Capitol View Commentary: Feb. 6, 2009 - NewsChannel5.com | Nashville News, Weather & Sports

Capitol View Commentary: Feb. 6, 2009

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Public Relations

February 6, 2009

WASHINGTON FOLLIES; STATE OF THE STATE; INSIDE POLITICS & METRO WATER; JOE RODGERS  

 It would seem relatively simple, but clearly it's not.

How do you craft an economic stimulus plan that both creates new jobs and saves existing ones without turning it into a grab-all, pork barrel, appropriations bill that tries to spend money or give tax cuts for everything in the world?

It sure seems to be beyond the abilities our new Congress and the Obama administration, at least coming up with a bi-partisan approach. Remember a lot of these ladies and gentlemen in Congress have now helped screw up something as simple as watching TV, as witnessed by the current debacle surrounding the change-over from analog to digital television.  If Congress really wants to delay this process (which only happened, in large measure, just so the government could sell the existing analog bandwidth and make a lot of money), why did they not include in their bill delaying the switch-over more money for those discount coupons to buy the converters needed for older TVs? Why was that money left in the stimulus package which may be languishing in Congress for several more days, if not weeks? And why would these discount coupons be a part of a stimulus package to create and/or preserve jobs? Again, the plan in Congress still looks more like an appropriations bill than a targeted plan to revive the economy.

I do like some of the new Republican suggestions (as promoted by our Tennessee Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker) to fix housing first. But some in the GOP act like that's all we need to do, and that's clearly wrong. (Full disclosure: one of my clients is the Greater Nashville Association of Realtors). 

As witnessed by recent polls, public support for the stimulus plan is declining, and it is not completely clear that the Senate can find the 60 votes needed to pass anything. That has to happen so the matter can at least be negotiated with the House in a conference committee to get a final bill. That's why I wouldn't get too worried about all the exact details of either of the stimulus packages coming out of the House & Senate until everything gets into the conference committee, where the real and final political horse trading will start.

Meanwhile, as Washington fiddles, the economy is going down in flames. The latest government unemployment figures show the jobless rate at 7.6% (7.9% in Tennessee), the worst since the end of 1974. In fact, we've lost 1.8 million jobs in just the last three months, including 598,000 in January alone. That's the largest multi-month loss of employment since the end of World War II.

And some experts say it could get worse with unemployment continuing to rise perhaps as high as 10% later this year.

Somebody in Washington better get a clue and quick...or face the consequences from the public and ultimately the voters. That's not a plea just to do anything, especially something like the bank and Wall Street giveaway of late last year with little or no accountability and oversight. It's a plea to both parties to find some common ground and pass something that will help restore confidence in our economy and our nation, and do so in way that doesn't completely bankrupt our grandchildren. 

STATE OF STATE

Governor Bredesen is set to give his annual State of the State address on Monday (February 9). Normally this would have already occurred in January, but due to the continued uncertainty about the economy (and the stimulus bill, which could pump well over $3 billion into the state), the speech was postponed.

Normally, the governor also submits his annual budget with the State of State. But the budget is in such flux it may not be filed until late March, and that date could still be a moving target.

So what will the Governor talk about?

Good question. He will probably discuss how he plans to use any federal funds that come our way, as well as cautioning everyone that, while the stimulus money will help hold down the need for layoffs in state government, the state needs to be careful how that money will be spent (because much of it will be one-time funds). If we are not careful, we could come up short again in a few years when that money is all gone. So that may mean state budget cuts and service cutbacks are still in the offing even with more federal funds.

The Governor may also just try and cheer everybody up. While this is clearly, both in Tennessee and across the country, our winter of discontent (and spring and summer don't look so hot either), if we don't find some things to feel positive about or have some goals to achieve going forward, it will be that much harder to get out of this downward slide.

There has been some speculation that this could be Governor Bredesen's last major address in office as he is once again be rumored to a possible selection to join President Obama's Cabinet as Secretary of Health and Human Services. The Governor says he hasn't been contacted and he doesn't have his bags packed, but he isn't saying he is not interested in the job. The consensus from the rumor mill on the Hill is that, if offered the position, he's gone to D.C. 

I remain skeptical an Obama job offer will be forthcoming. But, if it is, I would hope (and believe) the Governor has paid all his own taxes as well as those involved with his hired help over the years. That's a problem that has risen up and bitten the new administration in recent days creating both a major distraction and some questions about exactly how well the President's team has been vetting its nominees.  It has also raised questions about how well the new administration is going to be able to live up to its new high standards for ethics, especially in employing former lobbyists as well as those who may later leave government to become lobbyists. It's that people who live in glass houses and throwing stones analogy you've heard before.     

  

KICKING THE CAN ON INSIDE POLITICS

Whenever elected officials want to put off a tough decision, they call it "kicking the can down the road."

Metro's been doing it for years concerning repairing its water and sewer lines as well as trying to fund a way to solve its storm water problems which create flash floods and other drainage issues across the county.

Now Mayor Karl Dean has stepped forward with plan that will raise water/sewer rates about 21% over the next three years and establish a monthly storm water runoff fee that will create a fund to deal with  flooding and drainage problems.

In the past, proposals like these were not well received in the Metro Council and, given our current lousy economic conditions you would think another hostile reception might be in store.

But, if our guests this week on INSIDE POLITICS are right, this plan seems to have a lot of support. Metro Finance Director Rich Riebeling is my guest along with Metro Council leaders Jim Forkum (Chair of the Budget & Finance Committee), Emily Evans (District 23 Councilmember) and Jerry Maynard (an At-Large representative). They all seem very supportive of the Mayor's plan, saying it is long overdue that the city step up and address these issues. Of course, it also helps that the Mayor's plan is a lot cheaper than what had previously been estimated it would take to address the issue: 20%+ rate increases each year for multiple years.

Of course, there are still bound to be questions in the Council and from the public about how all this will work, in particular, which projects to fix the flooding/drainage problems and repair the water/sewer lines will be done first. I also suspect a number of business leaders, especially those with large surface parking areas, will react negatively when they see how high their storm water runoff fee will be. 

But given that the administration has several other large-ticket items to bring to the Council later this year including a new operating budget (with service cuts and/or a property tax increase?) as well as final approval of the funding for the new Convention Center, they seem to be off to a good start.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.

Fridays (February 6)........7:00 PM......NewsChannel5 Plus, Comcast Channel 50

Saturdays (February 7)....5:00 AM......NewsChannel5 Plus

Saturdays (February 7)....5:30 PM........NewsChannel5 Plus

Sundays (February 8).......5:00 AM........WTVF-TV, Newschannel5

Sundays (February 8)........5:00 AM.........NewsChannel5 Plus

Sundays (February 8)........12:30 PM.........NewsChannel5 Plus

JOE RODGERS

Nashville lost one of its great business leaders and political activists with the death of Joe Rodgers.

His ability to raise money and support for Republican candidates was legendary and his construction firm built many a major building in this town, and indeed, across the country and the world, especially in partnership with the Hospital Corporation of America.

But one major building project I did not see listed in the newspaper concerning his achievements was the downtown Convention Center and its adjoining hotel. No, his construction firm did not build this project. But he and Nashville businessman Ted Welch played a major role in making sure it got built.

Back in the mid-1980s, the city was struggling to get the Convention Center and hotel underway. The funds for the convention center had been approved, but financing the hotel was proving to be very difficult. Just like today, economic times were very hard. Obtaining finance money was especially difficult, because (unlike today when borrowing rates are near zero in some cases), interest rates then were close to 20%. Somehow the city's hotel developer managed to get some "cheap" financing from the Metro Industrial Development Board at 13%. Good news, but the city didn't really trust the developer to use this money only on this hotel project, and not some other development he was doing.

So an arrangement was made to have Rodgers and Welch come into the deal as partners (with a 51% controlling interest). That allayed the city's fears and the convention center and hotel project moved ahead. Welch and Rodgers' involvement is also the reason there is an office tower on top of the hotel. Years ahead of its time, a couple of floors of condos were also planned, but were never built.    

  

    

  

  

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