NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The letter from Governor Bill Lee to Mayor John Cooper seemed out of place for many, but political experts say this tension has been hiding under the surface since COVID-19 relief money was first released.
Even so, political analyst Pat Nolan wasn’t expecting such a public rebuke of Mayor Cooper’s proposal for an additional $82.6 million in relief money for Metro-Nashville.
From that money, Cooper said he wanted to use $35 million to support businesses driving tourism, including music venues, restaurants and hotels. Another $33 million was slated for social programs like workforce development.
“I think one thing that has changed most recently is this potential referendum that may be coming up,” Nolan said.
A referendum that could decide the fate of a 34 percent property tax hike. While Lee doesn’t refer to this specifically, he does say his administration set aside other priorities to make sure they didn’t leave employers in the state with a massive tax bill to cover a 300% unemployment tax increase.
“When the governor says he’d rather see government get cut than raise taxes, that goes right to one of the core issues to this whole thing about the charter referendum,” Nolan said.
Lee continues on to say he’s concerned that many of the spending decisions don’t account for “federal and state expenditures that serve several of the needs outlined.” Another way of saying, some of the same money you’re asking the state for, you could just as well get from the federal government directly. Rather than double-up on resources through the state.
Bar owner Barrett Hobbs says while some of the money the mayor requested could have gone to businesses like his, he commends the governor for speaking up.
“I’m glad Governor Lee is engaging and I hope that he engages more. I hope that he works with our mayor to figure out a better way to distribute the money,” Hobbs said.
Friday, his bars and others in the metro return to 50 percent occupancy, or 50 people outside and 50 inside, depending on whichever has the fewest number of people. In addition, bars can stay open later by 30 minutes.
“You get 30 minutes extra to stay open? Come on, what is that going to do? Open us up,” Hobbs said.
Governor Lee certainly wants the same thing and says unless Nashville can better prioritize the concerns of businesses, don’t expect any more money. Lee does say he’s open to revisiting the conversation with the mayor on how the two parties can find a compromise.