Capitol View Commentary: Friday, April 21, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

April 21, 2017

THE GAS TAX PASSES THE FINISH LINE; A LITTLE COMPETITION AND UNCERTAINITY CREEP INTO TENNESSEE’S U.S. SENATE RACE; MEANWHILE BACK IN THE GOVERNOR’S RACE; A CHANGE IN THE STATE SENATE?; INSIDE POLITICS OFFERS THE EARLY LINE ON TRUMP’S FIRST 100 DAYS IN OFFICE; NASHVILLE’S EXPLOSIVE GROWTH IS COMING TO YOUR MAILBOX;

THE GAS TAX PASSES THE FINISH LINE

In one of the strongest displays of political power during six plus years in office, Governor Bill Haslam overcame opposition from his own party’s House leadership to pass his signature legislation of this year’s term.

He did that by building a bi-partisan coalition of support which voted 60-37 for the lower chamber to approve his transportation plan.

The IMPROVE Act raises the gas tax by 6 cents over the next three years (10 cents on diesel fuel) while also cutting the state’s tax on groceries along with other taxes on business and manufacturing. The bill further allows the state’s major cities and some surrounding counties (including the Nashville area) to hold referendums to approve local taxes to fund mass transit improvements. The increase in the gas tax is the first since 1989 and it’s targeted to address a $10 billion dollar backlog in road projects across Tennessee.

Tom Humphreys has a brief summary of the over four-hour long House debate about the measure which included the rejection of a number of amendments. The gas tax bill dominated the focus of this year’s legislative session.

After the House vote, the State Senate took up the measure less than a half hour later and approved it after about an hour’s debate. The final vote in the upper chamber was 25-6. However some differences between the versions passed by both legislative bodies could require the need for a conference committee of both houses to work out a compromise. The biggest disagreement is whether to include some property tax breaks for qualifying veterans and seniors in this bill or leave that for separate legislation.

Assuming any differences in the IMPROVE Act can be worked out successfully, its passage and the governor’s expected signature will facilitate lawmakers moving towards wrapping up this year’s legislative session. Much of the funding and other details for this year’s state operating budget (which the General Assembly must approve annually) was tied up in the IMPROVE bill. With that settled the budget documents can forward towards final approval as well.

Governor Haslam’s political strength in passing the IMPROVE bill did not extend to everything he wanted lawmakers to pass. Again reports Tom Humphrey:

“Legislation prohibiting open containers of an alcoholic beverage in moving vehicles is dead again this year even though Gov. Bill Haslam made it part of his official legislative package for 2017.

Sen. Jon Lundberg, R-Bristol, who has pushed the idea for years, had hoped Haslam’s backing would make a difference, reports WJHL-TV, and is disappointed by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (sponsoring SB1219 for the administration) pulled the bill without a vote.

Norris said there’s not enough support among legislators for passage and debating the matter would be “a distraction” from the push for passage of the governor’s priority bill of the year — a package of tax legislation including increases in gas and diesel fuel taxes.

“I’m surprised, frankly. And somewhat discouraged,” Lundberg said…. “I don’t think that’s a distraction, again that’s a solid piece of legislation,” Lundberg said.

…“You know anytime you keep alcohol out of cars and bring in millions of dollars in federal funding that were our monies to begin with, I think that’s good and strong,” he said.

Haslam called for changing the law so the lost funds could be spent on road and bridge projects across the state, and pledged to find funding for previously dedicated to prosecutors from other sources.”

While the controversy over the IMPROVE Act focused primarily over whether to raise the gas tax or fund road projects either through the state’s revenue surplus or through existing sales taxes or general funds, its passage is also big boost for mass transit supporters who were quick to rejoice. Said Nashville Mayor Megan Barry:

“This is a momentous day in Tennessee, as the General Assembly has voted to move our state forward on building the transportation infrastructure we need to remain competitive economically and improve the quality of life of our residents. I want to thank the entire Davidson County delegation for voting in support of Governor Bill Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which contained the critical local option component that will let voters determine the future of transit in the Nashville area.

“I want to especially thank Governor Haslam, House Transportation Chairman Barry Doss, Senate Republican Leader Mark Norris, House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh, the Middle Tennessee Mayors’ Caucus, and the many other groups and individuals who worked hard to pass this bill. While there is still work to be done to reconcile the legislation, I am confident that Governor Haslam will have the opportunity to sign this bill into law.”

Mayor Barry has indicated that if state enabling legislation was passed (such as the IMPROVE Act) she would seek Metro Council approval to hold a sales tax referendum in 2018 to move ahead on funding at least a part of the city’s portion of a $6 billion dollar regional mass transit plan to improve traffic in the region over the next 25 years.

The Governor’s coalition to pass the IMPROVE ACT in the House also included the vote of House Speaker and Nashville Representative Beth Harwell. That support from Harwell came despite her earlier leadership to push one of the plans opposing the Haslam administration about raising the gas tax. THE TENNESSEAN reports:

“Immediately after the House adjourned, Harwell defended her vote for the IMPROVE Act despite preferring the alternate plan.

"At the end of the day infrastructure is a limited role of government and we need to perform it well," she said.

The rest of the Nashville delegation (all Democrats) joined Harwell in supporting the IMPROVE Act even though earlier Democrats had tried to play hard to get to vote for Governor Haslam’s plan. It is the first time in several years that the votes of the Super Minority of Democrats in the Legislature played a key role in passing major legislation. But that’s what can happen when the Republican Super Majority winds fracturing itself on an issue.

A LITTLE COMPETITION AND UNCERTAINITY CREEP INTO TENNESSEE’S U.S. SENATE RACE

It’s probably has a lot to do with the lack of an incumbent, but Tennessee’s 2018 governor’s race is creating a lot more interest and activity so far compared to one of our state’s U.S. Senate seats which is also up for grabs in November of next year.

Not even the Senate incumbent, Bob Corker is ready to make a definitive statement that he plans to seek re-election to a third 6 year term. He recently told THE TENNESSEAN:

“In an interview on Monday, the Chattanooga Republican declined to say if he plans to run for a third term and, if so, when he expects to make a formal announcement.

“There will be a time and a place for that” discussion, he said.

Then as THE TENNESEAN article continued, the Senator’s comments raised even more eyebrows:

“Asked about speculation that he’s interested in running for governor — also on the 2018 ballot — the senator said, “I’ve been busy carrying out my activities here. I’ve been focused on that – I’m going to continue to be focused on that. As far as speculation about what I’m going to do or not do, I’d like to talk about that at the appropriate time.”

So is Senator Corker being coy or is he really assessing which race to enter in 2018 or whether to run at all?

I’d still bet he runs for re-election. But the GOP governor’s field remains unsettled so there’s still time to garner support, and Senator Corker has plenty of personal financial resources (and can raise plenty more money) if he wants to come home and be governor. If he runs to be the state’s next chief executive he’d likely enter the field as the favorite.

Meanwhile on the Democratic side, a Nashville attorney and a decorated veteran of the second Iraq War has entered the primary field to try to challenge Corker for the Senate seat. James Mackler gives these reasons for his candidacy:

“I am running to restore respect, honesty, and, most importantly, integrity in Washington,” said Mackler. “Our country has become so divided that our leaders refuse to work together to solve our most important problems. As a veteran, I know first-hand the strength of teamwork, cooperation, and the benefits of diversity to accomplish even the most difficult mission.

“True leadership comes from a sense of duty – an obligation to protect and work for the benefit of others. The best results are accomplished when we recognize the value in one another and the unique

contribution of each person. True leaders hold themselves and others accountable. These are values that I learned serving my country and will continue to carry as Tennessee’s next U.S. Senator.”

Mackler adds he knows he has a tough job ahead. The NASHVILLE POST quotes him:

"Taking on a two-term incumbent like Senator Corker is tough. Some will say its impossible," Mackler admits on his campaign website. "But I have never shied away from doing the right thing just because it was difficult. I have the vision, the motivation and the drive. I learned long ago that the best way to conquer adversity is to improvise, adapt, and overcome."

Mackler is the first Democrat to enter the 2018 Senate field, but he may not be the last, even though persistent rumors that party leaders are trying to recruit a celebrity candidate (country music superstar Tim McGraw?) have so far not yielded any results.

MEANWHILE BACK IN THE GOVERNOR’S RACE

It’s still 15 to 16 months before the August 2018 Republican gubernatorial primary is scheduled, but Knoxville businessman Rand Boyd has begun airing the first paid advertising of the campaign. It’s a 2-minute plus digital ad that is biographical in nature.

You can see how and why Randy Boyd “runs” by clicking here.

The early media buy is explained this way in a Boyd campaign news release:

“Chip Saltsman, CEO of the Boyd campaign, said the biographical ad will run over the next two weeks on multiple digital advertising platforms, including Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, as well as search engine and state news media sites, and at RandyBoyd.com.

“Our objective with this ad is to simply begin introducing Randy and his story to the thousands of Tennessee voters who have not yet had the chance to meet him,” said Saltsman, who helped produce the ad. “In just the first six weeks of the campaign, Randy has already made campaign stops in more than 30 Tennessee counties, so this initial advertising introduction is just one of many ways he will be connecting with and communicating early with voters.”

Building name recognition is clearly Boyd’s major need and an early start is one way to do that. He’s not alone in the gubernatorial campaign field so look for others to start such biographical ad efforts soon. That will also place an emphasis on being well-financed too either from personal resources or from raising campaign monies. Running statewide in Tennessee is not cheap.

A CHANGE IN THE STATE SENATE?

Thelma Harper has been one of Nashville’s representatives in the State Senate for 27 years. Before that she was a force to be reckoned with in the Metro Council.

Some thought she might retire before her last re-election campaign in 2014. But the Nashville Senator known for the many colorful hats she wears, once again decided to throw her hat into the ring and she was not seriously challenged for another four year term.

2018 looks to be a very different matter. Nashville State House Representative Brenda Gilmore, who also once served in the Metro Council is announcing she is seeking Senator Harper’s seat regardless of whether the incumbent is running or not. Her statement to the media says:

“Now more than ever we need leaders with a longstanding record of giving back, listening and responding to constituents’ concerns,” Gilmore said. “I go to work every day and listen to the concerns and frustrations of our citizens. I have been blessed with the opportunity to actually respond and make a real difference. It would be my honor to continue giving back to this community.”

As for Senator Harper she says her decision has not yet been made and won’t be until after this year’s legislative session is over:

“My focus right now is on my constituents and finishing the job they elected me to do. It’s been my greatest honor to serve Nashville in the state Senate these last 28 years, and it’s no secret that I’m considering retirement. I have heard from several exciting new leaders who are eager for an opportunity to serve, and I will make a decision at the appropriate time, when the 110th General Assembly is finished. It will ultimately be up to the people of Nashville who they believe will best represent them in the state Senate.”

Senator Harper and Representative Gilmore aren’t the only one eyeing the Senate. Howard E. Jones Jr., pastor of Fairfield Missionary Baptist Church in Goodlettsville, announced in February that he would seek the seat if Harper decides to retire.

INSIDE POLITICS OFFERS THE EARLY LINE ON TRUMP’S FIRST 100 DAYS IN OFFICE

In a little over a week (April 29), we will mark the first 100 Days in office for President Donald Trump.

That is the traditional time-line for judging the effectiveness of a new president in office, at least since FDR’s days in the 1930s.

It’s also been the subject of a couple of ongoing classes at Lipscomb University this spring.

Linda Peek Schacht is the teacher and she’s our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

What have been the President’s biggest successes? What have been his notable failures?

How is he changing the Presidency? How is the Presidency changing him?

What do the students in the class think? And what about the adults taking the course?

All that and much more will be our topics for discussion. Watch us!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday; along with 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR if those live times don't work for your schedule.

NASHVILLE’S EXPLOSIVE GROWTH IS COMING TO YOUR MAILBOX

We told you this was coming a few months ago.

State law requires every county to re-appraise all its residential and commercial properties every four years. That’s to insure the owners are paying their fair share of property tax (assessed at 40% of fair market value for commercial, 25% for residential properties, then multiplied by the property tax rate set annually by the local governing body).

Nashville/ Davidson County’s re-appraisal has just been completed. Even given our city’s recent explosive growth, the increases are stunning. THE TENNESSEAN reports the notices being sent to our mailboxes in the next few days by the county’s Property Assessor reflect a medium increase countywide of 37% compared to the last reappraisal done in 2013. That’s a record. The biggest medium increase before was 33% between 1993 and 1997. For all 35 Metro Council districts the property values are up a minimum of 25% with Goodlettsville seeing the smallest rise.

Some of the gentrifying and redeveloping neighborhoods are seeing near breath-taking increases:

Metro Council District 5 in lower East Nashville…the media increase is 93%.

Metro Council District 21 encompassing much of North Nashville…up 77%

Metro Council District 7 including Inglewood 66%

Metro Council District 19 including downtown, Germantown, the Gulch and Music Row 63%

Metro Council District 20 in West Nashville and The Nations up 61%

Metro Council District 17 including 12th South and the Wedgewood-Houston area up 55%

Now don’t freak out just yet. By law, the property tax rate will have to be lowered significantly. The current Urban Services rate is $4.51. THE TENNESSEAN speculates it could go below $3.25 per $1,000 dollars of assessed value. The rate hasn’t been that low since 1984.

But here’s another rule of thumb about what the reappraisal could do to your annual property tax bill. If your reappraisal increase is less than the countywide medium of 37%, your property tax could decrease a bit. If it’s more, especially a lot more than the 37% medium increase, your tax bill will likely rise even with the lower adjusted tax rate.

There is an appeals process if you think your property appraisal is wrong. The deadline to ask for a review is May 19 and you can begin the process on-line by clicking here.

If you can’t wait for the information to hit your mailbox, you can review individual property assessments on the website of the Metro Nashville/Davidson County Property Assessor by clicking here.

Let’s the political wailing and unhappiness begin.

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