property taxes. Their financing comes from several sources, including tax surcharges on hotel rooms, rental cars, event sales, downtown entertainment, and state government. With those sources tapped out, the property tax is left to pay for everyday public expenses such as police protection and schools.

Few people would trade the downtown of 20 years ago for the downtown of today, just as no one would deny the explosion of growth and wealth in eastern Shelby County. The question for policymakers is whether the same thing can be said of other parts of the city and county that don't directly benefit from incentives. And when is enough enough?

Monday, March 24, 2003

DOGS, PONIES, AND DEMOCRATS

DOGS, PONIES, AND DEMOCRATS

Posted By on Mon, Mar 24, 2003 at 4:00 AM

DOGS, PONIES, AND DEMOCRATS “Political bullshit,” scoffed Willie Herenton about some of the machinations going on during the Shelby County Democratic Party’s preliminary caucuses at Hamtilton High School Saturday. The caucuses were to select delegates for the party’s April 12th convention, which will elect a chairperson and new executive committee, and His Honor was on hand to show the flag for the current chair, Gale Jones Carson, who doubles as his press secretary. A few minutes later, however, Herenton was prompted to a more sober assessment by an encounter with an angry attendee, whose support for Carson’s opponent, State Rep. Kathryn Bowers, was fueled , as she made clear, by her anger toward the mayor himself. Sitting down on a ramshackle row of auditorium seats (two of them had collapsed only minutes before), Herenton shook his head and repeated several times, “If somebody wants to get at me, they can get on a ballot.” Around him and throughout the school auditorium, clumps of would-be delegates -- some for Carson, some for Bowers, some discreetly keeping their own counsel -- were jockeying for positions in their district delegations. A red-dot sticker meant Carson, a yellow rectangle meant Bowers, and the state rep, who was reported to have wide support from her delegation peers, seemed to have something of an edge. There was a large third force of formally uncommitted people brought to the event by State Rep. Carol Chumney, current chair of the Shelby County legislative delegation and a stated neutral. Chumney thereby positoned herself to be a power broker on April 12th -- and thereafter -- and conceivably could end up being a compromise candidate herself. If Herenton was prominent by his presence, another major political figure was prominent by his absence. This was U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr, who figured as a luminary on both sides of the contest. Virtually every one of the congressman’s better-known cadres was employed on Bowers’ behalf--and three, David Upton, John Freeman, and State Senator Roscoe Dixon, functioned as the principals of her command-and-control center. Not only was the Ford organization so deployed, word was that the congressman himself had, early on, encouraged Bowers. Indeed, it was hard to imagine any of his prominent supporters taking on such a conspicuous political mission on their own tack -- especially not Freeman, a loyal factotum who has, he acknowledged, been on the congressman’s campaign payroll for lo, these last several weeks. Notoriously, the Ford arsenal doesn’t contain loose pistols. But, in an astonishing development -- connected, it would seem, with the onset of war in Iraq and Ford’s preoccupation with that -- the congressman made a point in the last few days of dissociating himself from the local contest. He even became sufficiently alarmed at early media reports of his people’s efforts for Bowers as to exert himself -- despite the fact that no reporter had ever even mentioned his name -- to deny his own involvement. That took the extreme form of calling up Carson and offering her his support and making explicit statements to The Flyer to that effect. It is fair to say that Carson’s people were grateful and Ford’s own supporters were mystified -- though the latter, once they had regained their breath, predicted that no votes would be turned by the congressman’s nominal assurances to Carson and then renewed and even redoubled their effort on Bowers’ behalf. It certainly remained the case that Ford loyalists were a major component of Bowers’ support. Others backing her were several fellow legislators from Shelby County, other public officials like County Assessor Rita Clark, Democrats still smoldering over Herenton’s support last fall of Republican senatorial candidate Lamar Alexander, and perhaps a few potential delegates out of sorts with the mayor over some issue like his open feud with the city school board. To be sure, the political cleavages were too diverse to justify treating the showdown which commenced Saturday and will culminate on April 12th as some narrow Herenton-Ford struggle -- especially in light of the congressman’s unusual actions. Still the rosters were familiar, and the mayor’s people -- Sidney Chism, Chuck Taylor, Nate Jackson, and Rich Fields, among others -- had tactical duties for Carson that were similar to their Ford counterparts’ effort on Bowers’ behalf. For all the new dogs and ponies of this show -- and irrespective of Harold Ford Jr.’s curious tightrope act -- it was to large degree the same old same old, the familiar political circus. And that, to appropriate Mayor Herenton’s vernacular of Saturday, is no bullshit.

Friday, March 21, 2003

REP. FORD TO BACK CARSON

REP. FORD TO BACK CARSON

Posted By on Fri, Mar 21, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Whatever the political credentials of the Democrats backing State Rep. Kathryn Bowers for the chairmanship of the Shelby County Democratic Party -- and longtime Ford-family partisans are prominent among them -- they do not number in their ranks U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr.. In a call to the Flyer Thursday, the congressman pronounced himself concerned primarily with the fact that "the country is at war" and expressed support for the current party chairman, Gale Jones Carson. "I think she's done a damn good job, and I plan to support her," Ford declared -- clearly at some pains to dissociate himself from those among his political allies who are backing Rep. Bowers. Though rumors of Bowers' candidacy have been surfacing for some time, and Carson was quoted by Flyer columnist John Branston this week as attributing the potential move to the Ford political faction, the first overt move on Bowers' behalf was made in an emailed communication on Bowers' behalf by longtime Ford factotum John Freeman addressed to Shelby County Democrats. Carson expressed gratitude Thursday that she had apparently earned Rep. Ford's endorsement for her reelection but said she had cautioned the congressman that persons identified with his political organization had "used his name" in trying to drum up support for Bowers. She specified several -- including Freeman, activist David Upton, lawyer David Cocke, and notably State Senator Roscoe Dixon, a longtime Ford ally who "dumps on Gale every chance he has."

Thursday, March 20, 2003

BOWERS TO OPPOSE CARSON FOR DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN

BOWERS TO OPPOSE CARSON FOR DEMOCRATIC CHAIRMAN

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Even as the nation becomes involved in major international hostilities, local pols have started their own war, for control of the Shelby County Democratic Party-- and, though it may be (nay, is) small potatoes compared to the war on Iraq, the local rumble, too, is aimed at displacing a leader. In this case, State Rep. Kathryn Bowers is now the officially designated candidate of a Fordite/legislative coalition to oust local Democratic chair Gale Jones Carson. Though negotiations to this end have been proceeding some time -- both in Memphis and in Nashville, where House Speaker Pro Tem Lois DeBerry was also solicited as a candidate-- the anti-Jones faction and Bowers didn’t make their final compact until this week. (As a report in this week’s Flyer by my colleague John Branston indicates, however, Carson was well aware of the preliminary maneuvering.) The prominence of Ford partisans in the effort to depose Carson, who doubles as press secretary to Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, a longtime rival of the Ford political faction, was made clear in the first official salvo of the Bowers campaign, a letter to local Democrats from longtime Ford factotum John Freeman announcing her candidacy and a breakfast meeting to support her. The letter comes on the eve of Saturday’s party caucus at Hamilton High School to elect delegates to the April 12th party convention at the same locale. Another longtime Ford operative involved in the preliminary planning of the Bowers candidacy, David Upton, maintained Wednesday night that Democratic members of the Shelby County legislative delegation were wholeheartedly cooperating in the pro-Bowers, anti-Carson campaign. Inevitably, as Carson suggested to Branston, the contest will be regarded as another shot in the Herenton-Ford war, dormant since the mayor swamped a field including then city councilman (now Shelby County Commissioner) Joe Ford in the mayoral election of 1999. Additional factors which might give impetus to the anti-Carson revolt are discontent at the party's poor showing in last year's countywide election, payback for Herenton's support of Republican Lamar Alexander over Democrat Bob Clement in the U.S. Senate race, and reaction to the mayor's most recent assertiveness on school-board and consolidation matters. Freeman’s letter to Democrats, which has made its way to party members along various well-estalbished email channels, some of them semi-official, follows: Dear Fellow Democrats, As you know, the next two years will determine the future of the Democratic Party in Shelby County and the type of community we will be. It's time to elect a new Democratic Party Chair and County Committee for Shelby County, and we hope you come and show your support for the Party and State Representative Kathryn Bowers. Kathryn has served us in the legislature since 1994, and was recently elected as the Majority Whip for the House Democratic Caucus. Her ability to bring citizens, elected officials, labor, business and religious leaders together around issues that unite us is exactly what we need as we prepare for the 2004 presidential elections. Bowers for Chair Campaign Breakfast Please join us this Saturday, March 22nd at 9:30 a.m. at a breakfast rally we are having in support of her candidacy. The event will be held at Hamilton High School cafeteria. Immediately following the breakfast, please join us at the County Democratic Convention Precinct Caucus Meeting at 10:00 a.m. in the school's auditorium. It's very important that we elect delegates from every precinct in Shelby County, who will be supportive of Kathryn Bowers' candidacy and leadership. These delegates will return on Saturday, April 12th to elect the County Democratic Committee and Rep. Kathryn Bowers as Chair of the Party. Directions Hamilton High School is at 1306 East Person which is at the corner of East Person and Elvis Presley and across from Forest Hill Cemetery. If you are able to serve as a precinct leader for Kathryn or can bring a friend or family member to the event, please call John Freeman at 596-8846 and give her your name and address to receive your place and assignment. We need your suggestions, thoughts and assistance concerning this election, the needs of the Party and the role of the new Chair and County Committee in directing its future. Please join us and show your support this Saturday morning, March 22 at 9:30 a.m. Your participation will be greatly appreciated.

POLITICS

Governor Phil Bredesen puts the brakes on state spending Ð big-time.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 20, 2003 at 4:00 AM

A NEW BALL GAME Tennessee’s new governor, former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen, was careful during his campaign last year against Republican Van Hilleary not to promise anything but a determination to “manage” the state’s difficult financial predicament. How much worse it was than he foresaw became obvious, he says, shortly after his inauguration in January, when budget shortages amounting to half a billion dollars turned up. This was despite the passage last year -- during the waning days of the administration of Republican Governor Don Sundquist, an income-tax advocate -- of a sales tax increase, designed to net a billion dollars, presumably enough to catch the state up with its obligations. What Democrat Bredesen did, after a series of highly public meetings with his cabinet, was decree a 9 percent across-the-board cut in state spending -- excepting only TennCare and K-12 education and a few like programs and including the heretofore sacrosanct state roadbuilding funds and the state-shared funds normally returned to local governments, themselves needy. So far at least, Bredesen is enjoying a honeymoon with the legislature -- both houses and both parties. After a visit to Memphis’ Autozone Park on Friday, March 14, during which he continued his tireless advocacy of his unprecedentedly austere state budget, Tennessee’s surprising new governor sat down with The Flyer and discussed the reasons for his live-within-your-means budget strategy What follows is a sampling from that Q and A: Why was the need for budget cuts of the magnitude you’ve proposed not foreseen after last year’s 1 percent sales tax increase, the largest tax increase in Tennessee history? The tax increase was an 11th-hour solution to a problem they thought was going to be solved by the income tax. Much of that increase went to fill a hole that was made by spending one-time-funds in previous years. I don’t think there was really thoughtful fiscal planning the last two or three years. It was: ‘Once we get this holy grail of an income tax passed, we’ll have plenty money and won’t have to think of these things.’ I always thought, looking from the outside in at the income-tax debate, there were two things getting confused into one: One thing was, how much tax do you want to collect, and what is the level of services you want to have for the state of Tennessee? Do you want to be 45th or 25th or 15th ion education funding? That’s a longer-term issue having to do with how you want to position your state in the United States of America and so on. Then there was the short-term issue of ‘we’ve had some really good years and the economy has gone south and we’ve got some pressure and how’re we going to solve that problem?’ And I think the income tax got used as a solution to Problem Number Two. Baecause if you look at the numbers Tennessee grew its budget substantially over the last couple of years. We created between two and three thousand news jobs in the middle of the huge budget crisis. The percentages by which our jobs grew in that period were among the highest in the country. What happened was that no one ever got focused on how you deal with these tough times because they were reaching for the Holy Grail up here. And I think the legacy of not managing for tough times for two or three years in tough times is what produced the problem for this year. Yeah, you put a bunch of new money in, but a lot of it went to take care of one-time moneyÉ. A lot of that -- particularly the emphasis on one-time money -- was as much the responsibility of the legislature as it was of the executive. But are you saying that Gov. Sundquist did not foresee what he should have foreseen? I really don’t want to criticize the previous administration. I just think that’s a senseless exercise. I fully intend to leave some problems for my successor. But I do not think we did a good job of managing out budget when conditions changed. When did you discover the extent of the deficit that was coming? And how? I would say during transition in that basically I went over to have my first meeting with the Finance and Administration guy, the guy from UYT. And what I thought was going to get. Here is where we are and here are the problems with where we are. And what I got was a lit of improvements we needed to have for the budget and they totaled 7 percent of the total budget before any consideration was given to TennCare. You look at that and you say, ‘In a good year you can’t find 7 percent improvements in the budget, and when you add TennCare to it it’s 10 percent. And that’s crazy, and that’s all the thought that had gone into it. At that point, I knew that we had a problem. The size of the deficit for this year really only became clear when I was sworn in. At first it was $350 million, and it very rapidly became 500. The first two weeks of my term we had the funding board meet and reduce their estimates for the year and then TennCare came back and said, oh, by the way, we need an extra hundred million dollars. During your inaugural address, one of the shortest on record, you said, basically, ‘Like I told you, I’m going to manage things.’ I guess, at that point, it was all an Unknown Quantity? Yeah, I’d say that’s correct. The extent of the problems this year were truly an Unknown Quantity, and they are a substantial contributor to next year’s . To get to next year’s numbers I wanted to work off the actuals for this year, not the budget for this year. É Would there have been more revenue this past year with an income tax than with the enacted sales tax? No. I think an income tax will grow somewhat more rapidly than a sales tax will -- both because it doesn’t have the sales tax leakage and because personal income will grow faster than what you spend on sales tax for things. But that’s a marginal difference. It takes years to develop into anything serious. The amount of money that was raised [in sales tax], I believe, was 933. That’s virtually the same amount of money that an income tasx was going to raise. It was right at a billion, as I recall. Whatever good things were going to happen with an income tax really should have happened when they passed that sales tax. Are you pledging no new taxes during your first term? No, the phrase I used was ‘no major new tax.’ I’m not going to propose an income tax, and I’m not going to propose another penny on the sales tax. There certainly may be fee increases, and I can imagine other smaller things. But not stuff that fundamentally changes the structure. Last year you seconded Van Hilleary in promising to “repeal” an income tax if the legislature passed on. House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who was just then trying to pass an income tax, was publicly displeased about that, as were other Democrats. Your take on that now? My assessment from the beginning was that, if this election is about an income tax, I lose. And while I was not in favor of it, no Democrat is ever going to out-seg a conservative Republican on how much you can be against an income tax or any of those kinds of things. I would just say there was a campaign strategy: Don’t let it be about the income tax. But you were aware that you were ruffling feathers? I would say not only risking, but I ruffled some feathers and had some hurt feelings. But I also felt that when I got there by exercising some judgment I would get it back. And the relationship with the legislature right now is wonderful. Privately, relations [with Naifeh] are very good, and I would say that my relationships on both sides of the aisle are very good. Some observers consider you to be more like the traditional Republican than the usual Democrat. Your reaction? I’ve reflected on the irony of this, but I also think that’s way too glib. There certainly are differences in ideological views between Democrats and Republicans. But I don’t think there’s anything about being a Democrat that forces you to be irresponsible in the way you handle fiscal matters. This was the third time in 30 years that the actual state appropriation has gone down. The last time was in McWherter’s administration -- another Democrat. [The first time was Alexander, a Republican). Alexander had one, McWherter had one, Sundquist had none, and I had one. I think realistically to manage state budgets, occasionally you’re going to have to go down, as the economy goes down. Sundquist didn’t, but I think it’s more of an anomaly in the way Don Sundquist ran the office, different from Alexander or McWherter or me, than it is a general statement about Democrats or Republicans. Why then do you consider yourself a Demorat? I grew up in a single-parent family living with my grandmother. My grandmother took in sewing for a living, and I think Democrats have always had a lot more concern about people who take in sewing for a living than Republicans have. And one of the things that I didn’t like about my life before I got involved in politics was that I’d gotten into the business world and I’d made a bunch of money and I looked around, and none of my friends took in sewing for a living. Or were bank tellers like my mother was. I’m betting a lot on being able to fix TennCare. It would be the easiest thing in the world to flip that back to Medicaid, drop 400,000 people off the rolls, and go. To me, it’s worth risking your governorship to try and keep 400,000 on the TennCare rolls. And, you know, I think the Democratic Party in general is a place I’m more comfortable in, with those kinds of concerns. Did you seriously consider going back to Medicaid? Not in the short term. I’ve always been carefully to say to people, I don’t know that I can solve TennCare. I’m going to bust my back trying. That’s something I could easily fail at and we’d go back to Medicaid. But I think a willingness to kind of peg your reputation to trying to make it happen is a reaching-out to 400,000 Tennesseans. Maybe if we can make it work, 40 million Americans. I’d love it if other states looked at it and said, Yes, that’s the way to make it work. That, of course, was one of Governor McWherter’s original premises for TennCare. Yes, but it never worked. This country is looking for a way to keep people from falling between the cracks. Every time it’s come up they’ve rejected some national health care system, and so the interest probably in things like TennCare, filling in the pieces and so forth, that’s a worthwhile thing to do. During the 1994 campaign, you had some unpleasant memories. Such as election night For example [laughs] But there were hiigh moments, too -- for example, your well-received speech to the Kiwanis Club in Don Sundquist’s home base of Memphis: ‘10 Things I Can Do for Memphis’. One of them was bringing in NFL franchise. [laughs]They didn’t want me, so I brought one to Nashville. Another was to give the University of Memphis its own governing board. I certainly have said that the University of Memphis occupied this kind of middle ground between a lot of the other Board of Regents schools and the University of Tennessee. And I certainly think that one thing that ought to be considered is to find some way to make it more of a research university, to engage the leadership of Memphis, and to give it its own board would be one of the ways of doing that. I think I stopped short in the campaign of saying, ‘Elect me and there will be a new board for this university by June 30th’ or something. But I expect over the next seven years and 11 months, I’ll spend a lot of time on higher education, and Id like to just move that system into a whole different plateau. Did you ever consider not asking higher education to take a 9 percent cut? Yeah, I considered it, but I couldn’t balance the budget. I had to do it. I think one of the things I have to explain better to people is that this is not game-playing. We have a serious problem. At the end of this year we’re going to have nothing in reserve. If I can find a bunch of money from the federal government, we can preserve the Rainy Day Fund. But you know that means $50 million or something. ÉIt’s a serious problem, and to me the only way to get it solved without the legislature descending into these enormous fights about this area vs. that area was to take this kind of across-the-board approach. I didn’t think that I could protect it [RD] but taking 12 percent out of the departments and leaving it alone. I don’t think it would have survived the legislature. It would have meant another new budget fight. Do you consider the previous administration disgenuous about the shortfalls you discovered? The thought has occurred to me, Okay? And there’s stuff that I don’t know how to read. TennCare, everyone was announcing right up to the 5th of November, was solved after this last waiver. It clearly wasn’t. And in fact it has dramatically overrun its budget.And the waiver has some problems in it that make it difficult to handle the overrun, the cap, and that kind of stuff. And whether, you know, somebody said, well, let’s just keep our chins up until November 5th, when it’ll go away and be somebody else’s problem, or whether they genuinely didn’t know what they were dong, I don’t know the answer to that. You sit there at night and stay up wondering which it is, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it, because it doesn’t make any kind of difference for me. We’re not going to handle it differently, whichever it was. There were issues like the failure to budget any increases in health care costs for state employees this year, and it was a $60 million problem that I have upon entering the office. How did you forget to budget $60 million? Somebody had to say, ‘Well, let’s just push that one aside and make this thing work.’ Did you actually, as was widely reported, propose delaying the implementation of lottery scholarships by a year? Not at all. I guess that’s a great example of how somebody won’t listen and will run with it. Some of them did, and some of them did not. I saw both kinds [of coverage] in the press. I didn’t do as good a job as I should of making it clear. What I’m saying is that I think it is vitally important that we act like we know what we’re doing and run this in a businesslike fashion. And that if we make commitments to families about what we’re going to do for them, if they get a B average or a B-minus average or whatever it is, that we be prepared to honor those commitments. When I started looking at the lottery in detail, which was after the budget had been sent to the printers and I had been asked by a couple of reporters to weigh in on the lottery and look at a few of these details, I sort of looked around and thought, you know these revenue estimates are very soft. I hope they’re right, but they’re very sort. The ‘they’ who was saying it’s gong to be $240 million, which was taken to be gospel at the moment, what that actually is, is a small study that TACIR [Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations] did six years ago which today they will tell you was done very hurriedly. We called one of the vendors, and they sent us some presentation information, and they thought it would be $160 million, $170 million, something like that. That’s not my estimate, but here are two vastly different numbers, neither of which have too much behind them. When we do estimates for our tax revenues it’s an elaborate process. We’ve got models, we have economists involved in the thing, you look at history, you break it down into a whole bunch of individual tax categories and estimate each of them individually and take into account these things, and then you have the whole thing vetted by a funding board which has got Morgan and Adams and the F &A commissioner involved, and you still don’t know if you’ve got it right. We’re not doing any of those things about the lottery; we’re taking this number, which is six years old, and we were treating it as gospel. And so all I said. I said, ‘look, I don’t know how you get your arms around this too much in the next month while you’re looking at this. I guess we could hire an economist, at least get a better estimate of the thing, but what I said was, ‘Why do you have to do it at all. Go ahead, implement the lottery, set the thing up, we can get it under way, and next year we come back and revisit the issue of how much the scholarships and exactly what the terms of the scholarships are, because you can still issue scholarships in September of 2004, they’ve got plenty of time to do that, and you’re going to have two or three or four or five months of the lottery under your belt at that point. That’s the only suggestion I made. When there’s no reason to do it now, why not wait until you’ve got more information. Okay? I don’t think that’s where they’re going to go for political reasons. The political reasons are, as you know, that the conservative Republicans have some non-negotiable demands about the way the lottery stuff has to be put out, and they won’t go for implementation of the lottery absent t knowing how all that stuff is going to work. So, fine. That may mean it doesn’t work that way. But it certainly seems to me a reasonable, businesslike suggestion to make, to the leadership. You’re talking to somebody who could not have gone to college without putting together a whole bunch of assorted funding sources. I’m totally on board with the lottery, I’m totally on board with getting money into the hands of those students as you possible can and helping as many students as you possibly can go to college, but I also thought we ought to be mature and conservative about this and not make promises we don’t know we can keep. We’ll get through it all. In particular, how much you’re going to give them and what are the rules for getting it. You can’t make those decisions in a vacuum without knowing how much money you’re planning to spend on them. If I say the scholarship is $4,000 and it’s a 3-point grade average, and it’s the same amount of money for private and public schools, that gives you a different number than if I say it’s $3,000 and it’s a 2.75 grade point average. You’re not designing this thing in a vacuum. You’re designing to some kind of number you’re trying to live with. We should know what that number is and not design to a number we can’t produce. Either you invade the general fund to meet your obligations or you look like fools and end up going back and telling these students ‘We told you $4000 last year, but it’s really $2500.’ Neither of which are good outcomes. Are you prepared to be flexible on the issue? Sure, and I want it to be conservative. As long as it’s conservative and we’re taking a step at a time and so forth , I’ll be fine with it. But this thing has been marked a little bit by -- I mean, I like Steve, there’s no some enmity there, or something like that but, you know, Steve is the guy, this has been his life’s work, getting this thing done. And the only argument we’ve got with him is, ‘This is not your lottery.’ This is a lottery that lots of people have got some investment in, lots of people have got some reason, and I got elected governor of this state, and I’m not prepared to just stand aside and say, ‘Oh, by the way, this is your lottery.’ I’m going to have some opinions on some of those things. What about Senator Cohen’s argument that the lottery is a “creature of the General Assembly?” So is every constitutional amendment. That’s what the General Assembly does. That’s like saying any law is a creature of the General Assembly. Well, it is, but the governor’s still got lots of responsibilities related to those laws and lots of things to say about them. I mean, the budget’s a creature of the General Assembly in something of the same way, but Lord knows, I’m up to my eyebrows with the budget and the General Assembly’s happy for me to be doing it. I think that’s silly. Are you okay with the compromise board membership formula of 3-3-3 [three appointments each by thesSpeakers of the two legislative chambers and by the governor]? No. I wouldn’t be there. I’m certainly not signed off on that. I’ll talk more about that later. Ultimately the governor’s going to be held to account for this thing, and Id like a little more role for the governor. There’s a bill to bring The Med in Memphis, a 501C3 institution, under the liability limitations of 100 percent government hospitals. What’s your attitude toward that? I’m suporting it. I think it’s going to need some work. I don’t think it’s been well drawn, what they’re proposing. The basic idea is the med is even more than a quasi-governmental entity. It’s got deep links to government. Other hospitals with less clear links to government -- to wit, Erlanger, in Chattanooga -- have used their links to bring themselves under the limitation on awards that governments enjoy -- which is what now, $325,000 or something like that? It’s a relatively small number. Since the Med is a serious hospital with one of the most serious emergency rooms in the United States of America, they have lots of potential for malpractice awards. If they could get a lmitation they would save a lot of money -- they estimate $2 million on their malpractice insurance costs. If the hospital were just flat owned by county govt., there’d be no question about it. They’d be subject to those limitations. Other hospitals like Erlanger with a connection, that have boards appointed by the county mayor, or something like that, have done private acts and gotten themselves included. And the Med has probably got more of a case to make than Erlanger. And I believe the one in Jackson has got the same situation. They should have done it years ago. It’s not something new. But this year they’ve got a fiscal crisis, and they’re making lists of things do do that can help them out, and that’s one they could clearly do to help them out, and I think it’s fine, I’m supportive of it. I think the bill they have has some problems. We actually spent some time, as late as today talking about how to get this thing passed. What’s your take on the current welter of tort reform bills? We have not yet had outrageous kinds of malpractice awards in Tennessee. Some malpractice rates have grown in anticipation that we could be next. That isn’t necessarily to me reason to rush off and change the law. As I said during the campaign, I’m sensitive to it. There’s no reason in the world for us to cut down on the amount of health care that we’re able to provide with the money we have so that a few people could Éwin huge awards, and if that’s where we’re going, I’m clearly going to ask the legislature to step in and fix it. I’m not sure we’re there yet. I’d like to learn more about it and study it more. Do you regard the doctors’ warnings as overheated? They’re seeing increases in their malpractice costs. No question about that. Number one, it’s happening all over country. Insurance rates in general are soaring these last couple of years. Number two: The. Doctor owned insurance company with which most of them have their insurance also paid out a huge amount of their capital in dividends the past couple of years. So in other words they’re giving money back over here and charging some more back in premiums over here. Number Three: I don’t see the evidence of those huge awards. You can’t go pointing to those huge awards. In fact, Tennessee juries are proving remarkably conservative about this kind of stuff. I’m just saying I’d like to see a lot more evidence. You’ve got to diagnose the disease before you write the prescription. And I don’t feel that I’ve diagnosed the disease yet. On the malpractice insurance costs, several things could be at the root of that other than crazy juries and greedy lawyers making doctors go out of business. We’ll take a serious look at it. If it takes action, we’ll propose it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

POLITICS

Governor Phil Bredesen puts the brakes on state spending Ð big-time.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 19, 2003 at 4:00 AM

A NEW BALL GAME Tennessee’s new governor, former Nashville mayor Phil Bredesen, was careful during his campaign last year against Republican Van Hilleary not to promise anything but a determination to “manage” the state’s difficult financial predicament. How much worse it was than he foresaw became obvious, he says, shortly after his inauguration in January, when budget shortages amounting to half a billion dollars turned up. This was despite the passage last year -- during the waning days of the administration of Republican Governor Don Sundquist, an income-tax advocate -- of a sales tax increase, designed to net a billion dollars, presumably enough to catch the state up with its obligations. What Democrat Bredesen did, after a series of highly public meetings with his cabinet, was decree a 9 percent across-the-board cut in state spending -- excepting only TennCare and K-12 education and a few like programs and including the heretofore sacrosanct state roadbuilding funds and the state-shared funds normally returned to local governments, themselves needy. So far at least, Bredesen is enjoying a honeymoon with the legislature -- both houses and both parties. After a visit to Memphis’ Autozone Park on Friday, March 14, during which he continued his tireless advocacy of his unprecedentedly austere state budget, Tennessee’s surprising new governor sat down with The Flyer and discussed the reasons for his live-within-your-means budget strategy What follows is a sampling from that Q and A: Why was the need for budget cuts of the magnitude you’ve proposed not foreseen after last year’s 1 percent sales tax increase, the largest tax increase in Tennessee history? The tax increase was an 11th-hour solution to a problem they thought was going to be solved by the income tax. Much of that increase went to fill a hole that was made by spending one-time-funds in previous years. I don’t think there was really thoughtful fiscal planning the last two or three years. It was: ‘Once we get this holy grail of an income tax passed, we’ll have plenty money and won’t have to think of these things.’ I always thought, looking from the outside in at the income-tax debate, there were two things getting confused into one: One thing was, how much tax do you want to collect, and what is the level of services you want to have for the state of Tennessee? Do you want to be 45th or 25th or 15th ion education funding? That’s a longer-term issue having to do with how you want to position your state in the United States of America and so on. Then there was the short-term issue of ‘we’ve had some really good years and the economy has gone south and we’ve got some pressure and how’re we going to solve that problem?’ And I think the income tax got used as a solution to Problem Number Two. Baecause if you look at the numbers Tennessee grew its budget substantially over the last couple of years. We created between two and three thousand news jobs in the middle of the huge budget crisis. The percentages by which our jobs grew in that period were among the highest in the country. What happened was that no one ever got focused on how you deal with these tough times because they were reaching for the Holy Grail up here. And I think the legacy of not managing for tough times for two or three years in tough times is what produced the problem for this year. Yeah, you put a bunch of new money in, but a lot of it went to take care of one-time money. A lot of that -- particularly the emphasis on one-time money -- was as much the responsibility of the legislature as it was of the executive. But are you saying that Gov. Sundquist did not foresee what he should have foreseen? I really don’t want to criticize the previous administration. I just think that’s a senseless exercise. I fully intend to leave some problems for my successor. But I do not think we did a good job of managing out budget when conditions changed. When did you discover the extent of the deficit that was coming? And how? I would say during transition in that basically I went over to have my first meeting with the Finance and Administration guy, the guy from UYT. And what I thought was going to get. Here is where we are and here are the problems with where we are. And what I got was a lit of improvements we needed to have for the budget and they totaled 7 percent of the total budget before any consideration was given to TennCare. You look at that and you say, ‘In a good year you can’t find 7 percent improvements in the budget, and when you add TennCare to it it’s 10 percent. And that’s crazy, and that’s all the thought that had gone into it. At that point, I knew that we had a problem. The size of the deficit for this year really only became clear when I was sworn in. At first it was $350 million, and it very rapidly became 500. The first two weeks of my term we had the funding board meet and reduce their estimates for the year and then TennCare came back and said, oh, by the way, we need an extra hundred million dollars. During your inaugural address, one of the shortest on record, you said, basically, ‘Like I told you, I’m going to manage things.’ I guess, at that point, it was all an Unknown Quantity? Yeah, I’d say that’s correct. The extent of the problems this year were truly an Unknown Quantity, and they are a substantial contributor to next year’s . To get to next year’s numbers I wanted to work off the actuals for this year, not the budget for this year. Would there have been more revenue this past year with an income tax than with the enacted sales tax? No. I think an income tax will grow somewhat more rapidly than a sales tax will -- both because it doesn’t have the sales tax leakage and because personal income will grow faster than what you spend on sales tax for things. But that’s a marginal difference. It takes years to develop into anything serious. The amount of money that was raised [in sales tax], I believe, was 933. That’s virtually the same amount of money that an income tasx was going to raise. It was right at a billion, as I recall. Whatever good things were going to happen with an income tax really should have happened when they passed that sales tax. Are you pledging no new taxes during your first term? No, the phrase I used was ‘no major new tax.’ I’m not going to propose an income tax, and I’m not going to propose another penny on the sales tax. There certainly may be fee increases, and I can imagine other smaller things. But not stuff that fundamentally changes the structure. Last year you seconded Van Hilleary in promising to “repeal” an income tax if the legislature passed on. House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, who was just then trying to pass an income tax, was publicly displeased about that, as were other Democrats. Your take on that now? My assessment from the beginning was that, if this election is about an income tax, I lose. And while I was not in favor of it, no Democrat is ever going to out-seg a conservative Republican on how much you can be against an income tax or any of those kinds of things. I would just say there was a campaign strategy: Don’t let it be about the income tax. But you were aware that you were ruffling feathers? I would say not only risking, but I ruffled some feathers and had some hurt feelings. But I also felt that when I got there by exercising some judgment I would get it back. And the relationship with the legislature right now is wonderful. Privately, relations [with Naifeh] are very good, and I would say that my relationships on both sides of the aisle are very good. Some observers consider you to be more like the traditional Republican than the usual Democrat. Your reaction? I’ve reflected on the irony of this, but I also think that’s way too glib. There certainly are differences in ideological views between Democrats and Republicans. But I don’t think there’s anything about being a Democrat that forces you to be irresponsible in the way you handle fiscal matters. This was the third time in 30 years that the actual state appropriation has gone down. The last time was in McWherter’s administration -- another Democrat. [The first time was Alexander, a Republican). Alexander had one, McWherter had one, Sundquist had none, and I had one. I think realistically to manage state budgets, occasionally you’re going to have to go down, as the economy goes down. Sundquist didn’t, but I think it’s more of an anomaly in the way Don Sundquist ran the office, different from Alexander or McWherter or me, than it is a general statement about Democrats or Republicans. I grew up in a single-parent family living with my grandmother. My grandmother took in sewing for a living, and I think Democrats have always had a lot more concern about people who take in sewing for a living than Republicans have. And one of the things that I didn’t like about my life before I got involved in politics was that I’d gotten into the business world and I’d made a bunch of money and I looked around, and none of my friends took in sewing for a living. Or were bank tellers like my mother was. I’m betting a lot on being able to fix TennCare. It would be the easiest thing in the world to flip that back to Medicaid, drop 400,000 people off the rolls, and go. To me, it’s worth risking your governorship to try and keep 400,000 on the TennCare rolls. And, you know, I think the Democratic Party in general is a place I’m more comfortable in, with those kinds of concerns. Did you seriously consider going back to Medicaid? Not in the short term. I’ve always been carefully to say to people, I don’t know that I can solve TennCare. I’m going to bust my back trying. That’s something I could easily fail at and we’d go back to Medicaid. But I think a willingness to kind of peg your reputation to trying to make it happen is a reaching-out to 400,000 Tennesseans. Maybe if we can make it work, 40 million Americans. I’d love it if other states looked at it and said, Yes, that’s the way to make it work. That, of course, was one of Governor McWherter’s original premises for TennCare. Yes, but it never worked. This country is looking for a way to keep people from falling between the cracks. Every time it’s come up they’ve rejected some national health care system, and so the interest probably in things like TennCare, filling in the pieces and so forth, that’s a worthwhile thing to do. During the 1994 campaign, you had some unpleasant memories. Such as election nightÉ For example [laughs] But there were hiigh moments, too -- for example, your well-received speech to the Kiwanis Club in Don Sundquist’s home base of Memphis: ‘10 Things I Can Do for Memphis’. One of them was bringing in NFL franchise. [laughs]They didn’t want me, so I brought one to Nashville. Another was to give the University of Memphis its own governing board. I certainly have said that the University of Memphis occupied this kind of middle ground between a lot of the other Board of Regents schools and the University of Tennessee. And I certainly think that one thing that ought to be considered is to find some way to make it more of a research university, to engage the leadership of Memphis, and to give it its own board would be one of the ways of doing that. I think I stopped short in the campaign of saying, ‘Elect me and there will be a new board for this university by June 30th’ or something. But I expect over the next seven years and 11 months, I’ll spend a lot of time on higher education, and Id like to just move that system into a whole different plateau. Did you ever consider not asking higher education to take a 9 percent cut? Yeah, I considered it, but I couldn’t balance the budget. I had to do it. I think one of the things I have to explain better to people is that this is not game-playing. We have a serious problem. At the end of this year we’re going to have nothing in reserve. If I can find a bunch of money from the federal government, we can preserve the Rainy Day Fund. But you know that means $50 million or something. ÉIt’s a serious problem, and to me the only way to get it solved without the legislature descending into these enormous fights about this area vs. that area was to take this kind of across-the-board approach. I didn’t think that I could protect it [RD] but taking 12 percent out of the departments and leaving it alone. I don’t think it would have survived the legislature. It would have meant another new budget fight. Do you consider the previous administration disgenuous about the shortfalls you discovered? The thought has occurred to me, Okay? And there’s stuff that I don’t know how to read. TennCare, everyone was announcing right up to the 5th of November, was solved after this last waiver. It clearly wasn’t. And in fact it has dramatically overrun its budget.And the waiver has some problems in it that make it difficult to handle the overrun, the cap, and that kind of stuff. And whether, you know, somebody said, well, let’s just keep our chins up until November 5th, when it’ll go away and be somebody else’s problem, or whether they genuinely didn’t know what they were dong, I don’t know the answer to that. You sit there at night and stay up wondering which it is, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time worrying about it, because it doesn’t make any kind of difference for me. We’re not going to handle it differently, whichever it was. There were issues like the failure to budget any increases in health care costs for state employees this year, and it was a $60 million problem that I have upon entering the office. How did you forget to budget $60 million? Somebody had to say, ‘Well, let’s just push that one aside and make this thing work.’ Did you actually, as was widely reported, propose delaying the implementation of lottery scholarships by a year? Not at all. I guess that’s a great example of how somebody won’t listen and will run with it. Some of them did, and some of them did not. I saw both kinds [of coverage] in the press. I didn’t do as good a job as I should of making it clear. What I’m saying is that I think it is vitally important that we act like we know what we’re doing and run this in a businesslike fashion. And that if we make commitments to families about what we’re going to do for them, if they get a B average or a B-minus average or whatever it is, that we be prepared to honor those commitments. When I started looking at the lottery in detail, which was after the budget had been sent to the printers and I had been asked by a couple of reporters to weigh in on the lottery and look at a few of these details, I sort of looked around and thought, you know these revenue estimates are very soft. I hope they’re right, but they’re very sort. The ‘they’ who was saying it’s gong to be $240 million, which was taken to be gospel at the moment, what that actually is, is a small study that TACIR [Tennessee Advisory Commission on Intergovernmental Relations] did six years ago which today they will tell you was done very hurriedly. We called one of the vendors, and they sent us some presentation information, and they thought it would be $160 million, $170 million, something like that. That’s not my estimate, but here are two vastly different numbers, neither of which have too much behind them. When we do estimates for our tax revenues it’s an elaborate process. We’ve got models, we have economists involved in the thing, you look at history, you break it down into a whole bunch of individual tax categories and estimate each of them individually and take into account these things, and then you have the whole thing vetted by a funding board which has got Morgan and Adams and the F &A commissioner involved, and you still don’t know if you’ve got it right. We’re not doing any of those things about the lottery; we’re taking this number, which is six years old, and we were treating it as gospel. And so all I said. I said, ‘look, I don’t know how you get your arms around this too much in the next month while you’re looking at this. I guess we could hire an economist, at least get a better estimate of the thing, but what I said was, ‘Why do you have to do it at all. Go ahead, implement the lottery, set the thing up, we can get it under way, and next year we come back and revisit the issue of how much the scholarships and exactly what the terms of the scholarships are, because you can still issue scholarships in September of 2004, they’ve got plenty of time to do that, and you’re going to have two or three or four or five months of the lottery under your belt at that point. That’s the only suggestion I made. When there’s no reason to do it now, why not wait until you’ve got more information. Okay? I don’t think that’s where they’re going to go for political reasons. The political reasons are, as you know, that the conservative Republicans have some non-negotiable demands about the way the lottery stuff has to be put out, and they won’t go for implementation of the lottery absent t knowing how all that stuff is going to work. So, fine. That may mean it doesn’t work that way. But it certainly seems to me a reasonable, businesslike suggestion to make, to the leadership. You’re talking to somebody who could not have gone to college without putting together a whole bunch of assorted funding sources. I’m totally on board with the lottery, I’m totally on board with getting money into the hands of those students as you possible can and helping as many students as you possibly can go to college, but I also thought we ought to be mature and conservative about this and not make promises we don’t know we can keep. We’ll get through it all. In particular, how much you’re going to give them and what are the rules for getting it. You can’t make those decisions in a vacuum without knowing how much money you’re planning to spend on them. If I say the scholarship is $4,000 and it’s a 3-point grade average, and it’s the same amount of money for private and public schools, that gives you a different number than if I say it’s $3,000 and it’s a 2.75 grade point average. You’re not designing this thing in a vacuum. You’re designing to some kind of number you’re trying to live with. We should know what that number is and not design to a number we can’t produce. Either you invade the general fund to meet your obligations or you look like fools and end up going back and telling these students ‘We told you $4000 last year, but it’s really $2500.’ Neither of which are good outcomes. Are you prepared to be flexible on the issue? Sure, and I want it to be conservative. As long as it’s conservative and we’re taking a step at a time and so forth , I’ll be fine with it. But this thing has been marked a little bit by -- I mean, I like Steve, there’s no some enmity there, or something like that but, you know, Steve is the guy, this has been his life’s work, getting this thing done. And the only argument we’ve got with him is, ‘This is not your lottery.’ This is a lottery that lots of people have got some investment in, lots of people have got some reason, and I got elected governor of this state, and I’m not prepared to just stand aside and say, ‘Oh, by the way, this is your lottery.’ I’m going to have some opinions on some of those things. What about Senator Cohen’s argument that the lottery is a “creature of the General Assembly?” So is every constitutional amendment. That’s what the General Assembly does. That’s like saying any law is a creature of the General Assembly. Well, it is, but the governor’s still got lots of responsibilities related to those laws and lots of things to say about them. I mean, the budget’s a creature of the General Assembly in something of the same way, but Lord knows, I’m up to my eyebrows with the budget and the General Assembly’s happy for me to be doing it. I think that’s silly. Are you okay with the compromise board membership formula of 3-3-3 [three appointments each by thesSpeakers of the two legislative chambers and by the governor]? No. I wouldn’t be there. I’m certainly not signed off on that. I’ll talk more about that later. Ultimately the governor’s going to be held to account for this thing, and Id like a little more role for the governor. There’s a bill to bring The Med in Memphis, a 501C3 institution, under the liability limitations of 100 percent government hospitals. What’s your attitude toward that? I’m suporting it. I think it’s going to need some work. I don’t think it’s been well drawn, what they’re proposing. The basic idea is the med is even more than a quasi-governmental entity. It’s got deep links to government. Other hospitals with less clear links to government -- to wit, Erlanger, in Chattanooga -- have used their links to bring themselves under the limitation on awards that governments enjoy -- which is what now, $325,000 or something like that? It’s a relatively small number. Since the Med is a serious hospital with one of the most serious emergency rooms in the United States of America, they have lots of potential for malpractice awards. If they could get a lmitation they would save a lot of money -- they estimate $2 million on their malpractice insurance costs. If the hospital were just flat owned by county govt., there’d be no question about it. They’d be subject to those limitations. Other hospitals like Erlanger with a connection, that have boards appointed by the county mayor, or something like that, have done private acts and gotten themselves included. And the Med has probably got more of a case to make than Erlanger. And I believe the one in Jackson has got the same situation. They should have done it years ago. It’s not something new. But this year they’ve got a fiscal crisis, and they’re making lists of things do do that can help them out, and that’s one they could clearly do to help them out, and I think it’s fine, I’m supportive of it. I think the bill they have has some problems. We actually spent some time, as late as today talking about how to get this thing passed. What’s your take on the current welter of tort reform bills? We have not yet had outrageous kinds of malpractice awards in Tennessee. Some malpractice rates have grown in anticipation that we could be next. That isn’t necessarily to me reason to rush off and change the law. As I said during the campaign, I’m sensitive to it. There’s no reason in the world for us to cut down on the amount of health care that we’re able to provide with the money we have so that a few people could Éwin huge awards, and if that’s where we’re going, I’m clearly going to ask the legislature to step in and fix it. I’m not sure we’re there yet. I’d like to learn more about it and study it more. Do you regard the doctors’ warnings as overheated? They’re seeing increases in their malpractice costs. No question about that. Number one, it’s happening all over country. Insurance rates in general are soaring these last couple of years. Number two: The. Doctor owned insurance company with which most of them have their insurance also paid out a huge amount of their capital in dividends the past couple of years. So in other words they’re giving money back over here and charging some more back in premiums over here. Number Three: I don’t see the evidence of those huge awards. You can’t go pointing to those huge awards. In fact, Tennessee juries are proving remarkably conservative about this kind of stuff. I’m just saying I’d like to see a lot more evidence. You’ve got to diagnose the disease before you write the prescription. And I don’t feel that I’ve diagnosed the disease yet. On the malpractice insurance costs, several things could be at the root of that other than crazy juries and greedy lawyers making doctors go out of business. We’ll take a serious look at it. If it takes action, we’ll propose it.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Riding the Tiger

Governmental figures confront the specter of hard times and harder choices.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 14, 2003 at 4:00 AM

One of the things that makes Lois DeBerry, longtime speaker pro tem of the state House of Representatives, so effective a spokesperson for her party in Nashville is that she has the range to tell it like it is, be it grand or be it simple.

That partly stems, no doubt, from her secure place in the affections of her mainly working-class and predominantly African-American constituency in central/southeast Memphis. And it comes as well from her long and secure tenure as a member of the political establishment in Nashville. She has always been both Madame Inside and Madame Outside -- the vox populi as well as ear to the confidences of the mighty, be they Democratic or Republican.

In recent years, DeBerry had been unusually close to the governor of the opposite party, Republican Don Sundquist, a fellow Memphian, and as Sundquist kept declining in political clout and in the polls under the burden of his unflagging campaign for income-tax legislation, DeBerry was one of the very few the beleaguered governor could absolutely count on for tactical and moral support.

On the very night last November when Sundquist's former opponent and longtime nemesis, Democrat Phil Bredesen, was elected to succeed him, DeBerry made a point of throwing a bouquet to the forgotten man. Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding the winner and Man of the Hour, she had this thought for the man whose time had so obviously passed: "When you try so hard to do the right thing, your recognition will come. It may not come tomorrow, but it will come! In history, for our posterity, Don Sundquist will be a hero. I want him to know that."

That was then; now was last Friday, when Bredesen and members of his cabinet came to Memphis and held a press conference at the National Civil Rights Museum. The contrasts were abounding. Whereas the former governor had alienated his G.O.P. constituency by struggling to shore up expensive government programs like TennCare, the state-run system for the medically uninsured and uninsurable, the new governor was asking for cuts of 9 percent across the board of state government agencies, and he had served notice that TennCare would at some point have to be trimmed, perhaps even truncated, in order to save it.

One of the cabinet members on hand Friday was Gus Hargett, Tennessee's adjutant general and the father of Bartlett state Rep. Tre Hargett, the new Republican leader in the House and a relative hard-liner. The senior Hargett marveled to this reporter: "You know, it's amazing the degree to which he [Bredesen] has co-opted the Republican program. I told him that just the other day." Bredesen, said Hargett, had beamed and agreed with the thesis. The younger Hargett had expressed similar sentiments last week.

And, yes, Bredesen himself would acknowledge just before he made his public remarks, "Van Hilleary couldn't be doing what I'm doing." Not that Bredesen's erstwhile Republican opponent for the governorship wouldn't have wanted to pare down government the way his (barely) victorious conquerer of last fall has undertaken to, but he would have lacked the leverage that Bredesen has with the Democratic majority in the legislature.

It's a variation on the Nixon-goes-to-China syndrome, whereby major political change is so often initiated by a figure from the partisan force which has historically opposed the change. Sundquist had stood a chance, observers had once thought, of profiting from the phenomenon. A conspicuous fiscal conservative during both his 10-years-plus of congressional service and his first gubernatorial term, Sundquist might have been expected to have overcome resistance to his tax-reform program on that bona fides alone.

He didn't. Even with the likes of DeBerry and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh on board, even with the hand-in-glove support of Senator Bob Rochelle, the Democratic legislative lion from Lebanon whom Sundquist once campaigned to defeat, the GOP governor simply couldn't persuade enough Republicans -- or enough squeamish Democrats, for that matter -- to back a program of revenue enhancement and unhampered government operations.

Now came Bredesen, who had criticized Sundquist's program, both while serving as Nashville's mayor and afterward, as a full-time candidate for governor, and who had debunked the value of a state income tax -- even promising, like Hilleary, to seek the repeal of one if it ever got enacted. Now came an era of governmental austerity, of cutbacks in programs and budget cuts across the board.

At a superficial level, it seemed that the state had exchanged a Republican governor who functioned like a Democrat for a Democratic governor who behaved like a Republican. But there was more to it than that. History itself had taken a right turn, as Memphis mayor Willie Herenton, who had backed Sundquist and now backed Bredesen, noted, and, arguably, partisanship of any kind had very little to do with it. "He didn't create the problems," Herenton said of the current governor. And Shelby County mayor A C Wharton concurred that the current age of scarcity was unavoidable.

Asked earlier who was closer to being right -- Sundquist or Bredesen -- DeBerry had furrowed her brow, reflected, and finally could not choose. For all of their apparent oppositeness, she might have said, each man had been asked to ride a tiger, and it was the tiger who had changed course.

In her own public remarks Friday, DeBerry offered this advice for the coming age, a distillation of what Bredesen and the two mayors, each also struggling with budgetary hard times, ended up saying in different words: "Free the heart of hatred and the mind from worry, live simply, do more and expect less." As a summing-up of the moment, it was hard to beat.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

POLITICS

Governmental figures confront the specter of hard times and harder choices.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 13, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Riding the Tiger One of the things that makes Lois DeBerry, longtime speaker pro temp of the state House of Representatives, so effective a spokesperson for her party in Nashville is that she has the range to tell it like it is, be it grand or be it simple. That partly stems, no doubt, from her secure place in the affections of her mainly working-class and predominantly African-American constituency in central/southeast Memphis. And it comes as well from her long and secure tenure as a member of the political establishment in Nashville. She has always been both Madame Inside and Madame Outside -- the vox populi as well as ear to the confidences of the mighty, be they Democratic or Republican. In recent years, DeBerry had been unusually close to the governor of the opposite party, Republican Don Sundquist, a fellow Memphian, and as Sundquist kept declining in political clout and in the polls under the burden of his unflagging campaign for income-tax legislation, DeBerry was one of the very few the beleagured governor could absolutely count on for tactical and moral support. On the very night last November when Sundquist’s former opponent and longtime nemesis, Democrat Phil Bredesen, was elected to succeed him, DeBerry made a point of throwing a bouquet to the forgotten man. Amidst all the hullabaloo surrounding the winner and Man of the Hour, she had this thought for the man whose time had so obviously passed: “When you try so hard to do the right thing, your recognition will come. It may not come tomorrow, but it will come! In history, for our posterity, Don Sundquist will be a hero. I want him to know that.” That was then; now was last Friday, when Bredesen and members of his cabinet came to Memphis and held a press conference at the National Civil Rights Museum. The contrasts were a-bounding. Whereas the former governor had alienated his G.O.P. constituency by struggling to shore up expensive government programs like TennCare, the state-run system for the medically uninsured and uninsurable, the new governor was asking for cuts of 9 percent across the board of state government agencies, and he had served notice that TennCare would at some point have to be trimmed, perhaps even truncated, in order to save it. One of the cabinet members on hand Friday was Gus Hargett, Tennessee’s adjutant general and the father of Bartlett State Rep. Tre Hargett, the new Republican leader in the House and a relative hard-liner. The senior Hargett marveled to this reporter: “You know, it’s amazing the degree to which he [Bredesen] has co-opted the Republican program. I told him that just the other day.” Bredesen, said Hargett, had beamed and agreed with the thesis. The younger Hargett had expressed similar sentiments last week. And yes, Bredesen himself would acknowledge just before he made his public remarks, “Van Hilleary couldn’t be doing what I’m doing.” Not that Bredesen’s erstwhile Reublican opponent for the governorship wouldn’t have wanted to pare down government the way his (barely) victorious conquer of last fall has undertaken to, but he would have lacked the leverage that Bredesen has with the Democratic majority in the legislature. It’s a variation on the Nixon-goes-to-China syndrome, whereby major political change is so often initiated by a figure from the partisan force which has historically opposed the change. Sundquist had stood a chance, observers had once thought, of profiting from the phenomenon. A conspicuous fiscal conservative during both his ten-years-plus of congressional service and his first gubernatorial term, Sundquist might have been expected to have overcome resistance to his tax-reform program on that bona fides alone. He didn’t. Even with the likes of DeBerry and House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh on board, even with the hand-in-glove support of Senator Bob Rochelle, the Democratic legislative lion from Lebanon whom Sundquist once campaigned to defeat, the GOP governor simply couldn’t persuade enough Republicans -- or enough squeamish Democrats, for that matter -- to back a program of revenue enhancement and unhampered government operations. Now came Bredesen, who had criticized Sundquist’s program, both while serving as Nashville’s mayor and afterward, as a fulltime candidate for governor, and who had debunked the value of a state income tax -- even promising, like Hilleary, to seek the repeal of one if it ever got enacted. Now came an era of governmental austerity, of cutbacks in programs, and budget cuts across the board. At a superficial level, it seemed that the state had exchanged a Republican governor who functioned like a Democrat for a Democratic governor who behaved like a Republican. But there was more to it than that. History itself had taken a right turn, as Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, who had backed Sundquist and now backed Bredesen, noted, and, arguably, partisanship of any kind had very little to do with it. “He didn’t create the problems,” Herenton said of the current governor. And Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton concurred that the current age of scarcity was unavoidable. Asked earlier who was closer to being right -- Sundquist or Bredesen -- DeBerry had furrowed her brow, reflected, and finally could not choose. For all of their apparent oppositeness, she might have said, each man had been asked to ride a tiger, and it was the tiger who had changed course. In her own public remarks Friday, DeBerry offered this advice for the coming age, a distillation of what Bredesen and the two mayors, each also struggling with budgetary hard times, ended up saying in different words: “Free the heart of hatred and the mind from worry, live simply, do more and expect less.” As a summing-up of the moment, it was hard to beat.

Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton, Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton, and Governor Phil Bredesen are riding the same tiger these days.

Monday, March 10, 2003

'NO TORTURE AT BAGRAM': A LETTER

'NO TORTURE AT BAGRAM': A LETTER

Posted By on Mon, Mar 10, 2003 at 4:00 AM

TO ON THE FLY: Someone passed [Ed] Weathers' latest assertion of his first amendment rights to me and I felt so sickened that I had to respond. I was not sickened by his descriptions of torture so much as his preaching to the audience without doing his homework. Apparently he read a story in the [New York] Times (not very closely) and felt compelled to comment. We do NOT torture people at the Bagram Holding Facility (temporary home for up to 100 people picked up in Afghanistan as part of the war on terrorism). The only time the detainees are naked is when they are searched at admission and when they shower. There is a very good reason we don't give out many details as to treatment...not to disguise torture, but to keep our methods out of the enemy's hands. Doctors visit the facility twice a day to treat any who need it. The International Committee of the Red Cross sends an inspector every ten days. And by the way, the two detainees who died, did so in December...not last week. They also constitute the only two detainees who have ever required treatment for injuries sustained in the facility (whether they were injured there is part of the investigation...the injuries may have pre-existed their stay at Bagram). Mr. Weathers seems to take on faith the words of former detainees about their treatment, but refuses to grant the same faith to the words of Lt. Gen. McNeill, the coalition commander here.... Regards, Roger King Colonel, US Army Bagram, Afghanistan ED WEATHERS RESPONDS: ...[The mentioned detainee did die] in December. It was the description of his death that came out last week. As for the rest of it, I stand by my original position. To the best of my knowledge, no neutral observers are visiting Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or other high-level Al Qaeda operatives--nor do neutral observers even know where they are. There is an inherent contradiction in the colonel's description of the state of things even at Bagram, of course: He says we are letting the Red Cross visit "every 10 days," but he also says we're not letting out the details of the prisoners' interrogation. So the Red Cross really isn't seeing how they're being interrogated--if they were, then the details of their interrogation might be "getting out." I wish I did trust Lt. Gen. McNeill's word as much as that of former detainees, but they have less to gain by misinformation than he does. Perhaps it comes down to the Colonel's definition of torture. I consider that torture includes the following: sleep and light deprivation, the withholding of food and water, the withholding of pain-killers from those who are wounded, being subjected to extremes of cold and heat, being hooded for hours, being forced to kneel for hours, being forced to stand for hours, being left naked for hours, and prolonged isolation. According to press reports in both liberal and conservative papers, "senior U.S. officials" have acknowledged such treatment of prisoners. For the record, The United Nations Convention Against Torture also includes, in its title, "Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment," and it states uncategorically that such treatment is never justified. The U.S. signed this convention. I wonder if Colonel King can officially deny that any prisoners at Bagram have been or are being treated in any of the ways described above. If so, I am very pleased. I wish I believed that that were the case for all prisoners taken by the United States.

Saturday, March 8, 2003

DIPTERA: THE FLYER POETRY PAGE

DIPTERA: THE FLYER POETRY PAGE

Posted By on Sat, Mar 8, 2003 at 4:00 AM

The Bottom Line

"Enough," he said, "is enough." And all the receipts fell from the trees And a billion billion bills came due And what we wore grew dingy on our knees And our buttons dropped to the floor Among the toys Among the cracked temporary necessities Among the miserably high-priced shoes-- And yes, stupidly, the socks-- And the shocking electronic boxes of lights And the noise And the music music music that had turned to noise. And he didn't need to say it again But he did: "Enough! It's enough." And he tore out his tubes Because From mountains of things To oceans of things To prairies of anything, Nothing grew--it only Accumulated. And your hands Were in my family's pockets Taking more than our dirty little change (But not much more), Leaving leafless our accounts And our few hours empty Of anything approaching an eleemosynary twinkle. And so our smiles, like yours, became just teeth, And we all bit: On the red want, On the white wish, And on the wild blue greed. During his 21 years in Memphis from 1971 to 1992, Ed Weathers was at various times instructor of English at the University of Memphis, editor of Memphis magazine, and associate editor of The Memphis Flyer. He moved to Connecticut in 1992 to work for the New York Times Magazine Group. He has published poems in a wide variety of small literary magazines. He now resides in Norwalk, CT, where he writes and teaches. His email address is ed@edweathers.com. If you would like to submit a poem of any length, style, or level of experimentation to be considered for Diptera, please send your poem/s, along with a self-addressed stamped envelope to Diptera, Attn: Lesha Hurliman, 460 Tennessee Street, Suite 200, Memphis, TN 38103. Electronic submissions should be sent to lhurliman@memphisflyer.com. Please include a short bio. Submissions are not limited to Memphis residents. Diptera is not an online literary journal but something more like a bulletin board, and therefore the author retains all rights to the poetry published on Diptera. The poems published on this site can be submitted to any journal without our notification, and we do accept poems that have been previously published as long as we are given a means of obtaining permission to post them. \Dip"te*ra\- An extensive order of insects having only two functional wings and two balancers, as the house fly, mosquito, etc. They have a suctorial proboscis, often including two pairs of sharp organs (mandibles and maxill[ae]) with which they pierce the skin of animals. They undergo a complete metamorphosis, their larv[ae] (called maggots) being usually with

Friday, March 7, 2003

Kustoff vs. Marsha

Memphis lawyer won't rule out another try in 2004. Plus, Luttrell cleans up the Sheriff's Department.

Posted By on Fri, Mar 7, 2003 at 4:00 AM

Marsha Blackburn, the Nashville-area resident who defeated a largish field of opponents in last year's 7th District congressional race and then dusted off Democrat Tim Barron of Collierville, should have every reason to feel secure in her job.

After all, she won overwhelmingly in both primary and general elections, even managing to finish second place in Shelby County in the Republican primary vote, despite the fact that three -- count 'em, three -- of her major opponents hailed from Shelby. They were lawyer David Kustoff, who directed the 2000 Bush presidential campaign in Tennessee and the successful Senate campaign last year of Lamar Alexander; state Senator Mark Norris; and Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor. Only Kustoff finished ahead of Blackburn in Shelby County.

Upon her election, Blackburn promptly found herself named an assistant whip for the GOP in the House of Representatives and got the appointment she coveted to a government operations subcommittee that would give her good opportunity to capitalize on the conservative-populist image that she, as a prominent income-tax opponent, had established so successfully in the state Senate.

Moreover, she proved herself to be a more than adequate campaigner and has established district offices throughout the sprawling 7th, which runs from the suburbs of Memphis to those of Nashville. She even maintains a part-time residence along Highway 64 in Shelby County. Add to this the overwhelming advantages that normally allow incumbents -- absent personal or party scandal -- to win renomination and reelection easily.

Why then are there persistent rumors that Kustoff is aiming to oppose her re-election in 2004? And why does Kustoff -- who acknowledges having been encouraged to oppose Blackburn by "a number of people," especially in Shelby County -- choose not to rule out making the race?

"I just haven't made any decisions whatever about what I'm going to be doing this year, next year, or in 2006, or at any point thereafter," says Kustoff, who owns a reputation for being cautious and practical and not given to quixotic adventures.

The bottom line would seem to be that there is an appreciable body of Republicans locally who either see Blackburn's politics as being too hard-line or believe that the congressman from the 7th District should hail from Shelby County or its near vicinity -- as had the last several representatives from the district.

"I've heard a lot of that," concedes Kustoff, a favorite of former Governor Don Sundquist, himself a former 7th District representative, who mused out loud late last year about the likelihood of an opponent for Blackburn in 2004. Blackburn's operatives themselves are known to take the prospect of a Kustoff race seriously and periodically inquire about news of one.

Even if Blackburn draws no strong opponent in 2004, she will likely have a race on her hands in 2006 -- at which time she is almost certain to run for either governor or for the U.S. Senate, if Majority Leader Bill Frist, honors his two-term pledge and begins a campaign for the presidential nomination in 2008.

· Sheriff Mark Luttrell is another elected official who, like Governor Phil Bredesen, campaigned on the theme of governmental economy and was taken in some circles to be merely electioneering but, like Bredesen, seems to have been serious all along.

In dealing with the regime of his predecessor, three-term sheriff A.C. Gilless, Luttrell has been partly circumspect and partly scathing. He practices a form of charity and says that "after turning over every rock" his administration has seen no sign of fraud. But under those selfsame rocks, says Luttrell, was "an abundance of waste." In fact, maintains Luttrell, Gilless' budget -- the bane of the Rout administration and the county commission for years -- "was a mess."

What made it so messy was, according to the current sheriff, a superfluity of employees -- to the tune of some 600, in Luttrell's estimation. The lion's share of that excess, as he saw it, was in the county jail. And what worsened the situation was the pay parity awarded the jailers last year. Hadn't the jailers, whose representatives made frequent and impassioned visits to commission meetings, made the case that their job was as demanding, if not more so, than that of regular deputies in the field? Didn't they speak vividly of having to dodge human excrement and urine thrown (or splashed) their way?

"They wouldn't have had to dodge all that ... " (actually the sheriff used some vernacular) "if we'd had some effective procedures in place for dealing with inmates," Luttrell answered the other night after expressing some of his concerns to a neighborhood Republican club.

Luttrell, who was county corrections director before his election as sheriff, plans to conduct a formal study of jail operations preparatory to making what he suggests will be fairly drastic budget-cutting measures.

In this, he can expect the full support of Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson, chairman of the commission's law-enforcement committee and a proponent of cut-to-the-bone conservatism himself.

Says Thompson, "Sheriff Luttrell's doing a fine job of trying to save the county money." The commissioner notes that the commission is in the throes of debating a Luttrell proposal to privatize the handling of inmates' assets, a function now served by publicly paid employees. The proposal, which has been criticized by Commissioner Michael Hooks as unfair to county staffers who might lose their jobs, was scheduled for committee discussion this week and for floor action by the full commission on Monday. ·

Thursday, March 6, 2003

CITY BEAT

CITY BEAT

Posted By on Thu, Mar 6, 2003 at 4:00 AM

BARONS OF THE BLUFF If a lottery, as someone said, is a tax on stupidity, then a subsidy is a tax reward for cleverness and initiative.

If the Tennessee General Assembly can work out the details, by the end of this year Memphians, stupid or otherwise, will be able to advance the college educations of children of the middle-class by buying lottery tickets at convenience stores all over town. As the director of the Georgia Lottery told Tennessee lawmakers recently, the goal is pretty simple. Get people to play early and play often!

While the lottery makes headlines, another plan to game the tax system is working its way through the Center City Commission (CCC) enroute to the City Council and County Commission. Like the lottery, this one keeps public money out of general funds and dedicates it to a specific area or group, in this case the CCC and downtown.

In the works for several months, the plan is called a tax increment financing or "TIF" district, encompassing much of downtown from the Wolf River to Crump Boulevard. Some 25 years ago, the CCC started giving subsidies in the form of property tax freezes to approximately 200 downtown projects so far, from apartment buildings to The Peabody. The idea was that the subsidy would help downtown get back on its feet, at which time developers and property owners would start paying taxes like everyone else.

The older tax freezes are starting to expire. But if the plan goes through, the tax payments won't go into the city or county's general fund. They'll be captured by the TIF district and stay right at home to finance projects on the CCC's $588 million 30-year wish list, including a land bridge to Mud Island.

What could be controversial about this plan as it makes its way into the public agenda is that downtown has no monopoly on need and blight. Every dollar that goes into the land bridge is a dollar that won't be used to fill a pothole or pay a policeman in Raleigh, Frayser, Whitehaven, or Midtown.

The difference is that downtowners hold all the high cards. The Uptown redevelopment around St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Center City Commission, the expanded Memphis Cook Convention Center, and the FedEx Forum already get dedicated public revenue streams or tax subsidies or both. Developer Henry Turley as well as Jeff Sanford, Benny Lendermon, and Kevin Kane head honchos of the CCC, RDC, and CVB respectively all live or work on the bluff. City Councilman Rickey Peete, chairman of the CCC board, is head of the Beale Street Merchants Association. Fine fellows and independent thinkers one and all, but a stacked deck is a stacked deck.

Where does the shoe store owner in the Mall of Memphis or Raleigh Springs Mall, which have lost their anchor tenants, go to get a tax subsidy and a TIF to fight blight?

Where in Midtown does Stewart Brothers Hardware, which is getting squeezed by Home Depot and trolley disruption, go for special treatment and dedicated taxes? Or Ken Barton's Car Care, whose insurance premiums are going through the roof because cars are being stolen right off his lot?

Where do the residents of Frayser and Whitehaven go to insure that the Ed Rice Community Center and the Roark-Whitehaven Tennis Center are as well maintained as the riverfront and the South Bluffs for the next 30 years?

To which special agency, professionally staffed and with a board stacked with politicians and business leaders, do neighborhoods go to attract a fraction of the thousands of new expensive houses and market-rate apartments that have been built downtown in the last decade?

They go to City Hall. They don't have special agencies. They have elected representatives who are stretched thin and associations staffed by volunteers, and they compete for scarce tax dollars in the messy public process.

A big tax storm is coming. The insiders are loading up now so they can live comfortably while the cold winds blow. The outsiders get to buy fur coats, mittens, and hot chocolate for the insiders. Which are you? As they say in poker, if you look around the table and you don't know who the chump is ...

*******

Their minds are made up; don't confuse them with facts. David Pickler, the chairman of the Shelby County Board of Education, doesn't miss a chance to knock the Memphis City Schools, urban school systems, or school system consolidation. The Commercial Appeal turned him loose in an op-ed column last weekend.

"Enrollment in the Nashville-Davidson County school system has declined from nearly 82,000 pupils at the time of consolidation to just 48,000 today during a period of unprecedented growth in Middle Tennessee," Pickler wrote.

No it has not. The actual enrollment, according to the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System and the Tennessee Department of Education, is 68,277. Apparently plus-or-minus 30 percent is close enough for the county board and the CA, which did not correct the error. School system consolidation, by the way, occurred in 1964. If Nashvillians are still reeling from it, that's one heck of a hangover.

The ability of people with no first-hand experience with an urban school system to intuit the motives of thousands of people 200 miles away for 39 years is amazing.

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

CITY BEAT: Barons of the Bluff

A new plan would divert still more tax money to downtown.

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2003 at 4:00 AM

BARONS OF THE BLUFF If a lottery, as someone said, is a tax on stupidity, then a subsidy is a tax reward for cleverness and initiative.

If the Tennessee General Assembly can work out the details, by the end of this year Memphians, stupid or otherwise, will be able to advance the college educations of children of the middle-class by buying lottery tickets at convenience stores all over town. As the director of the Georgia Lottery told Tennessee lawmakers recently, the goal is pretty simple. Get people to play early and play often!

While the lottery makes headlines, another plan to game the tax system is working its way through the Center City Commission (CCC) enroute to the City Council and County Commission. Like the lottery, this one keeps public money out of general funds and dedicates it to a specific area or group, in this case the CCC and downtown.

In the works for several months, the plan is called a tax increment financing or "TIF" district, encompassing much of downtown from the Wolf River to Crump Boulevard. Some 25 years ago, the CCC started giving subsidies in the form of property tax freezes to approximately 200 downtown projects so far, from apartment buildings to The Peabody. The idea was that the subsidy would help downtown get back on its feet, at which time developers and property owners would start paying taxes like everyone else.

The older tax freezes are starting to expire. But if the plan goes through, the tax payments won't go into the city or county's general fund. They'll be captured by the TIF district and stay right at home to finance projects on the CCC's $588 million 30-year wish list, including a land bridge to Mud Island.

What could be controversial about this plan as it makes its way into the public agenda is that downtown has no monopoly on need and blight. Every dollar that goes into the land bridge is a dollar that won't be used to fill a pothole or pay a policeman in Raleigh, Frayser, Whitehaven, or Midtown.

The difference is that downtowners hold all the high cards. The Uptown redevelopment around St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, the Riverfront Development Corporation (RDC), the Memphis Convention and Visitors Bureau (CVB), the Center City Commission, the expanded Memphis Cook Convention Center, and the FedEx Forum already get dedicated public revenue streams or tax subsidies or both. Developer Henry Turley as well as Jeff Sanford, Benny Lendermon, and Kevin Kane head honchos of the CCC, RDC, and CVB respectively all live or work on the bluff. City Councilman Rickey Peete, chairman of the CCC board, is head of the Beale Street Merchants Association. Fine fellows and independent thinkers one and all, but a stacked deck is a stacked deck.

Where does the shoe store owner in the Mall of Memphis or Raleigh Springs Mall, which have lost their anchor tenants, go to get a tax subsidy and a TIF to fight blight?

Where in Midtown does Stewart Brothers Hardware, which is getting squeezed by Home Depot and trolley disruption, go for special treatment and dedicated taxes? Or Ken Barton's Car Care, whose insurance premiums are going through the roof because cars are being stolen right off his lot?

Where do the residents of Frayser and Whitehaven go to insure that the Ed Rice Community Center and the Roark-Whitehaven Tennis Center are as well maintained as the riverfront and the South Bluffs for the next 30 years?

To which special agency, professionally staffed and with a board stacked with politicians and business leaders, do neighborhoods go to attract a fraction of the thousands of new expensive houses and market-rate apartments that have been built downtown in the last decade?

They go to City Hall. They don't have special agencies. They have elected representatives who are stretched thin and associations staffed by volunteers, and they compete for scarce tax dollars in the messy public process.

A big tax storm is coming. The insiders are loading up now so they can live comfortably while the cold winds blow. The outsiders get to buy fur coats, mittens, and hot chocolate for the insiders. Which are you? As they say in poker, if you look around the table and you don't know who the chump is ...

*******

Their minds are made up; don't confuse them with facts. David Pickler, the chairman of the Shelby County Board of Education, doesn't miss a chance to knock the Memphis City Schools, urban school systems, or school system consolidation. The Commercial Appeal turned him loose in an op-ed column last weekend.

"Enrollment in the Nashville-Davidson County school system has declined from nearly 82,000 pupils at the time of consolidation to just 48,000 today during a period of unprecedented growth in Middle Tennessee," Pickler wrote.

No it has not. The actual enrollment, according to the Metropolitan Nashville Public School System and the Tennessee Department of Education, is 68,277. Apparently plus-or-minus 30 percent is close enough for the county board and the CA, which did not correct the error. School system consolidation, by the way, occurred in 1964. If Nashvillians are still reeling from it, that's one heck of a hangover.

The ability of people with no first-hand experience with an urban school system to intuit the motives of thousands of people 200 miles away for 39 years is amazing.

POLITICS: Kustoff vs. Marsha?

POLITICS

Posted By on Wed, Mar 5, 2003 at 4:00 AM

KUSTOFF VS. MARSHA? Marsha Blackburn, the Nashville-area resident who defeated a largish field of opponents in last year’s 7th district congressional race and then dusted off Democrat Tim Barron of Collierville, should have every reason to feel secure in her job. After all, she won overwhelmingly in both primary and general elections, even managing to finish second place in Shelby County in the Republican primary vote, despite the fact that three -- count ‘em, three -- of her major opponents hailed from Shelby. They were lawyer David Kustoff, who directed the 2000 Bush presidential campaign in Tennessee and the successful Senate campaign last year of Lamar Alexander; state Senator Mark Norris; and Memphis city councilman Brent Taylor. Only Kustoff finished ahead of Blackburn in Shelby County. Upon her election, Blackburn promptly found herself named an assistant whip for the GOP in the House of Representatives and got the appointment she coveted to a government operations subcommittee that would give her good opportunity to capitalize on the conservative-populist image that she, as a prominent income-tax opponent, had established so successfully in the state senate. Moreover, she proved herself to be a more than adequate campaigner and has established district offices throughout the sprawling 7th, which runs from the suburbs of Memphis to those of Nashville. She even maintains a part-time residence along Highway 64 in Shelby County. Add to this the overwhelming advantages that normally allow incumbents -- absent personal or party scandal -- to win renomination and reelection easily. Why then are there persistent rumors that Kustoff is aiming to oppose her reelection in 2004? And why does Kustoff -- who acknowledges having been encouraged to oppose Blackburn by “a number of people,” especially in Shelby County -- choose not to rule out making the race? “I just haven’t made any decisions whatever about what I’m going to be doing this year, next year, or in 2006, or at any point thereafter,” says Kustoff, who owns a reputation for being cautious and practical and not given to quixotic adventures. The bottom line would seem to be that there is an appreciable body of Republicans locally who either see Blackburn’s politics as being too hard-line or believe strongly that the congressman from the 7th District should hail from Shelby County or its near vicinity -- as had the last several representatives from the district. “I’ve heard a lot of that,” concedes Kustoff, a favorite of former governor Don Sundquist, himself a former 7th District representative, who mused out loud late last year about the likelihood of an opponent for Blackburn in 2004. Blackburn’s operatives themselves are known to take the prospect of a Kustoff race seriously and periodically inquire about news of one. Even if Blackburn draws no strong opponent in 2004, she will likely have a race on her hands in 2006 -- at which time she is almost certain to run for either governor or for the Senate, if Majority Leader Bill Frist, honors his two-term pledge and begins a campaign for the presidential nomination in 2008.
  • Sheriff Mark Luttell is another elected official who, like Governor Phil Bredesen, campaigned on the theme of governmental economy and was taken in some circles to be merely electioneering but, like Bredesen, seems to have been serious all along. In dealing with the regime of his predecessor, three-term sheriff A C Gilless, Luttress has been partly circumspect and partly scathing. He practices a form of charity and says that “after turning over every rock,” his administration has seen so sign of fraud. But under those selfsame rocks, says Luttrell, was “an abundance of waste.” In fact, maintains Luttrell, Gilles’ budget -- the bane of the Rout administration and the county commission for years -- “was a mess.” What made it so messy was, according to the current sheriff, a superfluity of employees -- to the tune of some 600, in Luttrell’s estimation. The lion’s share of that excess, as he saw it, was in the county jail. And what worsened the situation was the pay parity awarded the jailers last year. Hadn’t the jailers, whose representatives made frequent and impassioned visits to commission meetings, made the case that their job was as demanding, if not more so, than that of regular deputies in the field? Didn’t they speak vividly of having to dodge human excrement and urine thrown (or splashed) their way? “They wouldn’t have had to dodge all that…” (actually the sheriff used some vernacular) “… if we’d had some effective procedures in place for dealing with inmates,” Luttrell answered the other night after expressing some of his concerns to a neighborhood Republican club. Luttrell, who was county corrections director before his election as sheriff, plans to conduct a formal study of jail operations preparatory to making what he suggests will be fairly drastic budget-cutting measures. In this, he can expect the full support of Shelby County Commissioner Bruce Thompson, chairman of the commission’s law enforcement committee and a proponent of cut-to-the-bone conservatism himself. Says Thompson, “Sheriff Luttrell’s doing a fine job of trying to save the county money.” The commissioner notes that the commission is in the throes of debating a Luttrell proposal to privatize the handling of inmates’ assets, a function now served by publicly paid employees. The proposal, which has been criticized by Commissioner Michael Hooks as unfair to county staffers who might lose their jobs , was scheduled for committee discussion this week and for floor action by the full commission on Monday.
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