Behind the Headlines – April 26, 2013

Behind the Headlines – April 26, 2013


This is a
production of WKNO-Memphis. Production funding for ‘Behind
the Headlines is made possible in part by.. A look at the decisions
and difficulties of the last legislative session tonight
on ‘Behind the Headlines’. ♪♪♪ I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News. Thanks for joining us. We are joined tonight by Senator
Brian Kelsey of Germantown. Thank you for being here. Also Senator Jim Kyle,
minority leader from Memphis. Thank you for being here. And Bill Dries, senior reporter
with The Memphis Daily News. Let me start. And I don’t know
which way to go. I’ll go with the majority. The session is
over in record time, Senator Kelsey. Talk to me about some of the
biggest accomplishments from your perspective that were
achieved in the really rapid session. Actually, I think the biggest
accomplishment is one that very few people have looked at at all
and that was a bill by Treasurer Lillard that reformed our entire
pension system in this state. So now we’re going to have
younger workers who are going to have their own accounts that
will have their names on them and that will have a pot of
money associated with their names. And I think that’s going to
be a real win for everyone. You started that bill. It’s interesting
because that’s, in some ways, the frame of the national
debate right now about debt and, you know, what we’re paying
for and long term health care, Social Security. This whole debate
at the federal, state, local
level about pensions. Obviously, the city and
the county here are in that conversation. Across the board,
Republicans, which have.. You’re a Republican and a super
majority right now in the senate and in the house. By and large, you’re getting
done the bills that people are talking about from pension
reform to workers comp to, I’ll be it, small
reduction and the food tax. Was it, I guess, a satisfying
session in that sense in that you were able to move so many
parts of your agenda forward? Yeah, I think absolutely. It was a very successful year. And as you mentioned earlier,
it was done in record time and I think that’s something
to be proud of as well. The fact that we got
out by April 19th. But you know, there were a
couple of disappointments. But the beauty of this is
there’s a two-year window here, a two-year general
assembly session. And so, we’ll come back and
we’ll knock those out next year. We’ll come back to what some
of those disappointments were. But Senator Kyle,
for you, you all are.. The Democrats are in a
minority position right now. For you, were there
accomplishments in the session? And I suppose there
were many frustrations. Well, I would say there are
personal accomplishments. But to say there was
accomplishments as Democrats would be wrong. Um, that wasn’t
allowed to occur. It was, um.. It was an interesting session in
the manner in which business was conducted. It was done very quickly and
we’ll just have to see whether we did it accurately. Let’s pick just as a symbol of
some of the bigger Republican agenda that Senator
Kelsey just brought up, the reform and
pensions and this. This is basically,
if I get it right, going from for new teachers and
new state workers starting in 2014. It’s not a
guaranteed benefit pension. Instead, it’s more like a
401k-type that is more of the private sector. What was your
opinion on that specific? Let me ask you this
and ask Bill this. Why is cutting
someone’s pension reform? Why is reducing the amount
of pension a person gets as a pension a reform? I mean, quite frankly, the
majority believes that reducing something is reforming. We reduce our contribution to
public education and that’s called education reform. We reduce the pension of
citizens and that’s called reform. I wonder whether.. I mean, that’s a great word. “We reformed our pensions.” We reduced our pensions. We have created a parallel
public education system through, uh, virtual schools
and charter schools. And that’s a reform. Is it? Senator Kelsey, I mean, is
reform just a nice word for cuts? No, reform means that we’re
doing things smarter and we’re doing things by adding
competition and doing things, quite frankly, the way that
the private sector does them and does them well. And that’s exactly what we
did with these pensions. What we’re saying is,”Would you
rather have nothing at all 30 years down the road like
Illinois and California public servants are in a position in
right now or would you rather have an actually account?” Potentially, right. Or woudl you rather have an
account that’s got your name on it where there’s guaranteed
funds in it that you can actually control and
where you can say, “Okay, I want this money
invested this way and not this way.” Bill? Do you think that the state
though has a responsibility because it’s not like with
these changes that the state is getting out of that business. So can the state walk away from
certain responsibilities in the name of quote-unquote reform? Well, what the state ultimately
has to do is make sure that the state is serving its tax payer
as well and make sure that the state is not going bankrupt. So that’s why you have to
make some tough decisions. I will say even the Democratic
majority did a fantastic job of keeping out pension system in
great shape so that when we inherited the majority
status of government, we had a great
pension to work with. But the only way that that’s
going to happen in the future or 30 years down the road is if we
make these tough decisions now. And we ultimately went with a
hybrid plan that does allow for some sort of guaranteed
benefit to the workers as well. Senator Kyle, with
Democratic majorities, there were talks of changes. I won’t use teh term reform but
I’ll say there were talks about changing the pension system. Was it more of an internal
debate among Democrats than it was an actual effort
to make adjustments? I don’t think the Democrats
there were any internal debates. I think that the entire
government was involved — the majority and minority,
whatever the case may be. In regards to the
pension issue, I mean, we have a pension that.. I mean, I actually once voted
to increase pension benefits because our
investments had done so well. That isn’t the case today
but that will happen again. I mean, if you want to create
a gloom and doom situation, you will. I will say that Tresurer Lillard
did a very good job in listening to people and selling
people on the plan. I’m going to be quite honest. I ended up voting for the plan
because I thought it was the thing that I needed to do as
part of the leadership of the government that we had
decided to set down this path. But the days of
guaranteed benefits are over, private sector and
in the government. Now whether that is
a reform or not is, is, is.. We could sit here and talk for
the rest of the day about that. But the education reforms that
you talked about in particular actually began under Phil
Bredesen when he was governor. I would say to you
where we are in public.. The real interesting decision.. The state legislature
essentially this year took ownership of public educationin
Memphis and Shelby County with the voting for the
municipal school bill. I mean, whether it
succeeds or fails, a local issue like that, the
state has now injected itself and needs to be held accountable
for the results of what happens. And you are opposed to that. You spoke against
it on the floor. You talked about this. Everyone talked
about municipal schools, the cap being lifted and the
that the suburbs of Memphis are going to take advantage of that. But you also talked
that there were other.. I mean, there are 90 counties,
90-something counties in Tennessee. other cities, other communities
can be affected by this bill in ways they don’t
necessarily anticipate. That ultimately will occur where
you have a municipality that has a socio-economic, um, status
greater than the rest of the county. The option is always going to be
out there now to create your own school system and not be
with those other folks. And is that where we’re
going as a society here? We don’t want to be with the
other folks whoever the other folks are? Senator Kelsey, on that, the
municipal school district, that obviously has
taken up a lot of energy, a lot of time. We’ve talked about
this whole school, I don’t know, consolidation
now, deconsolidation now, I guess, if that’s a word. Is that, from your perspective.. You represent Germantown. You were obviously in favor of
this municipal schools bill. Is it about, um, socio-economic
issues purely and is it about just Germantown being able
to break free of Memphis? Yeah, I think there are a
lot of things going on. In fact, the number one major
advantage of passing the bill is that I think it keeps suburba
Shelby County residents in Shelby County and it keeps
them paying Shelby County taxes. And if you had forced people to
be a part of the school district but they did not
obviously want to be a part of, then I think they
crossed the county lines. And then there’s Memphis city
school children will lose that revenue that there, right
now, that they’re getting. So that I think is
ultimately the biggest positive. And do you see to
Senator Kyle’s point about, you know, the state has injected
itself in to local schools. Does the state now have a
responsibility to make both the suburban schoos that break off,
municipal schools that break off, successful and the city
of Memphis schools succesful? Well, I think the state is
injecting itself a lot more so in local school
districts throughout the state, not just on this
one particular issue. And I think that’s a good
thing because quite frankly, they have not been very
successful in Tennessee. But isn’t that to a kind of
typical public position which is that, you know, local
control is what’s important? That you don’t want
the federal government, you know, interfering with state
issues and the state shouldn’t be interfering with the
county and city issues. That is the biggest change we’ve
had in government since the Republicans have come
to the super majority. And that is the injecting our
viewpoint meaning our or the state’s viewpoint
in to local issues. We don’t think you
should be having wage. We don’t think you should have. So we’re going to
say you can’t do it. We don’t think you
should be able to do this. So we’re going to
say you can’t do it. I mean, we have taken more and
more away from local government. Local governments if we don’t
agree philosophically with what the local government
wants to do and that is. I mean, it’s redefinition of
conservative Republicanism in Tennessee. I’ll tell ya that. I absolutely agree that we have
done a number of those things. I was the sponsor of the bill
that ended the living wage and the prevailing wage here in
Shelby County and I was proud to sponsor it. But I don’t think that it’s
inconsistent with principals of federalism. I think it’s a
misunderstanding of federalism. As I’ve told people before on
the floor of the senate that cities and counties did not
band together to fight off the British to create their own
state and then preserve certain rights to local government. No, of course it was
states that did that. And when they created
the US Constitution, they preserved certain
rights to the states. However, the states decided to
create cities and counties and can abolish them at any time. And if they are doing things
that are antithetical to the actual citizens who live in
those cities and counties, then I think absolutely the
state should be stepping in. But why then? Okay, if we take your
argument another step, why then are you so opposed to
the federal government getting involved in
healthcare, say Medicaid? You were adamant that
that should not happen, that the state should not
take the expansion of Medicaid dollars. But how is that different than
the scenario you just described? Because that is the system that
we have under our federalist constitution. It is one that reserves certain
powers and rights to the states. There are no powers and rights
that are reserved to local governments under our US
Constitution and really under our state constitution with one
or two exceptions for home rule. Your take on that? They sound like Dixie-crats. And what do you mean by that? In the sense that when we
disagree with the federal government’s position
on a major policy issue, healthcare, therefore we are
going to claim states’ rights and say, “That’s not
what we ought to be about.” We had the same thing happen in
the ’50s and ’60s when southern governments, southern state
legislatures did not agree with the federal
government on a position. And therefore they
tried to break away. The politics of this says is
that local control has been the standard that Republicans
ran on to take this majority. And now that they
have the majority, they’re not
trusting local government. Before this program is over, I’d
like to talk a minute about what I see is the biggest failure we
had this session which is not addressed in the issue
of the sequestration. We put $58 million in our
savings account while meals on wheels folks are going
to lose their meals. So.. But.. The savings account
because people call that the.. There’s a big surplus. I think it will be up 450
million or something is what the bdget projects. You would have liked to take
some of that money to supplement what the state lost from
the federal sequestration. I would have liked to have had
that money available for the governor when he
felt it was important. And we tried to get that done. We could not get that done. We could not convince the
majority that we should have put that money aside and
then see if we needed it. I mean, you’re going to hear and
the folks watching this program are going to see cuts in our,
in very important programs. And people are going to be
suffering through no fault of their own. Through no fault of their own. And we could not get
that accomplished. And I truly believe that
we should have done that. It’s the same thing also
that where we go with under healthcare under
not participating. In the Medicaid expansion. Well, let’s talk for a second
about just the sequestration part. And I think Senator Kelseys
great to talk about that since he tried to stop
every bit of it. Right, I mean, why not? If the state has this
surplus, they’re in good shape, why not carve some of that
out for the neediest folks in Tennessee? Well, obviously we do that all
the time with our $32 billion budget. I mean, a lot of it is
spent on health and welfare, a good chunk of it. Probably one fourth
or one third of it. But you know, at the end of the
day our job is not to make up for the federal government
when it cuts it’s spending. I mean quite
frankly, as we all know, the federal government needs
to cut a lot more spending. In this.. It’s still an open question on
the federal govenment level and they will decide this
over the next few months. And then we can come back in
January and take a look at where we want to be
involved in Tennessee. Bill? But there is an ongoing
relationship between states and the federal government,
particularly when it comes to Medicaid. Governor Haslam
indicated to me two weeks ago, I believe, that he’s
still talking with the Obama administration to see if
something could be worked out on terms of the Medicaid expansion. Do you intend to bring back
your bill next year that would effectively have
the legislature say, “No, you can’t do that.” Absolutely I do. I feel very strongly that this
is money that Tennesseans simply do not have and that this is a
program that we should not be participating in. So, I’m very glad that Govenor
Haslam at least on the temporary level made the decision not
to expand Medicaid this year. I think that was a win. But going forward, he obviously
is still trying to get involved in it. And if he does, I will ensure
that we have a vote on that. And to review for people who
haven’t followed this closely.. I mean, the federal government
is going to cover those Medicaid costs for some three years. Um, the governor
has said, ‘Well, we just don’t want to put
everybody in to TennCare, we want to get
private insurers involved.” You don’t want any of that. Well, ultimately, the question
is do we have the money to fund our portion of this
Medicaid expansion or do we not. Obviously it would be much
better for the recepients to be in private healthcare than to be
in TennCare which is a woefully, just, you know,
just broken system. Senator Kyle, let’s
get you in on that. TennCare is not a
broken system, Brian. TennCare is a manage to health
situation for people who are sick. I mean, just because you want to
pass a bill that says that we’re not going to participate in
Medicaid expansion doesn’t mean that people are not going to be
in the emergency room at The Med being paid for through Shelby
County property tax dollars. They’re not going to
quit getting sick. They’re not going to
quit getting hurt. They’re not going to
quit getting that. I mean, as society is aging, as
the Baby Boomers are aging we become older. There are more
health-related issues. And you just can’t pass a law
that says you can’t get sick in this country. And to say.. TennCare is not a broken system. But you were in the senate as
well as Senator Kelsey when the state had to make some
cuts to the TennCare program. Is his fear that that might
happen again a legitimate fear? No, I don’t think it’s a
legitimate fear at all. It’s like we don’t want to do
this or we’re going to say the federal government is not going
to fulfill it’s obligation three years from now. When was the last
time that ever happened? 1981. When the federal government
didn’t fulfill an obligation it promised? That was the last time. It was 1981 and the federal
government had to balance it’s budget and so they just pulled
back on the percentage that they paid for Medicaid. And that’s exactly
what will happen again. But so and at that
point, that means.. Let’s say that happened, okay? They don’t
fulfill their promise. That means that the state
wouldn’t have the federal funds to keep the people who have
been added for three years. Why not people
say then cut them? Because, I mean, that’s just
unrealistic to say that we’re going to give somebody health
insurance for three years and then take them off of it. I sponsored the bill to do
that when we had to do that to balance our budget. I mean, you’re
talking about people. This is a life and death issue. I mean, quite frankly there
will be people who will not live because of this decision. Now let’s just be just
fundamentally clear here. That’s what ultimately
is where we’re going. And we can talk about management
care and managed care and this and that and whatever. But the people.. This is what, why we
have a government, I think. Maybe the last question on this
but from your point of view, Senator Kelsey, for
those people who get sick, for those people that
Senator Kyle is talking about, what is in your
mind their option? Well, he’s absolutely right. I mean, it is a serious issue. And this is why I said it’s a
woefully broken system because the studies show that actually
you have a higher chance of dying from an infection in a
hospital if you have Medicaid than if you have no
health insurance what so ever. So this is a broken system that
we’re paying more money for. So a lot of these people are
going to end up on private health insurance and
ultimately, I mean, that’s the type of system that
we’ve got to push more and more people to get in to. Let’s move on to a
couple of other things. The worker comp changes, that
was a big priority of Haslam coming it. It was a big Republican
priority. If you would, Senator Kelsey,
quickly describe those changes and why they were important. In essence, what we did was we
took this process out of the courts system and we put it in
to an administrative position. And we were one of very few
states that still had it in the court system, I think
one of three or four. And so now, it
will be a much more, you know, regulated system
on the administrative side. And it’s been a
very pro-business. And on the
pro-business agenda, I think, Senator Kyle, what was your
stance on that shift in workers’ comp? Well, I did not
support it first of all. I think it’s interesting
Republicans are for elected judges and we just created
appointed judgement system. I mean, I mean, we just, we
created a system where the workers’ comp judges are
appointed by the workers’ comp administrator. And if they don’t
rule correctly, they won’t get reappointed. I mean, secondly we’ve
changed the standard. For what it’s worth, I don’t
know that much about workers’ compensation. But every lawyer I know who
practices workers’ compensation law defence or a
plantiff was against this bill. I mean, you know, sometimes
you got to ask yourself if the people are affected are
telling you they don’t like it. What are we benefiting here? Remember, you’re not going to
have to lower workers’ comp premiums unless
you do two things. You make it.. You change the standard to
make a claim or you reduce what you’re paying for
healthcare for the worker. I mean, the worker gets hurt. Workers’ comp doesn’t pay. Does that mean the worker isn’t
hurt anymore or does the worker go down to the regional medical
center and get paid for thier healthcare through your
property tax dollars? I just wonder about that. To some degree for
you, Senator Kyle, does this go back to, I mean,
things we heard in the last presidential election of
makers and takers in that, you know, this notion that
there’s this big section of the country that
don’t pay any taxes, quote-unquote, and just take. They take be it
pensions, you know, government pensions or be it
workers’ comp or be it Medicaid, you know,
government health insurance. To you, is that what you
fear being played out in the Tennessee legislature? What I believe is that that
is an anecdotal statement that their peopel believe. And the politics always are
driven by what people believe. And I believe in Tennessee. Many of our citizens, a
majority of our citizens, believe they are makers and
there are others who are takers and that they aren’t interested
in helping the takers because they’re makers. I don’t sound like
John Wilder here. I maybe
channeling my John Wilder. You’re going old school on us. I may be going old school. But the fact is, um, they think
they are not takers until they are hurt. And then they wonder. And Senator Kelsey, let me
frame the question a little bit differently to you. Is it from you, from a
conservative point of view, that the government
needs to reduce dependancy? That these things,
be it workers’ comp, be it Medicaid, that
the government can’t? It’s an issue of dependancy
or is it an issue of cost? I think it’s a flawed analogy. I mean, this is workers’ comp. These are people
who are working. So, let’s start with that idea. And they’re injured on the
job and it could be anybody. It could be
anyone from, you know, the highest level of management
to the lowest level of employment. But ultimately, there was.. For exmaple, there was a
presumption in the law in favor of the worker. And so, that needed to go so
that we have a level playing field and we’ll just say
there are no presumptions. We’re not going to start with
anyone winning this case or losing this case. Would you say this is more about
them streamlining the process than saying, “Hey, we have too
many people getting too many workers’ comp claims?” Yeah, I think that’s a lot
of it is making it much more streamlined. Just a couple
minutes left, Bill. Um, let me go to
the voucher issue. Not directly on the voucher
issue but when the governor withdrew his legislation,
Senator Norris had a lot to say about the environment in which
he felt the governor’s proposal was going to. He said things had become too
political and that’s why the governor was withdrawing it. You had a different
version of that legislation. Do you think it had
become too political? Are you in conflict with
Governor Haslam on this issue? Well, we’re both in
favor of vouchers. I think that’s a positive. I still don’t quite understand
why he decided to pull this bill nor why he refused
to negotiate on it. I mean, the education committee
chairman and I were very clear that we were open to
negotiating on this issue. And for whatever reason, the
governor decided he did not want to negotiate at
all on thsi issue. He didn’t want to expand his
proposal and I believe you favored that expansion. Yes, of course. I wanted as many low income
children as possible to take advantage of this bill. But the last compromise
amendment that we offered him was virtually, woudl not
have changed this bill at all. And yet, he refused to
even negotiate that one. Your take on the voucher bill? Very quickly, the governor.. I have not disucssed
the matter with him. But it appears that as long as
public schools are doing a good job and they are by and
large in most of our state, then there’s no need to have an
alternative public school system which are charter
schools, vouchers. The politics of this
is there are people, particularly in the Republican
party who want to tkae their voucher money and put their
kids in Briarcrest and have that coucher pay for Briarcrest or
Saint Agnes or some school. And you see that as an
inappropriate distribution? Well, I think the governor
sees that as an inappropriate distribution of funds. And that’s where we’re headed
to the debate is on that issue. The governor is saying, ‘Yes,
if you’ve got a failing school, why shoudl geogrpahy decide
the education of your school?” If you’re living and you’re in a
school district that is failing and your school is failing,
then we’re going to give you the opportunity to get out of there. We’ve just got a minute left. I’m going to put
you on the spot, Brian. One of your collegues, Stacy
Campfield out of Knoxville makes national headlines
almost every session. Don’t say gay in the schools
bill and also tying welfare money to kids performance. Do you see that as a
helpful proposals from Senator Campfield? I think we have way too
many bills that are simply distractions from what we want
to do in government which is provide for a
limited government. And Senator Kyle, you have
looked to take a probate judgeship and maybe
leave this legislature. Are you leaving the legislature? We’ll talk about that the
next time I’m on this show. Alright, we’ll have you back. Thank you both for being here. Thank you, Bill. Thank you for joining us. Join us again next week. Goodnight. ♪♪♪

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