Capitol View Commentary: Friday, January 5, 2017

NASHVILLE, Tenn. - CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice President, DVL Seigenthaler Public Relations, a Finn Partners Company

WHEN THE SHORT TERM GOES LONG TERM; THE METRO FINANCE HAMMER; STILL WAITING ON I-440; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE YEAR AHEAD; LEWIE;

WHEN THE SHORT TERM GOES LONG TERM

Ever since they took office well over two years ago (October 2015), the 40 members of the Metro Council have been grappling with the issue of how to regulate short term rental properties in the city.

Because Nashville has become such a popular tourist destination, and there has been a prolonged shortage of available (and reasonably priced) hotel rooms, short term rentals have become an attractive alternative for visitors, and a financial boon to home owners who have a spare bedroom or two to rent out.

But there also have been issues in the regulation and oversight of such commercial-like activities in what are otherwise residential areas of town. This seems to particularly be a problem with non-owner occupied short term rentals which some neighbors say have created weekly, even nightly party houses which generate unwanted noise along with parking and other issues.

Metro has increased the number and availability of codes inspectors to respond in real-time to complaints. The city has also been more stringent about licensing short term rentals. But the push to limit or even ban some kinds of rentals has been a tough problem to resolve for the Council.

Even the work of a special Council committee is having difficulties. The “compromise” legislation drafted by lawmaker drew a full house in the Council chambers last Tuesday night, resulting in a two and half hour public hearing and debate. The bill did pass on second reading, but third and final reading approval looks difficult.

That is because the compromise bill got only 19 votes. Final approval takes 21 votes, meaning supporters have to find two more yes votes by the next Council meeting, to be held in less than two weeks on January 16. I am not sure why the stories I am seeing and reading in the local media don’t mention the 21-vote requirement, but that is the law to approve ordinances.

Two other bills that are much stricter on either phasing out non-owner occupied short term rentals or banning them all together are also still pending on the Council agenda. It’s not at all clear whether either of them have the 21 votes needed for a final Council OK.

So a short term issue may continue as a long term challenge facing this Council.

THE METRO FINANCE HAMMER

We wrote quite a bit late last year about Mayor Megan Barry’s proposal to end in-patient care at the city’s General Hospital. She says the facility is just not attracting enough patients. So it makes better sense to continue out- patient, clinic care there and come up with a new way for Metro to pay for overall indigent care for the city’s needy.

Opposition and pushback from hospital officials, General Hospital employees and in the overall African American community (especially the Metro Council’s Black Caucus) has been significant. But interim additional funding to keep General operating through the rest of this fiscal year (July 1, 2018) was not considered a potential stumbling block.

But maybe it is.

Metro Finance officials this week sent a letter to General Hospital saying it needs a lot more information to justify the need for the Barry administration to agree to supporting another $20 million for the hospital on top of the $45 million subsidy the facility already receives annually from local taxpayers.

Hospital officials say they will provide the needed information by the end of the week. So maybe this issue will work out. But it is important to note the important fiscal hammer Metro Finance has in this matter.

Under the Metro Charter and the city law, any bill introduced into the Metro Council that appropriates money requires the signature of the Finance Director “to certify the availability of funds.” Without that, the Council is powerless to consider or approve any funds.

So if the Barry Administration and General can’t work something out, it is possible there will be no extra interim funding for the hospital. I doubt that will occur. Hospital officials have said without more immediate extra funding, the facility may struggle meeting payroll and paying its other bills and obligations as early as later this month.

This would likely create a standoff no one would want to have to handle. But the fact that this kind of development has arisen has arisen is a sign of how far apart both sides seem to be in this matter, and what an increasingly difficult (and potentially racially-charged) this health care debate could become.

STILL WAITING ON I-440

On Thursday of this week, Governor Bill Haslam announced the first highway improvement projects to be funded, in part. under the IMPROVE ACT monies generated by the recent state gas tax hike.

The cost of the contracts for total first projects funded is $297 million…the largest bidding process in the history of the state. According to a news release from the Governor’s office:

“This is TDOT’s first bidding process utilizing significant IMPROVE Act funds, along with federal dollars available since the start of the new federal fiscal year, and includes several key IMPROVE Act projects, including:

• Widening of US 411 in Jefferson County;

• Widening of SR 149/13 in Montgomery County;

• Widening of US 431 in Robertson County;

• Widening of SR 14 in Shelby County; and

• Widening of SR 109 in Wilson County

The list of projects also includes several bridge rehabilitations, safety projects and the resurfacing of more than 80 miles of interstates and state routes.

Later this year, TDOT anticipates project bids to increase by about $100 million, with calendar year bids totaling more than $1 billion. TDOT will also initiate design/build contracts on reconstruction of I-440 in Nashville and the I-24/I-75 interchange in Chattanooga. “

I am sure the state has good reasons why all the projects listed ahead of Nashville’s broken-down, unsafe I-440 Parkway are moving ahead now while Nashville waits until later in the year. I hear construction should be started in July. But frankly if it wasn’t for the solid vote support of the Democratic Davidson County delegation and the help of Nashville Mayor Megan Barry the Republican dominated General Assembly would have never approve any IMPROVE ACT.

I guess “better a little late than never” is still a major step forward. Just keep thinking that during the reconstruction period too. That process is sure to be a traffic bear.

INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE YEAR AHEAD

The new year of 2018 will be a very busy one in Tennessee politics. It begins in earnest next Monday. That’s when President Donald Trump makes his second visit to the state and to Nashville since he entered the White House about a year ago. He will be speaking to the National Farm Bureau convention.

Of course, the General Assembly also begins its work next week and there are contested elections ramping up for an open governor’s chair and one of Tennessee’s U. S. Senate seats, along with state legislative and congressional elections that seem poised to bring a lot of change to our roster of elected officials.

To bring some context and perspective to all that, this week on INSIDE POLITICS, we welcome in the new year with former GOP state representative Debra Maggart, now with the CivicPoint government relations firm, and Nashville attorney Larry Woods, who is a Democratic activist and consultant.

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Those times include 7:00 p.m. Friday; 5:00 a.m., 3:00 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Saturday; along with 1:30 a.m. & 5:00 a.m. on Sunday.

THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 182 and on NEWSCHANNEL5’s over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

One option for those who can’t see the show locally or who are out of town, you can watch it live with streaming video on NEWSCHANNEL5.com. Just use your TiVo or DVR, if those live times don't work for you.

This week’s show and previous INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also posted on the NEWSCHANNEL5 website for your viewing under the NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS section. A link to the show is posted as well on the Facebook page of NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS. Each new show and link are posted the week after the program airs.

LEWIE

One of the towering figures in modern day Tennessee Republican politics, Lewis “Lewie” Donelson passed way this week in Memphis at the age of 100.

Beginning in the 1950s and ‘60s, Donelson helped build the Tennessee GOP into a political organization that could win statewide elections. That started happening in 1966 when Howard Baker won a U.S. Senate seat. Four years later, with Donelson being a key finance player, a little known dentist named Winfield Dunn became the first Republican elected governor in half a century, while Bill Brock won the state’s other Senate seat.

As you would expect, Tom Humphrey (citing a COMMERCIAL APPEAL article) has a great summary on Donelson’s political impact and his involvement in state government which remained strong even during Governor Haslam’s time in office, when Donelson was in his 90s.

Of course, there have been many verbal tributes to Donelson issued by Republican and business leaders as well as others across the state. I think what Senator Lamar Alexander, Mr. Donelson’s son and Governor Haslam said are particularly insightful. http://humphreyonthehill.tnjournal.net/lewie-donelson-tn-gop-leader-prominent-lawyer-dies-age-100/

To further quote from the COMMERCIAL APPEAL article and Senator Alexander:

Mr. Donelson was a descendant of an old-line Tennessee family, including U.S. president Andrew Jackson, a founder of Memphis, and Nashville founder Colonel John Donelson.

“No other family’s thread runs more proudly through Tennessee’s history than Lewie’s -- from his ancestor John Donelson’s river trip to Nashville in 1779 to Andrew Jackson’s marriage to John’s daughter, Rachel, to Jackson’s founding of Memphis and then to Lewie’s life of distinguished public service," Sen. Alexander said in a statement

I knew and interviewed Mr. Donelson when I was a reporter. I wished I could have had him on INSIDE POLITICS as a guest, but we never could work it out. While like me, Mr. Donelson was somewhat short in stature, but he had a quick wit and a smile that I still remember. He had a larger than life impact on Republican politics in this state that should never be forgotten either. RIP, Lewie.

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