Capitol View Commentary: January 29, 2010 - | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: January 29, 2010



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

January 29, 2010


It's big speech time.

President Barack Obama just gave his first State of the Union address to Congress, while Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen will deliver his 8th and final State of the State Address to the General Assembly this Monday (February 1st).

Both men are dealing with very serious situations, with the most pressing issues revolving around our still very sluggish economy and double-digit unemployment in most of the nation. I could talk all day and night about the President's remarks, but he already did that in his speech with an address of over 70 minutes in length (somewhat long even by State of the Union standards).

Faced with declining public support (poll numbers) and the lingering political shock of Democrats losing their fillibuster-proof 60-vote majority in the Senate (because of the loss of the late Ted Kennedy's seat in the normally very blue state of Massachusetts), the President gave a masterful speech seemingly offering some new priorities and ideas on how to create jobs and pull the nation together, while not angering his political base by walking away from his legislative agenda (although how he and congressional leaders will breathe new life into his health care overhaul plans or the cap-and-trade energy and global warming bill remains a mystery and are probably non-starters).

The President seemed to take time in the speech to criticize pretty much anything and everything in Washington (including himself to some extent). The critiques are well deserved across the board in my opinion, although quite a few eyebrows were raised when he lit into the Supreme Court concerning its recent ruling allowing unlimited corporate campaign contributions for political campaigns, and the President did this with several members of the Court (in their judicial robes) sitting right in front of him.        

 The President is a great speech-maker. At times, you could hear a pin drop in the House Chambers as he delivered his address. He was, at times, both inspiring and folksy. I suspect his performance will boost his poll numbers, at least briefly. But as Gene Hackman said in the role as the coach in the movie, HOOSSIERS, "We are long past big speech time." If voters don't perceive that the country is getting back on the right track (most especially that unemployment is coming down), all the incumbents in Washington (Democrats and Republicans) could be in big trouble come the November elections. 


With the Governor's State of the State speech coming up on Monday (February 1), we thought it was a good time to talk with some of our legislative leaders about what they expect out of his "big speech."

The budget is of greatest concern with the need to cut as much as another billion dollars out of the state's spending plans for next year. This will mark the third year in a row that expenditures have been curtailed. It will mean many more layoffs for state workers, as well as further reductions in some state services especially in higher education and health care.

Joining us on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss this (and all the other matters of interest coming up in this session of the General Assembly) are two Nashville representatives, Democrat Gary Odom, the House Minority Leader, and Republican Beth Harwell, who is also a former GOP state party chair. There is already a fight breaking out in the Legislature about how much of the state's $850 "rainy day" fund ought to be spent to bridge the budget gap. The House Speaker, Kent Williams says up to half ought to be used to keep health care services functioning, but the Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey is not so sure, suggesting that perhaps not the worst of the storm has passed for our economy, so continuing to hold back on using a lot of our "rainy day" fund would be a good idea. Of course, Ramsey's status as a gubernatorial candidate is getting involved in this along with his widening feud with Speaker Williams.

This week's INSIDE POLITICS show is a good one. We even talk about the future of Speaker Williams beyond this term of the General Assembly. The comments of both representatives are most interesting and perhaps revealing.

You can watch INSIDE POLITICS several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter Cable channel 250 as well as on NEWSCHANNEL's 5 digital over-the-air channel 5.2.

Fridays (January 29)………..7:00 PM

Saturdays (January 30)…….5:00 AM

Saturdays (January 30)……..5:30 PM

Sundays (January 31)………..5:00 AM

Sundays (January 31)………..12:30 PM

Don't forget, if you are outside the Nashville area, you can watch excerpts of previous INSIDE POLITICS shows right here on the web site.



Who knew how important Metro's parking meters are to the future of our local government?

NEWSCHANNEL5's Phil Williams scored yet another coup when he reported exclusively that the city is investigating the idea of selling its parking meters (and civic parking garages) to private investors and businessmen, then using the millions of dollars generated to shore up the gaps in the city's operating budget (and perhaps lessen the need for a property tax increase).

Then there also comes word that the city is thinking about following the lead of the city of Denver, by putting up specially decorated parking meters that people can put money in to help the homeless.

 Now both Metro and those providing services to the homeless can surely use the cash. I just hope when we are fumbling through our pockets to find some change, we don't all get confused about which money goes to the needy and which to the private businesses that will now operate and collect the funds from the regular parking meters. By the way it appears Metro will still provide the enforcement on the meters, issuing tickets if you stay too long. That's a sweet deal for the private operators, having the government enforce their rates. Of course, it could also work out for the city too, as I am assuming Metro will still get the parking fines folks will have to pay.

Frankly, from the reports I have seen, this kind of privatization scheme is not going over very well in Chicago where it is being tried (and parking rates have soared). Metro needs to think long and hard about this, especially since it is doubtful such a plan could be approved by the Metro Council and implemented in time to have much impact on this coming fiscal year's budget which begins in July. And even if it could be, would it really generate enough money to be worth the political heat or to cover Metro's growing budget issues?

Much like the state, Metro has a very tough budget-making process ahead. Finance officials are asking city departments to estimate what cuts as high as 7.5% would do to their departments. They warned them to be careful about using reserve funds to make up deficits and to do everything they can to protect basic services while also looking for ways to increase revenues where possible.

Sounds good, right? Sure it does. But again like the state, this is the third budget cycle for cutbacks and cuts that large (7.5%) will be hard to implement without significant layoffs and service cutbacks. In fact, there are some small city agencies that if forced to take a 7.5% cut will have to decide whether to lay off most of its employees or turn off the lights and the phone. There's nothing else to cut.

Sure, some fees and permit costs can be raised, and that will generate some monies. But would it be enough to cover Metro's budget shortfall? Doubtful 

Another issue is what happens if some larger city departments are shielded from taking major cuts. Of course, police, fire and schools are very important. They are priorities. But if they don't have to share in the cuts, then the burden shifts even more to the other parts of government (public works, parks, libraries, hospitals and others).

There also appears to be some talk about the city looking at some sort of pay raise for Metro workers who haven't had one (at least across the board) since Mayor Karl Dean took office in 2007. While police and firefighters do have a separate pay plan, it is hard to see giving them a pay boost being very popular politically if other city workers are left out. A one-time bonus of some sort might be workable, but frankly even that seems a stretch when you are talking about more layoffs and cutbacks.

So is a property tax hike in the cards? I still see little enthusiasm for one in the Dean administration. But that means waiting two more years at least since next year (2011) is an election year and there is zero chance of an increase then. And then, there's this issue: Will the requested tax hike be so large it would trigger a charter-mandated voter referendum?  And is that charter provision constitutional?

Lots of challenges and no easy answers    


What if they held a tea party, but nobody came?

That seems to be just one of the dilemmas facing those organizing a national Tea Party convention here in Nashville this coming week.

Amid concerns about the event's financing, its for-profit status and what it is charging folks to attend several congressional speakers (including Tennessee's Marsha Blackburn) are bowing out. So far, the headliner for the conference, former Alaska Governor and 2008 GOP Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin is hanging in, but there have been questions raised about her speaking fee and the very limited media coverage event organizers are allowing.      

The Tea Party movement has brewed up quite a political storm in the last year, especially among elements of the Republican Party. But is it a part of the GOP or on its way to becoming a third-party? And what about those who say the very independent nature of Tea Party activists make it impossible for that group to become organized like the Republicans and Democrats?

And so it seems you have the Tea Party as they come to Tennessee….. they talk like Republicans, but they fight among themselves like the Democrats. 

Welcome to Nashville! Please spend a lot more money than you expected. We need the tax revenues.

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