Pam's Points: Tennessee's embarrassing state house; TVA dollars and non-cents

Pam's Points: Tennessee's embarrassing state house; TVA dollars and non-cents

January 17th, 2014 in Opinion Times

Our hillbilly legislature

Just when we think Tennessee may emerge from the shadow of the "Beverly Hillbillies" image, along comes Republican Sen. Mae Beavers (Ellie Mae?) and GOP Rep. Mark Pody to peddle a bill that is nothing more than an embarrassing waste of state time and taxpayer money - especially the money we pay these two.

Beavers, of Mount Juliet, and Pody, of Lebanon, took to the microphone Wednesday to announce a measure to ban any cooperation by the state or its agencies in implementing or administering the federal Affordable Health Care Act -- Obamacare.

Never mind that the ACA is the federal law of the land. Never mind that nearly 700,000 Tennesseans are uninsured, and never mind that 36,000 of them have already signed up for coverage under the federal health exchanges. That's 36,000 who won't be using high-cost emergency rooms as their doc-in-the-box on our tab.

Ellie -- er, Sen. Beavers -- calls the ACA an "overreach of power." Huh? Making insurance available to people who will buy it is an "overreach of power?" Shh: Don't tell BlueCross.

But here's the really funny part. Beavers thinks the state should have its own health care system: "Anything closer to home is the best way to go," she said.

I guess she was out at the cement pond last week when headlines trumpeted that Tennessee's own TennCare enrollees, who arrive now for their annual one-on-one appointments and re-registration, are being handed a blue card and sent to a computer kiosk to apply for state-operated Medicaid (TennCare) through the ACA's

The reason for that was really simple. Tennessee's roll-out of its own "single online application process" (that would include quick, real-time feedback like is so far behind that state officials won't estimate a completion date.

The TEDS system, (Tennessee Eligibility Determination System) is truly a "botched" rollout. And Obamacare is taking up the slack.

Meanwhile, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam is wasting our time and money by not expanding Tennessee Medicaid -- we call it TennCare -- under the ACA, and therefore not getting the federal money that would pay for it completely for three years and pay for 90 percent of the cost thereafter.

There must be something wrong with the water in Nashville.

TVA downsizing

It was inevitable. TVA is asking for resignations and retirements to stave off layoffs.

It was inevitable because the cost of TVA's nuclear program ballooned by $2 billion, the ash spill cost another $1.2 billion, lawsuits and tightening carbon limits forced the closure of many coal plants. And then there's the not-so-little problem of a decline in revenue because customers are using less electricity.

The utility is expecting a four-year decline in power sales. Not only are residential and business customers buying into efficiency, but TVA also lost its largest industrial customer in May when the U.S. Enrichment Corp. shut down its uranium enrichment plant in Paducah, Ky.

Cuts also are inevitable because TVA executives make more money every year, yet the energy TVA makes is no longer cheap. In fact, it's smack in the middle of the energy cost pack. That means TVA's "cheap" energy is no longer serving as a big draw to lure new jobs to the Southeast. Fewer new jobs mean TVA's customer base won't grow. The circle eats itself.

TVA officials say they must cut $500 million a year in operating costs, and a third of the utility's $3.4 billion in operating and maintenance expenses are labor dollars. The median annual pay for TVA workers is $73,000, but the utility paid its top five managers just under $13.5 million last year.

About $5.9 million of that labor money went to TVA CEO Bill Johnson, making him the highest paid federal government employee in the country. Put another way, Johnson was paid nearly 15 times as much as the $400,000 salary of President Barack Obama and nearly 30 times the $200,700 salary paid to the U.S. Secretary of Energy. That said, Johnson is underpaid by investor-owned utility standards. So if TVA were to be privatized, he'd make closer to $7 million a year.

Figure all that into your February power bill.