Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 1 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 1

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CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

May 1, 2009

THE FLU; BUDGET CRUNCHES; INSIDE POLITICS; OBAMA'S OPPORTUNITIES & LAMAR'S DEFECTION

With the worldwide H1N1 flu outbreak beginning to hit close to home here in Nashville, it's made watching and following the news a somewhat stressful task again the last week or so.

Fortunately, so far the new virus, at least here in the United States, seems more like the regular flu (which still kills thousands of people in this country annually) compared to the 1919 pandemic that worldwide killed more people (20 to 50 million) than the First World War, which was just ending when this disease struck.

Just how bad was the flu here in Nashville and in Tennessee during that 1918-1919 pandemic?

I found a website put on line by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. It gives a breakdown on the flu epidemic on a state by state basis during that period.

Concerning the outbreak in the fall of 1918, it was first reported in Memphis with two cases on September 27. The flu then quickly spread statewide with 76 deaths being reported in Nashville by October 10 along with 27 deaths both in Chattanooga and Knoxville reported a few days later.

All together the HHS website estimates "Nashville's cases at approximately 40,000 with 468 deaths. The epidemic began in South Nashville, a densely populated part of the city which had many industrial workers. From there it spread into East Nashville and the center of the city. Eventually, the disease hit the less densely populated areas of North Nashville and West Nashville. Ultimately, North and West Nashville became the centers of the highest incidence (of the illness)."

"By October 7, proprietors of non-essential businesses were told to close. County schools closed on October 8", with city schools closing the afternoon of the same day after realizing the epidemic had not peaked. "Also on October 8, ministers were told to close their churches, and the Nashville Street Railway and Light Company was instructed to run its cars with the windows open to allow the cars to air out. Sewage accumulated in the streets raising concerns about other types of disease....although no official quarantine was imposed,(stricken) families were isolated by their neighbors who refused to come to their assistance even when no one was able to care for family members."      

Fortunately, we seem to be much, much better prepared and organized to deal with today's possible flu crisis. The HHS web site says that was not the case in 1918-1919. "The city was ill-prepared to deal with the pandemic. There were only about 250 doctors in the city at the time as many were fulfilling an active-duty role in the military. Compounding the problem, many of the physicians in the city contracted influenza and were unable to work. Nashville recognized early on that relief measures had to be implemented, landing the responsibility on the city's public health nurses, who were given the task of classifying and treating cases by severity."

"Establishment of emergency hospitals was ruled out as there were too few physicians and nurses to staff them. Patients were isolated in their homes, forcing medical practitioners to travel to patients' homes to administer care. Admission to a hospital required certification by a physician.

The national Public Health Service sent two additional physicians to Nashville and several nurses with "The Red Cross, the Nashville Golf and Country Club and the Centennial Club providing aid in the form of transportation and supplies."

Fortunately, "by November 1, the situation...abated to some extent and schools and places of amusement were reopened in Nashville." 

Let's hope this flu epidemic doesn't become anything even close to what happened here at the end of First World War. But we also shouldn't be lulled into inaction because so far the outbreak here appears mild. The 1918-19 pandemic came in various waves, some relatively mild, others quite severe and deadly. So you can see why it's smart for our political and public health leaders to "hope for the best, but prepare and plan for the worst."

This should also remind us all (once again) that our mothers were right when they told us: "Wash your hands frequently, cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze, and if you feel sick, stay home and get well" (with chicken soup optional). J

THE METRO BUDGET CRUNCH

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has followed through on his promise not to recommend a hike in property taxes during these tough economic times. But the new operating budget he has outlined to Metro Council members has some tough medicine to swallow to make that a reality.

The spending plan closes no city facilities (it does shorten operating hours for parks, libraries, etc). And it seeks to safeguard public safety, schools and quality of life. But it must try and do so with $27 million dollars less than last year. This is the first time in the nearly 50 year history of Metropolitan government that the city will have less money to spend next year than it has this year.

That will mean laying-off up to 125 city workers and eliminating another 180 positions. It also means, again for the first time in Metro history, not giving city workers their annual step raises or the annual bonuses they receive for longevity and perfect attendance. It also means cuts to the city's annual subsidy to operate General Hospital, which is bound to raise renewed controversy about that city service, which largely aids the poor. Already, Council Member At-Large Jerry Maynard is expressing his unhappiness, saying the Dean administration wants to balance its budget on the backs of the poor, especially, he says since police, fire and schools either are taking smaller cuts or are being fully funded (Metro Schools). Actually, the only city agency getting an increase in its money is the Metro Transit Authority.

The Dean administration denies it is being unfair in its cutbacks. They said they are trying to make the best recommendations they can on how to spend limited city funds in a year when a property tax would have been an unfair burden on almost everyone.

But the budget presentation by the Dean administration did warn that the use of a large amount of city and school reserve funds to balance this year's spending plan, puts on a real financial squeeze looking ahead to the budget year of 2011, when the city will also likely be facing issues with continued funding of its pension plan and debt service.

Add it all up, and while the Dean Team doesn't want to talk about it now (before they get this budget approved), clearly the stage is set for a property tax hike request next year (in the spring of 2010) that may have to be so large it requires public approval by a referendum, especially when you also consider this will be the second year in a row that city workers have gone without a cost-of-living raise, besides the cuts in step raises and bonus pay now going by the boards in this year's budget.  Mayor Dean won election without the endorsement of any city labor organization. I doubt he wants to go through his entire first term without some new pay program for them.

But raising taxes is never an easy sell, and if the economy doesn't improve by next year, it could be even harder to convince voters to go along. Another dilemma the Dean administration faces is that they want to protect vital city services in any budget cuts they make. If this new budget doesn't create some motivating reason why the city needs more money, how call a tax hike be sold next year even if the economy improves?   

INSIDE POLITICS

There are many issues involved with the Mayor's new budget, so we take a closer, more in-depth look at his budget on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

Finance Director Rich Riebeling is my guest along with three Metro Council leaders, Jim Forkum, Chair of the Council's Budget & Finance Committee, Emily Evans from District 23 and At-Large Councilman Tim Garrett.

At first glance, all three council members seem supportive of the Mayor's budget, at least as an alternative to a property tax hike. I suspect there will be lots of questions during the Council's own budget hearings and there will be a "wish list" put together from requests for more funds from city departments, not necessarily to fund them all, but to at least give Council members some ideas about changes they could make to the Mayor's proposal.

But I suspect whatever changes the Council makes to this spending proposal between now and June 30 when a budget must be adopted, they will be relatively minor in nature, and the Mayor will get most of what he has proposed (although the debate over Hospitals and MTA along with eliminating employee step raises and bonuses could be impassioned).

I've never known a Council to approve a tax hike when a Mayor didn't ask for one, nor make big changes in a non-tax increase budget. After all, without more revenue to go around, fixing one budget issue only likely creates or worsens another one somewhere else in the budget. 

 You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

Fridays (May 1)............7:00 P.M..........NewsChannel5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays (May 2).......5:00 A.M...........NewsChannel5 Plus

Saturdays (May 2)........5:30 P.M...........NewsChannel5 Plus

Sundays (May 3)...........5:00 A.M............WTVF-TV, Newschannel5

Sundays (May 3)...........5:00 A.M.............NewsChannel5 Plus

Sundays (May 3)...........5:00 A.M..............NewsChannel5 Plus

A NEW CRUNCH AT THE STATE?

Is the State's budget taking a new turn for the worse?

Even since Governor Phil Bredesen finally presented his spending plan to lawmakers in March, things have gotten quiet on the budget front on Capitol Hill. It appeared there was general agreement about the Governor's proposal to use federal stimulus dollars to provide a "soft landing" over the next few years for cutting back state services and employees due to a lack of continuing state funds.

The Governor says he is suggesting this to try to help the next Governor (taking office in early 2011) from facing a major budget crunch when federal stimulus dollars dry up.

But now one of those planning to run for Governor, Republican Lt. Governor and State Senator Rom Ramsey says not so fast. He's told the media according to the Associated Press (April 30) "that deeper spending cuts...may need to come sooner than originally planned because of worsening economic conditions."  Ramsey also says: "I believe in some cases the stimulus package is going to make things worse, because it does mask the problem."

Ramsey's comments sound a lot like the criticism coming from Republican conservatives across the country who don't like the stimulus plan proposed by the Obama administration. But Ramsey claims that the Bredesen administration will soon announce it supports his position that actions to cut back further now, rather than use stimulus funds, are a good idea. If that happens, it would sure represent quite a change in position for the Governor about how to use the stimulus monies, but then again this year's budget has been a real work in progress for a long time, with several twists and turns.

All this comes as the State Funding Board is scheduled to begin meetings here in Nashville (May 1) to make revised revenue projections for the coming year. Stay tuned.

THE SECOND 100 DAYS

As President Obama begins his second 100 Days in office, he has been presented with some new opportunities to push his programs ahead. And, in one case, he could do that in a way that could extend his legacy well beyond his years in the White House.

There's a pending appointment to the Supreme Court as Justice David Souter has decided to step down at the end of the Court's current term this summer. While whoever the President picks (and its likely a woman) is not going to immediately change the liberal/conservative balance of power on the Court, any Supreme Court pick presents the opportunity for a President to shape the future as Justices normally stay on the Court for several years beyond the term of the office of the President who appoints them (Souter was appointed by President Bush, the elder).  

On a more immediate level, the defection of Republican Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter to the Democratic side is likely to make it a bit easier for President Obama to get his programs through the Senate without having to overcome a filibuster. That's especially true if the Democrats also finally prevail in the seemingly never-ending Minnesota Senate race and recount.

But there is nothing certain about any of this. Democrats being Democrats and Arlen Specter being Arlen Specter (and interested in his re-election next year), there is no guarantee the President can get 60 votes anytime he needs it in the Senate on any issue (to cut off a filibuster). Just as there is no guarantee that a President's Supreme Court picks will always vote the way a President or his party wants them to. Again, Justice Souter is a good example, as he was expected to be a conservative justice when he joined the Court almost 20 years ago, but has turned out to be a major disappointment to many in the GOP.

It sure appeared Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander was disappointed with the defection of Senator Specter. As Conference Chair for the GOP members of the Senate, Mr. Alexander was quick to denounce the move, warning of the "tyranny of the majority" (which was something the Senator did not seem as worried about back when his Tennessee colleague Bill Frist was Senate Majority Leader and sought to get rid of the filibuster rule).

Senator Alexander has had to deal with own defection in recent days. THE HILL reports that one of his legislative assistants, Jessica Holliday, who was his point person on staff concerning the issue of climate change, has taken a new job as Senior Democratic Counsel for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

That's right...she's now working for the other side. 

Ouch!    

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