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Capitol View commentary: Friday, January 10, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 11:18 AM, Jan 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-10 12:46:29-05

By Pat Nolan
NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
January 10, 2020



The 111th Tennessee General Assembly comes back to Nashville next week for its second year of work.

What will be the biggest issues and challenges facing lawmakers?

Someone who very likely knows is the Speaker of the State Senate and Tennessee’s Lt. Governor Randy McNally.

He is our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS.

There is so much to discuss: the increasing push back over Governor Lee allowing refugees to continue to come to Tennessee; the use of the state’s huge surplus of federal Families First monies to help needy residents; whether to start a year early or scrap the state’s pilot program for school vouchers in Memphis or Nashville; redistricting after the 2020 census, should the General Nathan Bedford Forrest bust at the Capitol stay or go; and the list goes on.

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New House Speaker Cameron Sexton also gave reporters his outlook on the coming session this week.

One of the topics we discuss with Lt. Governor McNally is paid family leave, something which has been much in the news here this week.

As background, we talked in one of these columns late last year about the precedent Washington set in enacting bi-partisan legislation to provide paid family leave for federal employees.

By executive order Governor Bill Lee wants to establish such a program in Tennessee almost right away. Under the order, state workers in the executive branch (about 30,000) will be eligible for 12 weeks of paid leave as early as March 1.

By doing this, it appears Tennessee would a leader among the 50 states in offering such a benefit.

It will be up to the General Assembly as to whether paid leave will be offered to other state employee groups. State higher education officials and the state court system will face similar decisions. I think the leave program will ultimately be extended to all state employees. It does not appear the financial impact is significant (an estimated less than $1 million for state workers covered under the Governor’s executive order).

All this kind of makes you wonder why paid family leave didn’t happen earlier? State officials believe their new paid family leave program will improve the morale and the overall health and well- being of its workers.

If that’s true, what about this story from WPLN? It outlines a new study from Vanderbilt. The study claims the overall health of residents in southern states is improving where they have expanded their Medicaid program (our TennCare) under the Affordable Care Act. That’s surely thanks to the millions of dollars being provided from Washington. It’s money Tennessee lawmakers have steadfastly refused to accept for years.

At the same time, there is also this somewhat mixed 2020 economic outlook for the state coming from economists at the University of Tennessee.

Clearly this family leave decision gives the state an advantage in attracting and keeping employees, especially younger workers looking to start families or care for aging relatives. It will also put pressure, for sure, on the private sector in Tennessee to adopt or expand their paid leave programs. That’s true for local governments a well, even Metro Nashville, while the city continues to deal with its budget and financial problems. Metro and the State are major competitors for workers. Metro already has a paid family leave plan. But it is only 6 weeks long and Metro teachers don’t receive any paid leave at all.

In the wake of Governor Lee’s action, Metro school officials are looking at adding paid leave and Mayor Cooper’s office says the city is considering increasing its paid leave time for workers if financial resources are available.


Late last year, Metro Finance Director Kevin Crumbo outlined a state-approved plan to get the city out of a $40 million hole in its operating budget. Part of the plan going forward, at least for 2020, includes Nashville accelerating its budget approval process this spring. That’s so state officials can sign off on what is decided.

Mayor Cooper gave more details about that this week, as well as outlining his spending priorities for the 2020-2021 fiscal year. From a mayoral news release:

“The expedited timeline permits the administration to file a budget with the Metro Council by March 31st, a month ahead of the normal budgeting schedule, and would seek for the budget to be approved by Metro Council no later than May 31, 2020 in order to allow for review by the State Comptroller of the Treasury.”

Under the Metro Charter, the budget must be approved by June 30. The Metro Council in office last summer did not do that (for the first time in Metro’s 56-year history). That failure allowed Mayor David Briley’s budget proposal to become law by default, bringing Metro’s financial issues to a political boil and leading state officials to threaten to step in unless the city got its financial house in order.

As for his spending priorities for the upcoming budget, Mayor outlined the same areas he stressed during his election campaign last summer. Those are education, public safety, transportation, neighborhoods, affordable housing and effective and sustainable government.

The language about the spending priorities in the mayoral news release is fairly vague, but it did contain this.

“To improve Metro’s stewardship of taxpayer dollars and create further means for investment, the Mayor’s Office will work with all Metro departments to seek cost-containment and efficiencies throughout the budgeting process. Mayor Cooper’s Chief of Operations and Performance, Kristin Wilson, will also work with Metro department heads to incorporate actionable metrics to align public expectations of resourcing and delivery. These metrics will be presented along with the proposed FY21 budget.

For proposed budget modifications, the Mayor Cooper’s administration will seek to prioritize investment in the key areas mentioned. While resource constraints will be a factor in next year’s budget, the Mayor’s Office has requested to hear from all Metro departments regarding their overall needs to address the increasing demand for services throughout Davidson County in effective ways. If not funded in the upcoming budget cycle, departments’ requests will provide critical information for the administration’s long-term planning efforts.”

Boiling all that down, it appears the Mayor still seems opposed to a property or other type of tax increase to fund the coming budget. A number of Council leaders seem to be in disagreement. In fact , the Council, on its own the last two years, has unsuccessfully sought to raise property taxes. It seems likely a third effort, led by Councilman At Large Bob Mendes is coming this spring.

Stay tuned! This may be the mother of all Metro budget battles coming up!


There is legislation the Metro Council must approve to finalize the Cooper Administration’s plan to balance the current budget. At Tuesday’s night Council meeting some progress was made in that area, although it didn’t come easily.

The plan for the Metro Sheriff to host more inmates from the federal marshal’s program would generate an extra half million dollars. But the city has to spend a half million in city reserves to pay for it, including to hire new employees for the Sheriff. That was enough of an issue for councilmembers on the city’s Budget & Finance Committee to vote to defer the proposal for two weeks. By rule, the full Council went along with the deferral.

But an even greater concern to councilmembers is if ICE inmates from the Marshal’s program will be housed in the Metro jail. That could be a show- stopper.

Another resolution approved by the Council Tuesday night would generate an extra $10 million to plug the budget hole. The money would come from an increase in the in-lieu of tax payments (PILOT) from Metro Water Services. The extra money authorized was generated by the recent multi-year water rate hike mandated by state officials because Metro Water Services has been bleeding red ink.

The Council approved the rate increase plan with no dissenting votes. But some say they did not realize the increase in lieu of tax payments was a part of the budget plan and felt bushwhacked when they learned about it. Councilmembers are also unhappy that the budget hole is being filled by impounding $5 million in affordable housing grants, which they learned was happening just minutes before the grants were about to awarded. They feel the Cooper administration is not being fully transparent on this issue. The Mayor’s office says they are.

There was an effort on the Council floor to defer the Water Services PILOT increase resolution. There was talk of increasing the PILOT payments to $15 million to cover the affordable housing cut and restore the grants. But when it was said that doing that would require a further water sewer rate increase, the idea died. The motion to defer then failed and the PILOT proposal passed handily.

However, later in the meeting, continuing to show the Council’s unhappiness about the situation, the 40-member body unanimously passed a memorializing resolution urging the Cooper administration to find the extra dollars to restore the affordable housing cuts before the end of the fiscal year June 30.

Later in the week on Thursday, the Council’s Public Safety Committee held a special meeting to look into the recent escapes from the city’s Juvenile Detention Center and how to keep it from happening again. More money seems to be the answer offered most often, along with some finger pointing.


It is customary dating back to the days of President Franklin Roosevelt to mark the progress of newly elected presidents, governors and mayors to assess what they have achieved in their first 100 Days in Office.

Mayor John Cooper did that this week as his 100 days in office came up on the calendar on Tuesday. We’ve said many times this Mayor has had more than a plateful of issues and crises to deal with since he came to his office. Therefore, the list his office released is quite extensive and will be impressive to many.

You can read Mayor Cooper’s news release about his 100 Day list of accomplishments here.

To further allow citizens and the media to track his administration’s efforts, the Mayor has announced a Commitment Tracker. It is a website listing 50 promises made by Mayor Cooper during the 2019 mayoral campaign. Following through on the 50 commitments will be Mayor Cooper’s focus over the next four years.

You say access the Commitment Tracker here.

“I intend for this commitment tracker to be a transparent resource for residents as well as an accountability mechanism for my team,” said Mayor Cooper. “Tracking my administration’s progress on these 50 commitments will help keep us focused on core priorities over the next four years. I campaigned with a 47-page policy platform, and I want to be clear that I intend to follow through on the commitments I made. I’m encouraged by the progress we’ve made in the first 100 days, and I recognize the important work ahead to make Nashville a city that works for everyone.”

The database will be updated monthly by the Mayor’s Office staff.

The Commitment Tracker is getting an editorial thumbs up from THE TENNESSEAN for its transparency.

The Mayor’s 100 Day list did not include any mention of the city’s new MLS soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds. Construction of the facility was supposed to begin about the time Mayor Cooper took office. But that has not happened due to concerns raised by the Mayor about the project’s financing and infrastructure costs. As of now, there seems to be no timetable for when the issues might be resolved or even a decision made about moving ahead, or not, on stadium construction.

The Mayor’s 100 Day list did not include any mention of the city’s new MLS soccer stadium at the Fairgrounds. Construction of the facility was supposed to begin about the time Mayor Cooper took office. But that has not happened due to concerns raised by the Mayor about the project’s financing and infrastructure costs. As of now, there seems to be no timetable for when the issues might be resolved or even a decision made about moving ahead, or not, on stadium construction.


Since he took office there has been both speculation and concern about who would be John Cooper’s Deputy Mayor.

The choice was announced with the beginning of the new year. The new Deputy Mayor is Bill Phillips who previously served for seven years in the same position under Mayor Bill Purcell (1999-2007).

While the mayor of Nashville serves without a party affiliation, it should be noted that having “Republican” Bill Phillips as his Deputy Mayor did not lessen the overall Democratic credentials of Mayor Purcell, and I don’t think it will play much role for John Cooper. What hiring Bill Phillips will do is bring some seasoned experience to the Mayor’s office, as well as a deep knowledge of Metro government.

I would also observe Bill Phillips is a Bush Reagan Republican, a part of the national Republican Party that seems to be disappearing under GOP President Donald Trump. But if Bill Phillips is somewhat a man without a party, he truly loves his adopted home of Nashville, and I believe he is an excellent staff choice by Mayor Cooper.


It is not very often that an incumbent Tennessee congressman announces he is not seeking re-election, it always sets off an Oklahoma land rush of speculation and a large number of candidates getting into the race or eyeing that possibility.

So it is in the 1st Congressional District in Upper East Tennessee where Republican incumbent Phil Roe announced he will not run again after 12 years in Washington.
And the speculation continues.

Nashville’s Democratic Congressman Jim Cooper is seeking re-election and the field of those seeking to oppose him in the August primary continues to grow.

A growing primary field seems odd in a couple of ways. First, Cooper has rarely, if ever, had re-election opposition in his own party. Secondly, most of those running against the incumbent are coming from the left of center or progressive wing of the party. Some are persons of color. Both groups are well represented in the Democratic party in the 5th District. But with Cooper’s opponents all running from the same potential base of support, won’t they split that vote, and without any runoff requirements, won’t that give Cooper an additional edge to go along with the advantages he already has as an incumbent in name recognition and financial resources?


As Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander enters his final year in office, he is telling confidants he wants to get things done before he leaves Washington. But he is constantly having to get involved in controversies surrounding the administration of President Donald Trump. That includes this week, what role Congress should play as the nation continues to deal with the latest crisis with Iran. For a while this week, it looked like we might be headed into war in the wake of the President’s-ordered killing of a top Iranian general by a U.S. drone attack.

The Senator believes Congress must play a significant role going forward.

Senator Alexander is also seen as playing a potential major role in the upcoming impeachment trial of President Trump in the U.S. Senate. Unlike several other Senators, he has played his cards close to the vest about issues over whether the Senate should call new witnesses or allow new evidence or documents. But he is getting a lot of advice, including some from a conservative source that might surprise you.