By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations
June 12, 2009
OF FESTIVAL IMPORTANCE; THE END OF DAYS; INSIDE POLITICS; THE CAR CZAR BACKFIRES
The month of June around here usually means hot, humid temperatures and lot of tourists in town for the CMA Music Festival and Bonnaroo. In most years, the visitors clogging up the streets, the interstates, the restaurants and everything else, can be almost as irritating as the humidity.
But I have a very different attitude this year.
With the economy still in the dumps, I love to see all the out-of-town folks here spending their money. And while projections for attendance at both festivals is flat from previous years, maybe they will all have so much fun, they'll spend more here than ever before. So far, the stormy weather hasn't helped and the CMA Festival seems to be selling more one-day than multi-day passes, but I remain optimistic.
My question is...who dropped the ball big time....and scheduled these two festivals on the same weekend? That's got to cost this area some big dollars in terms of hotel room nights, if nothing else. And with Nashville so dependent on every penny it can generate from the hotel-motel and other visitor- related taxes these next, many years to pay for the new Convention Center, somebody better be paying attention so this two-festivals-on-the-same-weekend snafu doesn't happen again!
THE END OF DAYS
How can you tell the General Assembly is approaching its final days?
Folks on the Hill start calling each other names, some strange political deals or rumors of deals start flying around, and lawmakers and governors struggle with how to get their business done in the next few days, so they can take that long-planned out of town trip.
When Governor Phil Bredesen submitted his latest budget a week or so ago, he knew nobody in either party would like it very much at all. So he told lawmakers to just pass it and let him take all the blame.
That didn't happen.
Instead Democrats started looking for ways (so far, unsuccessfully) to lessen his cuts and layoffs, while Republicans started playing around with some of the Governor's favorite state projects and programs.
After they got done with their efforts, which included among other things: eliminating the Governor's solar energy projects; his request for funds to acquire land for a West Tennessee mega-site to attract new businesses and jobs to state: short circuiting the Governor's idea to spend stimulus dollars to build a solar generation plant near Brownsville and establish a solar research institute at UT-Knoxville, the Governor apparently had had enough and he erupted at a leadership breakfast Thursday morning (June 11).
I have known and observed Governor Bredesen for over 20 years. He is usually quite restrained and very business-like. But I guess when he loses it, he loses it.
After his breakfast with legislative leaders, he later told reporters, the Republicans' budget proposal was "stupid." Adding (according to THE NASHVILLE SCENE): "Look, it wasn't a budget plan. It was a political document..They're just trying to carve out some position saying we're really, really, really conservative fiscally on these things. We're going to hold the governor's feet to the fire. It's just posturing. I was upset about it. It's not what I expected out of people who come here to Nashville to represent people and get us through a very, very difficult budget year."
And if you think he's mad, you're right, because then the Governor said this:
"I just said we're deep in veto territory here and you need to make some changes in this thing and get it back in the middle of the road to something reasonable, or we're going to be here a long time."
Indeed, a gubernatorial budget veto would likely gum up the works a lot and delay the end of the session for who knows how long. The Governor's fury seemed to have an immediate impact on GOP leaders like Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, who have started backpedalling, saying: "In the end we'll come to a compromise on that. That's what this is all about."
Indeed Lt. Governor Ramsey is right. By the next day (today, Friday) the GOP-led Senate Finance Committee approved a draft budget and put back all the Governor's programs. Despite some occasional unpleasantness, issues like these do usually get worked out. But normally the Governor doesn't get so upset about these things. Why this time? Maybe it's all just a matter of bad timing? Or was it someone trying to show up the Governor?
The Republican budget plan with its cuts emerged just as the Governor was about to accept a national award for the state's success in creating and attracting green jobs to our area, the kind of jobs and businesses the Governor was also trying to attract to the new mega-site in West Tennessee when he left on a trip to Europe this weekend (starting Saturday, June 13). Lt. Governor Ramsey said he and his Republican colleagues had no idea that that was what the Governor planned to do and there needed to be better communications between all parties. Maybe, but that sounds like a CYA excuse.
Remember, Lt. Governor Ramsey, I believe you and some other Republican leaders have an overseas trip of your own planned for later this month to Asia. If you want to get out of Nashville on time to make that trip, I think you better find some ways to keep the Governor calmed down.
Meantime, Democratic House leaders are trying to extract themselves from a difficult political situation. They invoked the unit rule (to all vote together) and blocked any effort to expand the student pool for charter schools in the state. But just when they started congratulating themselves for stopping what they saw as a largely-Republican-backed effort, they got ambushed by their own Democratic White House and President Obama's Education Secretary. He threatened to take away $100 million in stimulus money away from Tennessee unless the state's charter school law was changed. Ouch! Lose $100 million in an already incredibly tight budget year, and lose education funds?
Democrats have been hemming and hawing ever since, talking about maybe doing something next year. But the Obama administration seems to be standing firm about wanting action now, while Republicans are talking about resurrecting the bill by amending into other legislature still alive on the Hill. Stay tuned. (FULL DISCLOSURE: I am a member of the Board of the Smithson-Craighead Charter School here in Nashville)
Then there's the strange emerging story about Governor Bredesen wanting money in the new budget to study the state buying Lambuth College in West Tennessee. Media reports say officials at the private school claim they know nothing about it. The school has had some financial difficulties, but says it will start the new fiscal year with a balanced budget.
Why is the Governor interested in studying this or even considering buying Lambuth?
At a time when the state (by the Bredesen administration's own projections) is going to have to cut millions and millions of dollars from higher education over the next few years just to keep the current system going, why add a whole new school? And if the state is in the college or university-buying business, what about Fisk or Meharry or lots of other small, private schools all across the state who are surely being squeezing in these tough economic times?
It seems like a very strange study request to me.
Here's another strange one happening on the Hill. Just when it looked like the gun lobby had won a complete victory to allow gun permit holders to bring their firearms into bars and restaurants (even local governments seem to be backing off a challenge using local beer laws), there appears to be some kind of political horse trading is going on.
The House sponsors of a companion bill that would allow guns holders to bring their pieces into state and local parks asked (and the full House approved) the bill being recalled from the Governor's desk where it faced a possible veto threat (just as the Governor vetoed the guns in bars bill, but his veto was overridden in both houses).
The Governor he is not involved in whatever is going on now. But clearly the potential that he could veto the guns in parks bill seems to be having some major effect. Some media reports say lawmakers now plan to amend the guns in parks bill to make it completely clear that cities and counties can't use their local control of beer laws to block the guns in bars act. In return, the guns in parks act would also be amended to completely remove any gun possession rights in local parks or even some state parks like the Bicentennial Mall that are completely within a single municipality, unless the local government approves such a move (opts in).
Why would those who so strongly support both these gun bills be willing to make these compromises? Do they not have the votes to override a gubernatorial veto on the guns in parks bill? Will the Senate go along with these changes? Are gun bill supporters still nervous that local laws concerning control of beer sales might trump state law about guns in bars? Or do the Republicans just want to say they passed both bills this session?
The budget issues and politics on the other end of Deadrick Street in the Metro Council seem almost tame by comparison with what is going on at the State.
Faced with a budget that slices city services and lays off city workers, and with sales tax projections and collections that look as bad, if not worse than the state's, Council leaders are still poised to approve a new spending plan in record time next Tuesday (June 16) along with a new $500 million capital spending plan that is supported by no extra dollars in debt service.
While everyone agreed that raising property taxes in a year of property reappraisals countywide, is this new budget setting the stage for a almost sure property tax increase next year?
We'll ask that and other questions to a panel of Council leaders who will join us for INSIDE POLITICS this week. That will include Budget & Finance Chair Jim Forkum and At-Large Councilman Jerry Maynard.
Here's one piece of news from the interview. Councilman Forkum says he hopes to have a substitute budget ready for release to the public and consideration by his Budget & Finance Committee by Monday morning (June 15). He says the major change from the Mayor's budget is an effort to save jobs and prevent some layoffs in departments like Codes, Parks and Public Works. So where do the funds to do that come from? Forkum would only say from "administrative funds" which sounds like maybe some outside groups who have contracts with Metro better be on guard early next week to make sure they don't lose their money.
You can see INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network.
Fridays (June 12).......7:00 PM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast Channel 50
Saturdays (June 13)...5:00 AM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Saturdays (June 13)....5:30 PM........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (June 14).......5:00 AM........WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5
Sundays (June 14).......5:00 AM.........NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
Sundays (June 14).......12:30 PM.......NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS
For those who live outside Nashville or don't have Comcast, you can watch excerpts of this and previous shows here on the NEWSCHANNEL website. And you can sign up for a weekly RSS feed of this column also here on the website.
THE CAR CZAR BACKFIRES
In my over 35 years of covering Tennessee politics, I've found Senator Lamar Alexander to be one of the smartest guys I've ever met on the campaign trail.
Usually he is spot on with his talking points and he has a way of really capturing the public's attention and its support with how he presents the issues. I think he's done a really good job of that in his leadership role for the GOP in the Senate.
So it's hard for me to really explain what the Senator was trying to accomplish in the past few days with his "Car Czar" Award and how it has come back to bite him.
At first, Senator Alexander seemed to be acting a little bit like the late Senator William Proxmire who once created so-called "awards" to expose wasteful government programs and practices. Except in this case, Senator Alexander said he was doing his "Car Czar Award" to expose federal officials who were pushing the line when it came to using their power and influence (especially with the government owning such a major part of these companies) to get GM and Chrysler leaders to see things their way when it came to keeping jobs in their states and plants open, etc.
The first award went to Democrat Barney Frank, but then bloggers and other folks started pointing fingers at Alexander of being guilty himself, in the past, of this kind of activity. Alexander first seemed to try and defend himself when it came to what he did as governor of Tennessee to attract Nissan and other car-related companies to the state. But upon further review (especially his actions in the last few weeks concerning keeping the Spring Hill/old Saturn plant open) Senator Alexander decided to give himself a "Car Czar" award too (along with other members of the Tennessee delegation and those in other states trying to attract or keep car plants).
To me, that pretty well makes this award completely meaningless, so perhaps the Senator will gracefully retire it.
Frankly, all these efforts to save the GM Plant in Spring Hill may be for naught anyway. Erik Schelzig of the Associated Press reports (June 11) that Governor Bredesen is expressing doubts that our state can afford the financial demands from General Motors to have its new small car built there.
Now Tennessee has some incentives it gives to attract new jobs and industries, but usually it is in the area of infrastructure improvements, employee training or long-term tax incentives.
That's apparently not nearly good enough for the new GM.
The governor wouldn't say how much is being asked by bailed-out car company now in bankruptcy, but he indicated hundreds of millions of dollars would be "the low end of the range."
Yikes! In these tough economic and budget times, there is no way the state has that kind of extra money available. It looks like the Spring Hill/old Saturn plant may be the red-headed step-child again.