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Capitol View commentary: Friday, April 16, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 1:08 PM, Apr 16, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-16 14:08:40-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

April 16, 2021

SOMETHING VERY DIFFERENT AND VERY GOOD FOR NASHVILLE; METRO BUDGET SEASON BEGINS EARLY AND WITH A SURPRISE; THE VACCINATION PUSH HITS A BUMP IN THE ROAD WHILE TENNESSEE REMAINS NEAR THE BOTTOM FOR SHOTS; ON THE HILL THE WAR ON LGBTQ TENNESSEANS CONTINUES; CONGRESSMAN JOHN ROSE ON INSIDE POLITICS; NEXT WEEK; PRESIDENT BIDEN’S FOREIGN POLICY MOVES

SOMETHING VERY DIFFERENT AND VERY GOOD FOR NASHVILLE

For over a year now I have begun this column almost every week with a report on the latest concerning the world, national, state and local situation regarding the pandemic.

Occasionally, I have headlined this report with my guest that week on INSIDE POLITICS. But usually that interview had some relationship to the virus outbreak as well.

This week however will be different.

My lead item in this week’s Capitol View is the announcement of the largest single economic development investment ever in Nashville, and maybe the state of Tennessee. However, another announcement being made today (Friday) may top that. Read on.

Oracle, one of the world’s largest global software and technology corporations, plans to make a $1.1 billon dollar investment on the east side of the Cumberland River (in the area near the Top Golf facility). The Oracle facility will be the company’s southeast business hub creating 8,500 new jobs over the next decade with average salaries of $110,000! And there is more.

I have reported several times over the past year that Nashville has continued to show strong development and growth potential (along with people still wanting to move here) despite the issues created by COVID-19. This is surely the biggest sign yet that is true.

Actually, the Oracle project has been somewhat of a loosely guarded secret with talks with the Texas based firm underway at least since 2019. When the Metro Council recently approved some of the infrastructure changes needed for the project (which Oracle will reportedly pay for), the company’s name was never mentioned, even when there was rather spirited debate.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee has been strongly involved in bringing this investment to Nashville, including a trip to the west coast to woo Oracle officials. The Governor will have his own Oracle incentive package coming to the General Assembly for approval soon.

Local approvals will also still be needed by the Metro Council and the city’s Industrial Development Board to make this “generational opportunity” (as some are describing it) come to fruition. But given all the up sides of this project, those oks do not appear to be difficult at this point.

The Oracle announcement comes as Mayor Cooper announced this week the city will move ahead on planning for the redevelopment of the entire East Bank of the River across from downtown. Depending on how land acquisitions are handled (for properties like Phillips Metals) that could a bigger challenge to keep local taxpayer involvement low.

Of course, the Titans and Nissan Stadium have long been a part of an East Bank redevelopment effort. This week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced in his supplemental state budget that he is including funds to help move some of that effort along in terms of stadium renovations.

This week also saw hundreds more new manufacturing jobs also on the way to the Clarksville area.

To end what has likely been an extraordinary and record- breaking week for economic development in Tennessee, General Motors is announcing a $2.1 billion battery cell plant near its auto plant in Spring Hill.

METRO BUDGET SEASON BEGINS EARLY AND WITH A SURPRISE

It is almost budget time for Metro Nashville, and it is beginning with a surprise.

Assuming the Metro Council approves a necessary resolution Tuesday night, Mayor John Cooper will deliver his annual State of Metro and Budget Address on Thursday, April 29 at 10:30 a.m. The speech will be given before a special session of the Council to be held at the Music City Center. It will be the Council’s first in- person meeting since the 41-member body went back to remote meetings late last year when the virus spiked again.

But even before he gives his speech, Mayor Cooper announced Friday (this morning) his new proposed property tax rate for the 2022 fiscal year will roll back the 34% tax hike approved last year.

He did later seem to move away from saying the cut will create a record low tax rate.

The tax rate cut will be necessitated by a countywide property reappraisal expected to be released within days. Such a survey is required by state law to be conducted every four years The property tax rate was expected to go down given the strong growth in Nashville the last four years. But remember the fair market value of properties, both residential and commercial, has increased enough that the tax rate will need to be adjusted downward so the reappraisal does not cause a tax hike on its own.

The final results of the reappraisal study being conducted by h the office of Vivian Wilholte, the Davidson County Assessor of Property, have been expected for weeks. Why has it been delayed? No one seems to be sure.

Mayor Cooper did tell me on INSIDE POLITICS a couple of weeks ago that he has been briefed by the Assessor’s Office and that residential values have gone up “substantially” compared to four years ago.

The Mayor did not indicate to when we talked that the reappraisal might justify the tax rate going down enough to make the new one in FY2022 lower than the one before the 2020 tax hike was approved.

I think the Mayor’s announcement surprised Council members who likely thought the Mayor would announce his plans in his April 29 speech. His announcement probably annoyed some council members because it appears he did not give an early warning signal that something was coming early.

As for the increased value of commercial properties, when I talked to the Mayor he didn’t say as much. My suspicion is that may be one reason the whole reappraisal study has been delayed before its release.

The pandemic has created quite a bit of upheaval for businesses. so many people have been working from home, and a number will likely to stay there as our economic rebound continues. What does that do to the fair market value of office buildings and other properties, particularly as occupancy rates are down and rental rates may be heading down too?

Residential and commercial property owners can appeal their new assessments if they think they are too high. A fair amount of that occurs every four years. There may be even more appeals this year.

The Metro Council at its last meeting appointed a newly constituted Board of Equalization to hear the appeals and they are bound to be quite busy. Meanwhile Metro and the State are supposed to be working together on where to set the new 2022 property tax rate, so the reappraisal does not cause a general property tax hike overall.

This can be tricky. Four years ago, some think the Council set the rate too low, trying to make it the lowest in the city’s history. Instead, the city has been dogged by operating budget problems ever since.

By the way, the tax rate is only one part of determining the property taxes you pay. The fair market value has a lot to do with it as well. Remember, the reappraisal also seeks to equalize taxes based on fair market value.

That means if your home is in a “hot” real estate part of town due to growth, in-fill development or gentrification, your increase in value may be higher than in more “stable,” and more expensive neighborhoods. That means even if the new property tax rate is lower than this year, your tax bill could be higher because your property values increased more over the last four years than other parts of town.

Buckle your political seat belts! It is going to be another bumpy Metro budget season!

THE VACCINATION PUSH HITS A BUMP IN THE ROAD WHILE TENNESSEE REMAINS NEAR THE BOTTOM FOR SHOTS

This week in the ongoing battle for pandemic supremacy between the COVID-19 virus variants and the three vaccines to combat the disease, the efforts to get shots in arms took a hit while the variants (especially the one from the UK) keep gaining strength in parts of the country.

The vaccine issue came as federal officials urged a nationwide “pause” on the use of the one-shot Johnson and Johnson serum after seven women suffered blood clots within days after taking the shot. Some have been hospitalized and one has died. Such a side effect is rare with the J&J vaccine given the millions administered across the country. But still the pause was put in place “out of an abundance of caution.”

Even as national health officials insisted the J&J vaccine is totally safe and the delay would be only a matter of days, it now appears the pause could be at least a week.

THE NASHVILLE SCENE reports of one local woman who has taken the J&J shot and has now been hospitalized suffering from blood clotting symptoms. Despite that, she is urging everyone to get vaccinated.

There is still plenty of vaccine left from the Pfizer and Moderna serums and the national daily average of shots given is up to 3.5 million. That means at the end of this work week, we have close to 24% of the adults in the country fully vaccinated, and over 36% with at least one dose.

Despite those still rising numbers, the concern increases that the J&J pause will only add to vaccine hesitancy, and therefore further decrease the likelihood of ending the pandemic by getting 70% to 80% of U.S. adults vaccinated.

The J&J pause raises further concerns because the overall economic recovery of the nation and world is tied to a successful rollout of the vaccines.

But for now, the national retail sales report for the month of March sees the economy booming with many consumers now armed financially with those latest stimulus checks.

New unemployment requests are also moving in the right direction. Nationwide, workers filed 576,000 initial claims for unemployment during the week ending April 10, a decrease of 193,000 from 769,000 jobless claims the previous week, Labor Department data shows.

Meanwhile in Tennessee, the new unemployment aid numbers tilted up a bit compared to last week.

Here in Tennessee and Nashville, the J&J vaccine has been pulled, including from the new drive- through vaccination location in southeast Nashville that just opened on Monday. The Pfizer vaccine has been substituted, but officials had high hopes the one- shot serum would be more effective to get protection out more people, more quickly in an underserved part of town.

Across the state of Tennessee, health officials need all the help they can get as our Volunteer State vaccine rollout remains just about the worst in the country.

A survey conducted by the Tennessee Department of Health finds (not surprisingly) reluctance to take the vaccine is likely the major reason our state lacks behind. It is reflected in the responses of more than 50% of those surveyed!

The state says it plans to take the results of the survey (probably with some focus groups findings) and put together public service ads to air across the state. The spots will urge people to get vaccinated. But with the vaccines being put in arms for months now, why has it taken so long for the state to do this?

Another state program to help school children and families in need is still experiencing major problems a year after it began.

Getting back to the virus, THE TENNESSEAN reported last Monday about 35% of new virus cases in Tennessee are now from the UK variant but there still appears no sharp spike in cases here in Nashville as seen in other states such as Michigan and the Upper Midwest.

In fact, here in Nashville, the virus levels appear to be good enough, combined with an over30% first vaccination rate, the city late last week (Friday after this column was posted) tweaked the outdoor mandate to wear masks and further restrictions will be lessened effective Friday (today).

The new rules mean increased attendance capacity will be up to 40% when Nashville’s MLS team begins its home season at Nissan Stadium.

But some of the changes concerning wearing masks at other outdoor sports events are not subject to local health orders.

Continuing to try and reach Mayor John Cooper’s goal of Nashville achieving a 50% first vaccination rate by May, on Monday the city will begin offering daily first-come, first served walk-in shots for up to 500 people at the Music City Center. This move may also be happening because the city is now experiencing ,for the first time, unfilled vaccination appointment slots. It is happening in states across the country as a surplus of vaccines is piling up.

You likely may have seen this coming, but now an official with one of the vaccine companies says a booster shot may be needed within a year, or maybe even every year, to stay safe from the virus.

Assessing the political toll the pandemic has caused in Nashville, this week Vanderbilt University released the results of its latest Nashville poll. It is a survey the school conducts a couple of times each year among Davidson County residents. Not surprisingly the latest survey finds our elected officials have taken a popularity hit compared to 2020. Surely the pandemic is playing a major role in that, although those who conducted the survey says the decline is not as bad as some may have expected.

The effort to revive the city’s live music venue industry, so devastated by the pandemic, continues to struggle. A federal effort has been slowed in launching it efforts due to web site problems. Meanwhile, the effort to save the legendary Exit-Inn on Elliston Place (the city’s Rock Block), did see some success with the investment group planning to buy the Exit Inn, saying it will keep it as a music venue. But the entirety of the firm’s plans so far, including placing the Exit Inn on the National Register of Historic Places has left the Inn’s advocates feeling underwhelmed.

ON THE HILL THE WAR ON LGBTQ TENNESSEANS CONTINUES

Another week, and the Republican Super Majority in the Tennessee General Assembly has passed yet another bill in its all- session war on the LGBTQ community, especially transgendered young people.

Leaving the politics aside, these young people say they feel bullied by this onslaught of legislation aimed directly at them.

The latest measure, which now needs only Governor Bill Lee’s signature to become law, allows parents to have their children excused from any classroom instruction concerning sexual orientation or gender identity. The latest bill passes in the same week when the NCAA, the national association governing college sports, warned the state that championship events might not be allowed to be held in Tennessee because of its discriminatory legislation. But lawmakers seem unconcerned.

But other say such a move by the NCAA and other groups might be particularly hurtful to Nashville.

But this session GOP lawmakers are doing whatever they can to muzzle Nashville and other cities and counties. They are moving ahead on a bill that would prohibit local governments from even questioning anything the Super Minority passes by going to court.

Republican lawmakers are also muzzling any local efforts here in Nashville to strengthen workplace safety.

With an FBI investigation concerning campaign finance improprieties still hanging over the Hill, the two speakers are moving legislation to strengthen state law. According to THE TENNESSEE JOURNAL: “The bill seeks to require members of the General Assembly who provide campaign services to colleagues to disclose the arrangements to the Ethics Commission.”

“ The measure also would shine a light on dark-money spending, enhance disclosure requirements for contributions and expenditures in the final days before voters go to the polls, and ban lawmakers from using political action committee funds to pay off penalties for campaign finance violations.”

Meanwhile a former state lawmaker, now Rutherford County Mayor, Bill Ketron was fined $135,000 for campaign violations, and it could have been much worse.

Speaking of money, Governor Bill Lee this week outlined his recommendations to local school systems across Tennessee on how they should spend the billions of dollars in new federal American Rescue funds coming their way.

Bolstered by improving, and higher than expected, revenue collections, the Governor sent his revised his supplemental budget to the General Assembly for the new fiscal year that begins July 1. To further stimulate the state’s economy as the pandemic eases, the Governor’s new budget plans for two new sales tax holidays, removing the tax for two week periods on groceries, restaurants and others who sell prepared foods.

There is one other significance to the Governor submitting his supplemental budget for review and approval by the Legislature. It means lawmakers will start reviewing a new spending plan in earnest, pass one in a few weeks, and then go home, until a likely special session later this year to deal with redistricting the state politically, after the 2020 Census is finally complete.

This week was an extraordinarily tragic seven days for violence. First , it involved an officer related shooting in Minnesota. That’s also where the murder case of George Floyd from last summer seems to be reaching its final days with high anxiety in Minneapolis. There was also a troubling incident involving police officers in Virginia.

In Chicago, newly released police body cam video shows the recent fatal shooting of a 13-year old, while Indianapolis is dealing with a mass shooting, leaving 8 people dead.

Here in Tennessee, the increase in senseless murders and deaths involving firearms continued here in Nashville, and there was a school shooting in Knoxville that garnered national news.

In the midst of all this, Nashville Congressman Jim Cooper issued a statement warning that Governor Bill Lee’s new “constitutional carry” law, allowing handguns to be carried (open or concealed) without a state permit or training, will only make matters worse.

Metro School Board members have voiced their criticisms as well.

CONGRESSMAN JOHN ROSE ON INSIDE POLITICS

Congress returned to Washington this week still trying to figure out what to do with President Joe Biden’s two trillion dollar-plus “infrastructure” bill.

Many say it is long overdue, but others say the measure is too large.

Some don’t the size and type of taxes it raises, while other don’t like it being possibly passed through by the budget reconciliation process, adding the cost to the national debt.

Some lawmakers are also just not sure they like how the bill defines what is infrastructure.

The Congress also appears to remain undecided over how to protect the Capitol and its grounds after two deadly attacks since the beginning of the year.

One of those representing Tennessee in the U.S. House is 6th District Congressman John Rose.

He is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We thank the Congressman for joining us.

Tune in!

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 back 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 on my own Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

NEXT WEEK

Due to an important family obligation, there will be no Capitol View column next week.

Look for the next Capitol View on Friday, April 30.

My INSIDE POLITICS show next weekend (April 23-24) we hope to interview the Chair of the Metro Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, 2nd District Councilmember to Kyonzté Toombs get her take on the city’s upcoming budget and tax deliberations.

PRESIDENT BIDEN’S FOREIGN POLICY MOVES

President Joe Biden took some major policy moves this week involving our remaining troops in Afghanistan, new sanctions against Russia and more.

Ending America longest war after nearly 20 years is likely to be popular with the public. As for the downside if the current Afghan government is ousted by a resurgent Taliban, the administration seems to think the risk is not that great in terms of increased terrorist threats.

The sanctions against Russia will also play well with the American public. The biggest immediate downside might be another invasion of Ukraine by the Russian troops massed on its border. But again the administration sees the risk of happening in the next few weeks as not high.