published Saturday, June 29th, 2013

Nashville Notebook: 'Pork Report' targets EPB, Chattanooga Airport

Chattanooga Airport
Chattanooga Airport

A group that advocates for less government and lower taxes issued its annual Tennessee Pork Report this week, charging state and local governments "squandered" $511 million over the past year in overpayments, economic incentives and other programs it considers wasteful.

The Beacon Center of Tennessee report likens $95 million in spending for the troubled Hemlock Semiconductor plant in Clarksville to the federal Solyndra scandal. That was enough to earn the group's 2013 "Pork of the Year" award for Hemlock.

The company laid off most employees and now is operating with a skeleton crew.

Beacon Center CEO Justin Owen also lambastes the state's Department of Labor and Workforce Development over $73 million in improper payments to the unemployed -- only about $15 million of which has been recovered.

The group also returned to what fast may be becoming two favorite punching bags -- two quasi-governmental agencies in Chattanooga.

The report's take on Chattanooga's EPB cited a Chattanooga Times Free Press examination showing EPB salaries averaged more than $63,000, with the salaries of 50 executives in the six-figure range.

The report also whacks spending by the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport Authority on its new fixed-base operation that competes with privately owned TAC Air.

The report notes the airport authority originally "dumped" $4 million in taxpayer money on the facility, which has lost nearly $900,000.

Airport officials say TAC Air overcharges customers for fuel and has other problems.

Other Beacon targets include "corporate welfare" in the state's FastTrack economic incentive program, which Republican Gov. Bill Haslam is funding at $45.5 million in the budget that starts July 1. Owen said it amounts to government picking "winners and losers."

Tracy opposes immigration bill

Republican 4th Congressional District candidate Jim Tracy says the U.S. House should junk this week's U.S. Senate-passed immigration overhaul to focus more on border security and "rejecting amnesty."

The bill fails because it leaves certification of border security up to Congress, Tracy said. "That's asking the fox to guard the henhouse, and it's bound to fail."

The bill passed the Senate this week on a 68-32 vote. Tennessee Republicans Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander voted yes after Corker brokered a deal to toughen border enforcement.

Tracy and Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lascassas, are running to unseat U.S. Rep. Scott DesJarlais.

"Certification of border security has to come from outside of Washington to have any credibility," Tracy said. "This means including the border states in the process."

Earlier this week, DesJarlais, a Jasper physician, came out swinging against the Senate immigration proposal, calling it the "Obamacare of immigration."

"Before overhauling our nation's immigration system, we should first ensure we are enforcing the laws that are already on the books," the congressman said.

Contact Andy Sher at 615-255-0550 or asher@timesfreepress.com.

about Andy Sher...

Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...

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