Haslam's promise, wallet wellness and an archbishop's missed memo

Haslam's promise, wallet wellness and an archbishop's missed memo

April 4th, 2014 in Opinion Free Press

Bill Haslam

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

Less Grief, More Explaining Needed

No good deed goes unpunished, eh? Gov. Bill Haslam, head of a state where even by the accounting of the left-leaning National Education Association teacher salaries "have increased at double the national average," is finding all manner of chalk dust raining down on his head after saying a state budget shortfall will cause him to cancel a 2 percent pay hike for teachers and a 1 percent increase for other state employees.

If Haslam had seen the shortfall coming or believed the state needed to watch its pennies and protect its rainy day fund, he never would have made such a proposal in the first place. And wind up with egg on his face in an election year? C'mon, Democrats and Tennessee Education Association (TEA) heads, you're not that politically naive, are you?

Even with no raises for teachers, the governor's budget still increases overall education spending for local schools by $60 million, and he, understandably defensive, pointed out the state is one of only six in the country which have "consistently increased education funding" in the last year.

Now, should Tennessee teachers get raises? You bet. They're well below the national average. And perhaps something -- a bonus? a smaller raise? -- could be worked out if revenues pick up. But comments by the likes of TEA President Gera Summerford that "the governor's cuts" -- what cuts? -- "to teacher salaries and higher education continue the state's race to the bottom in education funding" only perpetuate worries about Tennessee's public schools and those who speak for them.

While it has been only two months since Haslam announced the raises in his State of the State address, it is a little worrisome that administration officials aren't sure why there is a collection shortfall. Bad weather, a slow Christmas shopping season and the failure of online retailers to collect state and local sales taxes were tossed out as possible reasons why there is $33 million less in sales taxes than was expected. A better, clearer and ultimately more accurate explanation is deserved by teachers, state employees and all Tennesseans.

Watching Our Wallet

Chattanooga has been at or near the top of many impressive national lists in the last decade, but Wallet Hub puts the Scenic City among its lowest 11 among the top 150 cities in the country for Wallet Wellness. The methodology for the list includes median household income (adjusted for cost of living), housing affordability, rank among cities in the organization's job-seekers report, economic mobility rank, average commute time, average credit score, well-being index and physical health.

Since no city in the deep South is higher than 75th on the list, it stands to reason the city did not fare better due to physical health (we're too fat) and the well-being index (our health behaviors aren't the best).

However, the same organization did rank the city 21st among best cities to start a business but did not include it on the list of the best 60 cities in which to find a job.

Didn't Get The Memo

Someone apparently failed to give Archbishop Wilton Gregory the Pope Francis template. In January, the leader of Atlanta area Roman Catholics moved into a $2.2 million, 6,400-square-foot mansion built for him in tony Buckhead. The Tudor-style home has an upper-level safe room, an elevator, public and private offices, and two dining rooms. Of course, he didn't go quite all out. Earlier plans for a wine room were scrapped, reportedly, and the archbishop said he selected the least expensive of three brick options.

Pope Francis, on the other hand, chose not to live in the papal apartment of the Apostolic Palace when he was elected just over a year ago. Saying the quarters "can fit 300 people," he chose instead to live in the Domus Sanctae Marthae, the Vatican "hotel" where official visitors stay. When he -- as Jorge Bergoglio -- was a cardinal and the archbishop of Buenos Aires, he also turned down the house that came with his office for a simple apartment, where he did most of his cooking and cared for an elderly priest.

Gregory, having heard grumblings from Atlanta area Catholics, now says he will confer with several church councils and may sell the mansion. If it's sold, he said, he will seek a more modest residence. He also sent a letter of apology to the pope's ambassador in Washington, D.C., and said he, to his detriment, did not "effectively" listen to church superiors "at the beginning of the process."