Haslam (R) to Raise Taxes Despite Billion Dollar Surplus

From Rocky Top Politics:

“After over-collecting $2 billion dollars from Tennessee taxpayers, Gov. Bill Haslam today said he thinks Tennesseans are not taxed enough and wants to raise the taxes on that most basic of middle class commodities:  gasoline.

Reports indicate Haslam is trying to sugarcoat the tax increase by promising to “index” the taxes (meaning they can go up without additional legislative approval) and to cut a little from the food and/or sales tax rate.

Sure.

What is astonishing is that this proposal comes on the eve of the inauguration of Donald Trump as the next President…Trump was elected by middle class outrage over politicians who do dumb things like, well, raise taxes when you are sitting on a $2 billion surplus.”

Two wrongs don’t make a right: State RFP purchasing process shouldn’t be secret either

One of the points that some will make in defending the recent change to the open records law, exempting qualifications and proposals while they’re being evaluated by a secret screening committee, is that the state has been operating that way.  Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Here is a good example of a controversial issue that has been shrouded in secrecy.  The state should open it’s purchasing procedures to the public.  The fact that the state has been operating in secret is not a good reason to justify allowing local government purchasing procedures to operate in secret.

The Yager/Calfee exemption law should be repealed.  The law allowing secret state purchasing procedures should also be repealed.

Contact Senator Ken Yager sen.ken.yager@capitol.tn.gov and Representative Kent Calfee rep.kent.calfee@capitol.tn.gov to repeal the secret purchasing practices.

 

Comptroller’s Office says it doesn’t recognize assignments totaling $2 million in funds for jail

Regarding the jail we’ve learned of a secret $2 million plan, a contract signed without commission approval, inmates filling our jail that we don’t have to keep, a company being paid 3.5 times more than the lowest offer, a purchasing agent writing a resolution about the jail that failed to mention the word jail in the resolutionthe inspecting authority (TCI) having no authority to shut the jail down but pushing the county to build and its Corrections Partnership Coordinator bullying people attending public meetings.  Now we learn that the $2 million in assignments for the jail are not recognized by the Comptroller’s Office (see below).

Is there anything regarding the jail that can be trusted?  The public trust has been broken.  The public has good reason to be very skeptical and cautious of anything presented to it regarding the jail, regardless of what the courthouse clique calls it (i.e. Transitional Facility).

What we see now is that there are essentially two sets of books: the lawful set of books recognized by the state and a second set of books by the courthouse clique.  How many other slush funds are there in the courthouse clique’s 2nd set of books?

This all makes the case of why one more layer of secret bureaucracy through the Purchasing Department should not be tolerated.  The evaluation process of qualifications should not be done in secret and the Yager/Calfee exemption law should be repealed.

Contact Senator Ken Yager sen.ken.yager@capitol.tn.gov and Representative Kent Calfee rep.kent.calfee@capitol.tn.gov to repeal the secret purchasing practices.

 

Here is my correspondence with Jim Arnette, the Director of the Division of Local Government Audit in the Office of the Comptroller of the Treasury.

—–Original Message—–
From: “Jim Arnette” <Jim.Arnette@cot.tn.gov>
Sent: Thursday, January 5, 2017 2:07pm
To: “tona@breezeair.net” <tona@breezeair.net>
Cc: “Justin Wilson” <Justin.Wilson@cot.tn.gov>, “Bryan Burklin” <Bryan.Burklin@cot.tn.gov>, “Mark Treece” <Mark.Treece@cot.tn.gov> Subject: RE: Who authorized assigning this $2 million?

Ms. Monroe,

We found no documentation that the county commission has adopted a resolution or policy clearly giving management the authority to assign fund balance for external reporting purposes. Therefore, we have not recognized these assignments in the financial statements in the annual financial report that we issue with our audit opinion. Although we do not recognize the authority for management to assign fund balance for external reporting purposes, this would not necessarily preclude management from recognizing assignments on their internal records as a management planning tool.

Jim Arnette, CGFM, CISA
Director
Comptroller of the Treasury
Division of Local Government Audit
1500 James K. Polk Building
Nashville, Tennessee  37243-1402
615.401.7841 

From: tona@breezeair.net [mailto:tona@breezeair.net]
Sent: Thursday, December 29, 2016 12:57 PM
To: Jim Arnette <Jim.Arnette@cot.tn.gov>
Cc: Justin Wilson <Justin.Wilson@cot.tn.gov>
Subject: Who authorized assigning this $2 million?

Dear Director Arnette,

Last year, I learned about a secret plan by Blount County Mayor Ed Mitchell and Sheriff James Lee Berrong to set aside $2 million, $1 million last year and another $1 million this year, through contact with and in records of the Tennessee Corrections Institute (TCI).  The September 2, 2015 meeting minutes of the TCI Board of Control are attached for your review.  The part relevant to Blount County is found on page 7.  

“Since that time, the mayor is on board 100 percent and called the sheriff the previous day and told the sheriff that one million dollars had been escrowed and earmarked for a new jail and plan to do the same thing next year.”   

When I inquired about whether $1 million had been set aside by the Mayor without telling the public or the Blount County Commission, Blount County Finance Director Randy Vineyard informed me that yes $1 million had been assigned.  He provided me a paper copy of the March 2009 Governmental Accounting Standards Board Document referencing Statement 54.  That document is found here:  http://www.gasb.org/cs/BlobServer?blobkey=id&blobwhere=1175820452832&blobheader=application/pdf&blobcol=urldata&blobtable=MungoBlobs  

Under the classification Assigned is says,  

“Assigned fund balance comprises amounts intended to be used by the government for specific purposes. Intent can be expressed by the governing body or by an official or body to which the governing body delegates the authority. In governmental funds other than the general fund, assigned fund balance represents the amount that is not restricted or committed. This indicates that resources in other governmental funds are, at a minimum, intended to be used for the purpose of that fund.”

The words “or by an official or body” are underlined because they were underlined on the copy provided to me. 

Paragraph 13 of Statement 54 says much the same thing.

“Assigned Fund Balance

  1. Amounts that are constrained by the government‘s intent to be used for specific purposes, but are neither restricted nor committed, should be reported as assigned fund balance, except for stabilization arrangements, as discussed in paragraph 21. Intent should be expressed by (a) the governing body itself or (b) a body (a budget or finance committee, for example) or official to which the governing body has delegated the authority to assign amounts to be used for specific purposes.

What I want to know and hope that your office will tell me is when did the governing body delegate the authority to assign these funds to the Mayor and/or Finance Director?  Please let me know if there is a state statute that allows for this.  If there is no state law, when did the Blount County Commission delegate this authority to the Mayor and/or Finance Director.

 

I await your response and wish you a happy new year.

 

Sincerely,
Tona Monroe

Blount County Commissioner

Interview on new RFQ/RFP exemption to Tennessee Open Records Act

In response to the stonewalling related to my (Tona Monroe) request for information and records related to the Screening Committee/Evaluation Team for the request for qualifications related to jail expansion, David Tulis interviewed me and Deborah Fischer today about a new exemption to the Open Records Act.  I learned that what was previously public information is now sealed until there is an intent to award a contract.

There is a point in the interview when I said proposal where I should have said qualifications.  Also, the person who shared concerns about purchasing policies said that the policies “may” not comply with law. He did not state definitely that didn’t comply with law.

David Tulis interviewed Blount County Commissioner Tona Monroe

 

David Tulis interviewed Deborah Fisher of the Tennessee Coalition of Open Government
https://www.facebook.com/hotnews1240/videos/1211086112291916/

Stop loss policy claim limit

In the montly December Commission Report, I reported on the premiums and the claims of the stop loss policy for the county’s health care plan.  FYI here is the claim limit amount where the stop loss policy kicks in.

From broker Cole Harris:

“It used to be $250,000 until July of 2015 when it was raised to $300,000. I requested for rates higher than $300,000, but the largest the carrier would go was $350,000 due to your size. The rates for $350,000 did not justify the increase in liability.”

Good News: Washington Frozen Out of Syria Peace Plan

Written by Ron Paul    January 2, 2017

As the US mainstream media obsessed last week about Russia’s supposed “hacking” of the US elections and President Obama’s final round of Russia sanctions in response, something very important was taking place under the media radar. As a result of a meeting between foreign ministers of Russia, Iran, and Turkey last month, a ceasefire in Syria has been worked out and is being implemented. So far it appears to be holding, and after nearly six years of horrible warfare the people of Syria are finally facing the possibility of rebuilding their lives.

What is so important about this particular ceasefire? It was planned, agreed to, and implemented without the participation of the United States Government.

In fact it was frustration with Washington’s refusal to separate its “moderates” from terrorist groups and its continued insistence on regime change for the Syrian government that led the three countries to pursue a solution on their own for Syria. They also included the Syrian government and much of the opposition in the agreement, which the US government has been unwilling to do.

We have been told all along by the neocons and “humanitarian interventionists” that the United States must take a central role in every world crisis or nothing will ever be solved. We are the “indispensable nation,” they say, and without our involvement the world will collapse. Our credibility is on the line, they claim, and if we don’t step up no one will. All this is untrue, as we have seen last week.

The fact is, it is often US involvement in “solving” these crises that actually perpetuates them. Consider the 60-plus year state of war between North and South Korea. Has US intervention done anything to solve the problem? How about our decades of meddling in the Israel-Palestine dispute? Are we any closer to peace between the Israelis and Palestinians despite the billions we have spent bribing and interfering?

Non-intervention in the affairs of others does not damage US credibility overseas. It is US meddling, bombing, droning, and regime-changing that damages our credibility overseas. US obstruction in Syria kept the war going. As the Syrians and Russians were liberating east Aleppo from its four year siege by al-Qaeda, the Obama Administration was demanding a ceasefire. As Syrians began to move back into their homes in east Aleppo, the State Department continued to tell us that the Russians and Syrian government were slaughtering civilians for the fun of it.

So why all the media attention on unproven accusations of Russian hacking and President Obama’s predictable, yet meaningless response? The mainstream media does the bidding of Washington’s interventionists and they are desperate to divert attention from what may prove to be the beginning of the end of Syria’s long nightmare. They don’t want Americans to know that the rest of the world can solve its own problems without the US global policemen in the center of the action. When it is finally understood that we don’t need to be involved for crises to be solved overseas, the neocons will lose. Let’s hope that happens soon!

Source: http://ronpaulinstitute.org/archives/featured-articles/2017/january/02/good-news-washington-frozen-out-of-syria-peace-plan/

December 2016 Commission Report

Commission meeting
Commissioners Shawn Carter, Tom Cole, Mike Lewis and Karen Miller were absent.

$5 million of debt service fund used to pay debt
After the commission voted to authorize an additional $5 million in debt, the Mayor and Finance Director went ahead and used $5 million from the debt service fund rather than borrowing it.  I (Tona Monroe) am glad that they did and don’t understand why the additional $5 million was authorized by a majority of the commissioners.

Stop Loss Policy
The county self insures its health care plan, excluding additional insurance products like dental and vision insurance.  However, it has maintained a stop loss policy through a private vendor for large medical claims.

The commission was provided with the cost of the policy for the current year and for the new year but wasn’t given any information about the amount of claims paid out under this policy.  I asked to be given the cost of the policy and the claims paid with the stop loss policy.

The numbers showed that the county has spent about $900,000* more in premiums than the stop policy has paid out in claims since July 1, 2013.  I was the only commission present who voted no.

Underwriting Year Premium Claims
07/01/2013 554,961 601,535
07/01/2014-01/01/16 883,339 331,093
01/01/2016 446,922 46,982*

*These amount could change before the end of the year.  These figures were provided on December 12, 2016.

Industrial Development Board
There has been some much needed discussion about crony capitalism or corporate welfare surrounding the Carrier deal that President Elect Donald Trump negotiated.  At the state level, the Beacon Center has been calling for an end to corporate welfare.  I and others, here locally, have been calling for an end to these special deals.

The Industrial Development Board (IDB), often with the help of the state of Tennessee, fosters crony deals for a few connected and chosen businesses.  The public is usually in the dark during the negotiations.  When the deals are made public, cheerleaders consisting of the local press try to convince us that the gods of government and the Blount Partnership have done something great by giving the farm away.

Neither tax deals nor land incentives for a few select businesses is equal protection under the law.  All businesses should operate under tax laws that apply equally to all businesses.  There should be no corporate handouts.  Businesses should succeed or fail on their own merits or lack thereof.

The best thing the government can do to promote a business friendly environment is ensure that taxes are uniform and that regulations have a legitimate, useful purpose.  Unfortunately the situation isn’t likely to change with the Blount County state legislators.   The poster child for corporate welfare is State Senator Doug Overbey, who sponsored the TN Investco program which has been a big flop.

The commission was given 3 nominees from the IDB to serve on the IDB.  Yes, the IDB sends us the list of who it wants to serve on the IDB and in the order of preference (see page 40).  The state of Tennessee has set many of these boards up so that they can do their own nominating.

Greg Wilson, President of First Tennessee Bank was the first choice of the IDB Chairman Fred Lawson and Blount Partnership President Bryan Daniels and the nominee that the commission chose.  I called Mr. Wilson and spoke to him.  He was largely ignorant of special deals being dolled out through the IDB.  He told me that he only know what he had read in the papers about the Advanced Munitions Inc. deal.  I asked how he would determine which businesses should be given special development deals.  He said it depended on the return on the investment.  That sounds like code for, only the big boys will get the special deals.  Of course many of the local establishment will benefit as well.

Bankers and construction people are often the members of this Board.  It’s good for business to know who is coming into you county and where the special deals are handed out.  These business people may have conflicts of interest.  The whole set up of the IDB makes little sense, unless you are benefiting from it.

It would make much more sense for local elected officials to have an advisory committee to offer suggestions in creating a business friendly environment.  Tax policies should be set by the state and by the county commission and applied equally to all businesses.  It would be far better to reduce the tax burden on all businesses than for the government to keep picking winners and losers.  It is high time to reform this process.

Commissioner Jamie Daly and I, who were blocked by Bryan Daniels Blount Partnership/Chamber of Commerce/IDB/Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority, were the only two to vote no on confirmation of Mr. Wilson.  My mother received much better treatment from her local chamber, which recently awarded her citizen of the year.

Ho Ho Ho and No No No: Learning to use the NO button 
At the end of the meeting, I gave the commissioners a Christmas gift that they can use to practice protecting you the taxpayers.

Up next: Two big issues may be discussed in January.  You absolutely need to pay close attention to your local government and become involved as these could both be very costly issues.

The Blount County School Board passed a budget amendment request that will be presented to the Budget Committee to provide more funding for an architect to look at expanding the high schools.

Important decisions surrounding the jail are or will soon be discussed in secret through the Purchasing Department.  The Tennessee General Assembly passed a law earlier this year allowing local governments to operate in secret during the evaluation process for professional services.  This new law is an affront to the citizens who deserve to know how the evaluators are vetted and how and why the make their decisions.  All of this will remain a secret until the Purchasing Agent starts the negotiation process with the chosen company.  Good luck at learning how the now secret evaluators reached their decisions after the fact.

The process was already flawed by allowing the appointments to be political rather than being based on the knowledge and expertise of the subject matter.  Now you aren’t even allowed to know who they are until after the fact, thanks to the state legislature.  If these secret evaluators are really knowledgeable on what Blount County needs, then they should have been discussing their ideas and suggestions with the Blount County Corrections Partnership.  Blount County government put the cart before the horse.

Happy New Year!