By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
April 15, 2022
THE FINANCING PUZZLE FOR A NEW DOMED STADIUM BEGINS TO COME TOGETHER. BUT WILL IT HAPPEN? ELSEWHERE ON THE HILL; THE LATEST IN THE 5th DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE; STATE SUPREME COURT REINSTATES STATE SENATE REDISTRICTING PLAN; SENATE ELECTION ON AS PLANNED; THE NASHVILLE MAY PRIMARY CATCHES FIRE JUST AS EARLY VOTING BEGINS; MORE SOLID WASTE WOES LOOM FOR NASHVILLE? MAYOR JOHN COOPER PROVIDES MORE FUNDS FOR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES; THE NEW NASHVILLE BANNER RETURNS ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE NEXT FEW WEEKS
THE FINANCING PUZZLE FOR A NEW DOMED STADIUM BEGINS TO COME TOGETHER. BUT WILL IT HAPPEN?
What could be the final pieces of a complex and huge ($2 billion) financial puzzle to fund a new roofed stadium for the Tennessee Titans and other large events hosted in Nashville seemed to emerge into public view this week.
With Tennessee Governor Bill Lee proposing $500 million in bonds from the state along with $700 million from the Titans, the biggest remaining unknown in the financing plan was what role would the local Metro Government play?
AXIOS Nashville broke the story to answer that question with Metro looking at approving a 1% hike (to 7%) of the local hotel-motel tax. State legislation is in the works to allow Metro to raise the tax, provided Metro Council approves it as well. State law allows up to an 8% room tax in the state.
The reported near-unanimous support of a higher room tax by the local hospitality industry is historically significant. The creation of the tax, to build the first downtown convention center in the late 1970s and early 1980s, created an all-out war between then-Mayor Richard Fulton and Opryland officials.
The support for a higher room tax indicates how much larger in size and scope the hospitality business is in Nashville today. It also indicates the strong desire for a new roofed stadium that could not only host NFL regular-season games, including the Super Bowl but also the NCAA Final Four, maybe even a World Cup Soccer game for which Nashville is already a contender to host in 2026.
The hotel-motel tax funding would seem to meet the criteria of Nashville Mayor John Cooper that a new stadium facility does not create a burden on local taxpayers and the city’s budget. The vast majority of the room tax is paid by visitors. The state has already approved Metro using the extra sales tax monies a new stadium and surrounding development would generate to help pay for construction.
But based on this TENNESSEAN story, there remain real concerns about the costs and infrastructure financing for the new neighborhood on the East Bank that would surround the new stadium.
There is other opposition emerging from academics and economists and perhaps more significantly, opposition in the Tennessee General Assembly from a powerful Middle Tennessee Republican lawmaker.
The state legislation was expected to be taken up for action beginning next week with lawmakers still eyeing an end to its yearly session soon.
ELSEWHERE ON THE HILL
Continuing a journey into the final days of the 112th Tennessee General Assembly, the Republican Super Majority in the Legislature continues its war against the transgendered community, giving final legislative approvals to two bills in the Senate. One would impose major penalties against K-12 schools, if they allow transgender athletes to compete in sports. The second bill would prohibit transgender athletes from competing in sports at Tennessee colleges and universities.
The approval comes as the main sponsor of the bills says he is not aware of any “examples of this happening in the state, but we don't want it to happen in Tennessee and our female athletes to have unfair competition."
There are opponents to the new legislation, calling them “discriminatory.”
The General Assembly is also going after the state’s homeless, criminalizing sleeping outside on public property or on the right of way. Both houses have passed bills on the matter (making it a Class E felony) and the matter will soon likely head to Governor Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. The debate in the Senate did reach a new low point with one of the Senators comparing the homeless and Hitler. Yes, he really did. You can’t make this stuff up!
With a federal grand jury continuing its probe into a campaign finance scandal that has already seen one lawmaker resign, and another former top legislative leader implicated, a new ethics law is moving in committee. To underscore his support for the bill, and the need for quick action, House Speaker Cameron Sexton attended one of the committee sessions. By rule, the Speaker is a voting member of all committees. His presence seemed to work. The bill easily passed out although without a key provision regulating “dark money.”
However, on Thursday, the full Senate passed the ethics and campaign finance package. It did so with the dark money provisions included. That is much to the displeasure of the groups who deal with those kinds of shadowy campaign funds.
Meanwhile, the latest anti-gay marriage bill is dead for this legislative session having never recovered from the public backlash after it was learned the proposed measure (since amended) did not include the minimum age requirements for marriage in Tennessee.
Another controversial bill that died this week sought to strip the city of Nashville of any control of short-term rentals. The measure not only received lots of opposition from city leaders, questions were also raised about the truthfulness of some of the lobbyists involved and some witnesses who testified before a legislative committee. In the end, lawmakers seemed to kill the proposal because they didn’t trust the bill’s sponsor to keep his word, and instead might pull a “bait and switch” regarding amendments on some parts of the bill.
Finally, a year or so after banning the teaching of “critical race theory” in Tennessee’s K-12 schools (where it never has been taught), now both houses of the General Assembly (at 132 members, the largest school board in the world) have passed a bill requiring black history education in schools.
I wonder what that curriculum will look like or how soon GOP lawmakers start complaining about it after they get complaints from parents that it makes their children feel uncomfortable or it's not age-appropriate?
The latest guesstimate on the end of the session has now been pushed back until early May.
THE LATEST IN THE 5th DISTRICT CONGRESSIONAL RACE
The first round of campaign finance disclosures has been released in the 5th Congressional District GOP primary. What we know is, not only does the race have a lot of candidates (12), but the contest (with no incumbent) is going to be expensive. The campaign finance reports show several candidates have been raking in the contributions including some that may surprise. I have not yet seen a breakdown of individual donors of PACs to each candidate.
One candidate, Maury County Mayor Andy Ogles had a decision to make after qualifying for the 5th District. He had already been named the Republican candidate to be reelected mayor. State law won’t let you do both jobs. Therefore, Ogles has decided to stay in the congressional race and forgo another run for Mayor.
As far as the final field of candidates, a new law approved overwhelmingly by the Legislature requiring a 3-year residency for candidates, has gone into effect. However, it became law after Governor Bill Lee declined to sign it, and that occurred this week after the qualifying deadline for this year’s congressional races had passed.
Regardless, who will on be the final GOP ballot remains uncertain. Tennessee Republican Party Chair Scott Golden says complaints have been filed with the GOP State Executive Committee. Reports the Associated Press: “Under Tennessee Republican Party rules, challenges in the Nashville congressional race have been filed over the (primary) voting records of Morgan Ortagus, small business owner Baxter Lee and video producer Robby Starbuck. Those will be settled by party officials by April 21, Golden said.”
There does appear to be a process where if party officials and members vouch for the party loyalty of those being questioned, they can see the charges against them dropped. It, therefore, is unclear how strong these last obstacles to candidacy will be for those involved.
STATE SUPREME COURT REINSTATES STATE SENATE REDISTRICTING PLAN; SENATE ELECTION ON AS PLANNED
Late Wednesday afternoon the Tennessee Supreme Court overturned a 3-judge lower court ruling that found the new State Senate district maps to be unconstitutional. The lower court had found the plan violated the state constitution because it didn’t number some of the districts properly. The judges also ordered the General Assembly to redraw the Senate district plan within 15 days and moved the candidate qualifying deadline back into May.
The state Attorney General appealed the decision directly to the Tennessee Supreme Court and won at least a temporary victory. The High Court said the decision of the 3 chancellors went too far, although the merits of the case, brought by three local voters and supported by the Tennessee Democratic Party, are still to be heard and decided as the case was sent back to the lower court.
In a surprising, last-minute decision, Nashville State Senator Brenda Gilmore has announced her retirement effective at the end of her term. The news she would not seek reelection was announced and confirmed by the Tennessee Democratic Party officials, with Gilmore endorsing a candidate to take her place after a long and distinguished career in public service on the state and local levels.
THE NASHVILLE MAY PRIMARY CATCHES FIRE JUST AS EARLY VOTING BEGINS
Nashville voters started going to the Davidson County Election Commission on Wednesday to cast early ballots to decide who will win the May 3 Democratic primary covering almost every judgeship and court-related office in Metro. This is expected to be a low voter turnout, a prediction which seemed to be reflected by the number of voters who showed the first day of early voting at the Metro Election Commission, just 234 people!
Despite the lack of voter enthusiasm, the hottest race has been, and continues to be, the election for Davidson County District Attorney with incumbent Glenn Funk seeking a second eight-year term in office and facing two challengers, Sara Beth Myers and P. Danielle Nellis. The latest disclosures show Funk raising the most money, helping him fill the airways with campaign ads featuring multiple endorsements.
Myers has fought back, attacking Funk on his record, as well as his controversial criminal indictment and successful prosecution of a former Vanderbilt nurse for being negligent in administering a potentially dangerous medication that killed her patient.
This week Myers took the campaign volume up even more accusing Funk of breaking the law by using his office staff to campaign for him on taxpayer time. Funk says such accusations are false.
In another court matter related to the District Attorney’s office, Metro General Sessions Judge Rachel Bell returned a case to the Criminal Courts after a NEWSCHANNEL 5 INVESTIGATES story raised questions about the case and the Judge’s involvement. Judge Bell is facing opposition from Erin Coleman in the May 3rd primary.
Finally, another Circuit Judge running with opposition on the May 3 Democratic ballot, Kelvin Jones is back in hot water over his handling of some divorce proceedings.
MORE SOLID WASTE WOES LOOM FOR NASHVILLE?
After months of struggling over how to collect the city’s trash, now Nashville/ Davidson County may soon be scrambling to find a place to dispose of its solid waste after it is collected.
Since the days of then-Mayor Phil Bredesen in the early 1990s, Metro has had its refuse trucked to the Middle Point landfill in Murfreesboro.
But that landfill is approaching capacity. A resolution under consideration by the board that oversees the Rutherford County facility says, any solid waste from several nearby counties including Davidson County would no longer be accepted there after the end of this year.
If the resolution is approved, there is not nearly enough time to identify, license and open a new landfill in Davidson County by end of 2022. And anyone living in Nashville in the late 1980s, when the last local landfill search was done, remembers what a politically explosive and community gut-wrenching experience that was.
Finding another county to take our solid waste seems the most likely way to proceed if the Murfreesboro landfill is closed to Metro. But where will that be? How far away might that be? And how will Nashvillians pay for it? I am told Metro has a contract with a private firm that actually takes Metro’s solid waste to the Murfreesboro landfill. I am further told that the company is on the hook through the end of the contract (2027) to pay any added costs for transport to keep our trash being handled.
Regardless, the need for a new landfill or a deposal site is still clearly on the horizon for our city in the near future.
Meanwhile, odor issues and complaints continue to surround the operations of the Middle Point landfill.
MAYOR JOHN COOPER PROVIDES MORE FUNDS FOR MENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
In a first-of-its-kind effort locally, Nashville Mayor John Cooper on Thursday announced new funding for mental health services through the court system. The city will invest $600,000 in an effort to not criminalize mental health. Instead, a pilot program, run by the courts, will offer treatment for low-level, non-violent offenses rather than sentencing the offenders to jail time.
THE NEW NASHVILLE BANNER RETURNS ON INSIDE POLITICS
THE NASHVILLE BANNER was the city’s afternoon newspaper from 1876 until it shut down its presses in 1998.
Now THE BANNER is back as an online news service with its first stories becoming available late last week.
Steve Cavendish, a long-time journalist and former editor of THE NASHVILLE SCENE, is one of the prime movers behind creating the new BANNER.
Steve is the President and Editor of the new online news service.
And he is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.
We welcome Steve back to the program!
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. on Saturday.
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. We are also on DISH TV with the rest of the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK.
One option for those who cannot 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 early in the week after the program airs.
Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week here on my own Facebook page, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.
THE NEXT FEW WEEKS
I have one more thing I need to attend to that has been pushed back for over two years by the pandemic.
For that reason, I will be taking a few weeks off from Capitol View and INSIDE POLITICS.
I will have a new INSIDE POLITICS show next weekend with interviews with Metro Council member At-Large Bob Mendes and others.
After that, my goal is to be back on INSIDE POLITICS as early as May 6 and publish the next Capitol View on May 13.
See you then.
P.S.: This is not health-related.