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Capitol View Commentary: Feb. 1, 2019

Capitol View
Posted at 3:18 PM, Feb 01, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-01 16:18:43-05


New Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is continuing the tradition, begun by Phil Bredesen when he was governor, to hold open budget meetings.

Instructed by Governor Lee to present potential 2% cuts to their budgets, state commissioners and their staffs did so. They also presented to the Governor the reality of why they need more money in some areas.

Take as an example, the Department of Children’s Services. The opioid epidemic has created a 10% increase in children coming into the state’s foster care program in the last two years. Other states have seen an even greater impact: Georgia 72%, Indiana 68%, Florida 46%.

In Tennessee it adds to a need for $78 million more to provide care for these children in need. Dealing with the opioid crisis is one of the Governor’s budget priorities. Will this significant increase in foster care children created by this drug crisis be addressed in the Governor’s first budget?

Here’s another example. Increased economic development in rural, economically hard -hit Tennessee counties is also a priority for Governor Lee. It’s hard to get new businesses and jobs to relocate to areas where the water and sewer systems don’t work properly. The state has an annual revolving loan program to help fund repairs and upgrades. It’s been allocating $6 million a year for that effort. But to begin to make a dent in what really needs to be done, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation is asking for an increase to $8.5 million, which is 25% more this year. If those funds are not forthcoming a 4 to 1 match in funds by the federal government won’t be available, even though that match this year includes $13 million more from Washington.

This is just a small sample of the types of tough decisions governors have to make annually in putting together a spending plan for their state. We will get a feel for how Bill Lee, a small government guy, approaches the matter, including funding his top budget priority areas, when he presents his first budget and his first State of the State Address on March 4.

Governor Lee on Friday (today) issued his fifth executive order since taking office less than two weeks ago. This directive places a 90-day moratorium on any new state regulations. It is not without precedence. Governor Bill Haslam did the same thing eight years ago. But Lee’s halt to rule-making is twice as long. More from TENNESSEE JOURNAL blog.

On Tuesday of next week, Governor Lee will get the chance to go to Washington. There he will see President Donald Trump deliver his annual (if somewhat delayed due to the partial government shutdown) State of the Union address. The Governor will be the guest of Chattanooga-area Congressman Chuck Fleischmann.

Fleischmann is a member of the House-Senate panel of lawmakers seeking find a solution to the impasse over the southern Border Wall and avoid another government shutdown February 15. Getting Democrats, Republicans and the President to find common ground will be tough to do even with Valentines Day approaching. With all sides hardening their positions, the specter increases of Mr. Trump declaring a national emergency to seize the money from other congressional appropriations to get the military to build the Wall. That would insure the matter going to court with a possible final determination by the Supreme Court.


2018 saw Nashville set still more new records in terms of tourism.

15.2 million visitors came to our city according to the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. That’s a 5% increase from 2017 when 14.5 million folks visited.

It meant more hotel room nights, and more hotels opening. Fifteen new properties opened last year with 20 more coming this year. New restaurants totaled 113 openings in 2018 after 113 started serving in 2017. The airport set a new record for passenger service. 16 million passengers came through Nashville International in 2018 with 14 airlines operating 460 daily flights across the county and increasingly around the world.

It may be hard to believe but 2019 looks even better for Nashville tourism. Take the weekend of April 25-27. The annual Rock & Roll Marathon will bring tens of thousands to town while Jimmy Buffett will be packing them in at Bridgestone Arena for his concert. There could also be a Predators NHL playoff game that weekend, But perhaps, most significantly, one of crown jewel events of the National Football League, its annual Player Draft, coming to Nashville.

Picture Lower Broadway downtown with a huge stage and Jumbotron at the intersection of Broadway and Hermitage (First Avenue). Selected players will emerge on the stage to be greeted by the Commissioner of the NFL while thousands of fans will roar their approval (or lack thereof) of each team’s first round selection. The Nashville NFL Draft will seek to bring football and entertainment together, merging the gridiron with a music festival. There will be wall to wall concerts, all adding to make this Draft the most fan friendly and interactive ever.

There are few cities who can throw a party like Nashville can. Most of those who can have also hosted the Super Bowl, the NFL’s Championship Game. On a weekend where the Super Bowl is being played in Atlanta (always a city Nashville compares itself too) what about Nashville hosting a future Super Bowl?

It’s believed the NFL would be open to the idea, but we’d probably have to put a dome (retractable?) on Nissan Stadium or build a new stadium with a dome and other amenities that aren’t available in the current 20-year old football facility.

Is Nashville to have that debate? Would the Titans help pay for it? Or would be totally covered taxpayers? And what this growing talk about Nashville getting a Major League Baseball expansion franchise?

Where would that team play its games. Remember Nashville just built a new stadium for its AAA franchise and supposedly it is not designed to be expanded to meet MLB stadium requirements.

But for now Nashville and Lower Broad in particular being the mecca for pro football and sports media this spring with the NFL Draft is pretty exciting. It’s maybe even more than Mayor Richard Fulton himself even envisioned when he made the city’s first investment in that area about four decades ago to build Riverfront Park If he was still with us, I doubt he’d admit Lower Broad has developed and grown beyond his wildest dreams. He never put limits on what he thought was possible. Boy, how far we’ve come from the days when Lower Broad was known for dirty book stores, peep shows and massage parlors.


Even though the Metro Council has yet to approve the $15 million tax incentive involved, Amazon has a kickoff event scheduled for next Wednesday at the Ryman. It will kick off efforts to place Amazon’s East Coast distribution center in downtown, bringing 5,000 high-paying jobs.

The tax break has raised some hackles among councilmembers and others in the community. They are likely to see this event as getting the old- fashioned cart before the horse.


It’s already started.

It’s the annual snowstorm of legislation hitting Capitol Hill.

The deadline to file legislation for this year’s legislative session is next week.

If history holds true a 1,000 bills or more will be thrown in the hopper.

That includes caption legislation that covers every section of Tennessee Code Annotated. That’s just in case something unexpected comes up during session and still yet another new law is needed.

Meantime this week, lawmakers found themselves caught in the middle of trying to be transparent in their work without allowing live streaming of their meetings to create havoc or hard feelings among members or the public. Reports THE TENNESSEAN:

It also looks like limiting abortion will be another big fight on the Hill again. Despite previous failures, a bill to prohibit abortion after a fetal heart beat is detected has been filed. An earlier Tennessee Attorney General’s opinion has questioned the constitutionality of such a law. Recent court decisions in other

states have ruled against such abortion restrictions. Regardless, the fetal heart beat bill now has some new support from top level Republicans leaders, including Governor Lee.

Lt. Governor Randy McNally did tell reporters that if the heart beat proposal passes, the General Assembly might need to find outside legal counsel since the Tennessee Attorney General has already opined against it. There is one line of thought that anti-abortion restrictions like the heart beat bill might provide possible test case to go before the new, more conservative U.S. Supreme Court to find a successful way to limit or repeal the Roe v. Wade ruling of the early 1970s.

Back on Capitol Hill in Nashville, there is also a raft of election law changes being proposed, along with seemingly bi-partisan measures regarding criminal justice reform. Reports THE NASHVILLE SCENE:

Finally, there’s the issue of where to fly the Flag of the Tennessee General Assembly? You didn’t know we had one? Well we do, and it supposed to fly whenever the Legislature is in session. Read on for more from THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL blog.

And so, Democracy will be saved!


Tuesday night will see quite a meeting for the Metro Council. The agenda includes a couple of politically sticky wicket issues. Both are memorializing resolutions with little or no legal impact, but some council members could still feel they are in a bind about which way to vote.

One resolution is a motion of censure against former Mayor Megan Barry, who resigned almost a year ago after a sex scandal with her police security chief that saw her plead guilty to felony theft charges.

And if that resolution isn’t enough to make some council members squirm, the feud at the Metro School Board involving Director Shawn Joseph and some school board members is coming up as well. The resolution calls for an apology to Dr. Joseph over a recent incident where a board member urged opponents of the Director to show up at a board meeting wearing masks. Dr. Joseph supporters found the move racist.

Some might see legislation like this as a sure sign of the approaching Metro elections in August. Others might see dealing with Metro’s still difficult budget issues as more enjoyable than these memorializing non-binding resolutions.


While overall violent crime in Nashville is down, gun crime is not.

For the first time in city history, local and federal law enforcement are launching a joint effort to address this growing problem, particularly illegal or stolen guns.


Late this week, the two major candidates (so far) in Nashville’s mayor’s race filed their first financial disclosures of the campaign.

So far it appears the advantage is to the incumbent, David Briley. He’s raised $366,878 in the last six months. It’s not quite as much as he raised in one month last year ($404,495). That’s when he began his quest to win last May’s special election to fill out the remaining term of former Mayor Megan Barry. She resigned in the wake of a sex scandal that saw her pleaguilty to felony theft charges.

Briley’s main opponent, at least for the moment, is West Nashville State Representative John Ray Clemmons. He’s reported raising $136,303 But $100,000 of that came from a personal loan while individual contributions accounted for the remaining $36,303.

Both camps tried to put their best spin on their situation with Clemmon’s campaign pointing out he only got in the race a few weeks ago and has raised all his funds between January 2 and the reporting deadline of January 15.

Reports Joey Garrison of THE TENNESSEAN: “Clemmons campaign spokesman David Myles called the level of grassroots support that Clemmons is receiving "phenomenal," adding that it's clear Nashvillians want a "bold and decisive mayor."

"John Ray Clemmons isn't running to be the money’s mayor," he said. "He's going to be the people’s mayor. The old way of doing business in this county doesn't work. Rep. Clemmons is a proven leader who will do whatever necessary to address the most pressing challenges facing our community."

But clearly Clemmons needs more contributions and less personal loans to be viable. Some estimate will take at least $1.5 to $2 million to be competitive I this election cycle.

As for Mayor Briley, his fund- raising totals clearly are impacted by his incumbency. No Metro Mayor has ever been defeated for re-election. And while he’s been in charge still less than a year, not a full four-year term, His Honor is intent in staying at the Courthouse. Again, from THE TENNESSEAN:

This early and strong support from across Nashville is inspiring, but I know there is much work to be done,” Briley said in a statement.

“It has been an honor to serve our city as mayor, and I will continue to work every day to help spread prosperity and equity throughout our city. Come August, I am confident that voters will agree that I am the best person to continue our city’s upward trajectory."

There are two other potential candidates still deciding whether to jump into the race. Both ran four ago. They are businessman and now media magnate Bill Freeman (who ran for mayor but finished third) and John Cooper who won a Metro Council At Large seat. Both men spent a significant amount of personal funds in their 2015 campaigns.

It’s expected they would poised to do that again, and given the relatively short time left in this race (election day is August 1), significant self- funding may be a necessity.


THE NASHVILLE BANNER was the city’s afternoon newspaper for many years before its presses stopped for good in 1998. Now there is a move to bring back THE BANNER as an on- line news service.

Steve Cavendish is one of the leaders in that effort. He is the former editor of THE NASHVILLE SCENE and he is our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

Well also discuss the future of journalism in this age of “fake news” claims and corporate cutbacks that continue to make newsroom staffs smaller with fewer resources. We’ll also get Steve’s take on the local and state political scene.

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