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Capitol View commentary: Friday, June 17, 2022

Capitol View
Posted at 12:05 PM, Jun 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-17 13:05:44-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

June 17, 2022

THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT HAS BEGUN WAY EARLY; PROPOSED CHANGES TO MAYOR JOHN COOPER’S RECORD $2.97 BILLON METRO OPERATING BUDGET; MAYOR COOPER WANTS MORE CHANGES DOWNTOWN; A DISTURBING STORY ABOUT DISASTER RELIEF EFFORTS IN NASHVILLE;   INSIDE POLITICS TAKES A SECOND LOOK AT THE HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE INVESTIGATING THE JANUARY 6th TAKEOVER OF THE U.S. CAPITOL

THE SUMMER OF OUR DISCONTENT AND CHANGE HAS BEGUN WAY EARLY

There won’t be a change of seasons until next week.

But our summer of discontent and change in Nashville has been well underway for some time.

You can make a case it has been a trying time around here, and the rest of the country, for the past two years since the pandemic began.

But this week, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL wrote a story that the rampant inflation driving up the prices of everything, along with other factors ,are making things worse here in our area than anywhere else in the country.

Even the virus continues to rage. Federal health officials are saying Nashville is now back in a high level of Covid-19 spread, so they advise everyone to wear masks while in indoor public spaces. But of course, Metro is now prohibited by state law from requiring that, and you be hard pressed find much of anybody sporting a face covering these days. Even the face of the nation’s effort to fight COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci was diagnosed this week with a mild case of the disease.

It seemed the only good news is the ongoing approvals by federal officials of new vaccines aimed to protect our youngest citizens ages 6 months to 5 years. This is the last population group to begin getting their shots, maybe as soon as next week. That is wonderful news for many parents, even though overall the percentage of children being vaccinated is not all that high.

Late this week on Thursday afternoon, Nashville sports fans, particularly soccer supporters got some disappointing news. Their high hopes that the city would host games in the 2026 FIFA World Cup were dashed when Nashville was not chosen. Why? It would seem puzzling. The World Cup is considered not only the world’s greatest sporting event but also the world’s greatest party when it is held every four years. Nashville has a well- deserved reputation for being a party town and knowing how to successfully produce major events.

Nashville also has an up -and- coming MLS franchise and now boasts having a new stadium that is the largest facility in the nation to host soccer games. But the World Cup games would be held in the even larger Nissan Stadium. Speculation in the national sports media indicated that talk of building a new stadium or renovating the current facility might have scared off FIFA. Here is what an article by YAHOO! Sports said a few days before the site announcement.

“FIFA officials left Nashville impressed after their visit last fall, but uncertainty surrounding the future of the Music City’s NFL venue — the Titans now plan to build a new stadium rather than renovate Nissan Stadium — has left FIFA asking a simple question: Why, with so many low-risk options, would we gamble on a construction process that could become a race against time?”

“Unless they’ve secured assurances in recent weeks, Nashville will be on the outside looking in — though it could remain in contention to host non-soccer events, like the preliminary or final draw.”

Here’s is another take on this “lost opportunity” for Nashville.

There was another sports bombshell that went public Thursday night regarding Nashville. The city’s NHL franchise, the Predators, appear to be close to being sold to former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. It would the second major sports team in the Haslam family. The Governor’s brother, Jimmy, owns the NFL Cleveland Browns. Stay tuned!

One more item in the news this week that seemed to add insult to injury for Nashville came with stories about the latest supply chain issue. It’s not just baby formula or tampons, now it’s a lack of a stable supply for Nashville’s signature culinary dish……HOT CHICKEN!!

Nationally, there seems to be no relief in sight, especially from rising gas prices. The Federal Reserve which had earlier thought (hoped?) the worse of inflation was past us, instead on Wednesday tried to fight the highest inflation in 40 years (8.6%) with an interest rate hike of ¾ of a percent, the highest in almost 30 years. Another interest rate hike of a similar size may be on the way in the next few months. The challenge is how do you slow down the economy without creating a recession?

President Joe Biden this week sent a letter urging the major oil companies to maximize their production while he also accused them of price gouging to pad their profits in their current gas pricing. In another move to try and lower gas prices, the President is taking the controversial trip to the Saudi Arabia to meet with that country’s leaders. The White House denies that’s why the President is making the trip.

Elsewhere in Washington there is continued optimism that a bi-partisan, (if scaled down), gun regulation bill might pass the Senate in the weeks to come. A group of 20 Senators, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats announced they have agreed on a framework for what would be the first major gun legislation passed by Congress in nearly 30 years.

Optimism rose even higher when Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell said he planned to vote for the measure if the final product resembles the framework. And that is the potential rub. Sometimes when a framework becomes a bill there can sometimes no longer be agreement. Just ask Senate Democrats, who several times in recent months, thought they had a framework to pass their Build Back Better legislation only to find, that when it became a bill, support fell apart.

There is a feeling that since the 20 Senators who helped negotiate the framework are not up for re-election until 2026, outside lobbying efforts by gun rights groups won’t persuade them to change their minds. But you can be sure those lobbying efforts will be intense and the margin for defections, even with McConnell’s support, remains only a vote or two, to avoid a filibuster that would kill the measure. Already issues are developing.

Locally, in terms of the impact from recent mass shootings in schools, especially the massacre in Texas that murdered 19 grammar school students and two teachers, Metro police have been assessing the situation. For now, school officials say they don’t plan to request school resource officers be added to Metro elementary schools. There is a likelihood of requesting several million dollars (according to Mayor John Cooper) to harden up security in elementary schools. It is not yet clear whether that will come through the new schools budget the Metro Council will approve on Tuesday or if it will come out of the school’s reserve funds.

In other school-related news, Metro Schools Director Andrienne Battle has received a new 4 year contract from the School Board. The action came even as some members expressed hesitation because the School Board has not conducted an annual evaluation on her performance.

On the state level, the latest annual test scores show students are, for the most part, back to where they were or above, since the across the board drop during Covid. But keep in mind, in terms of achieving at grade level, those numbers are still not very high. In fact, in all the subject matters tested, fewer than half the students are achieving at grade level.

In terms of the state’s new pilot charter school program for Memphis and Nashville, the Tennessee Supreme Court again greenlighted the effort this week. The High Court declined to re-consider its recent ruling that the program is constitutional. Nashville Mayor John Cooper and Memphis officials said the Court got it wrong and asked the Justices to consider the case again, but they said no.

It doesn’t appear there’s time for the voucher program to get started by the start of the new school year in August. The 2023-2024 school year is a more likely date for the first vouchers to be awarded to parents and their students to leave public schools and seek private school instruction. Nashville and Memphis are still suing the state over the voucher issues, so the matter will continue to remain in court.

But with all the issues that concern people these days, what really has folks hot under the collar, across the country, and here in Nashville, is the weather, with high temperatures pushing 100 degrees, and likely to exceed the century mark next week. That’s after a “cool down” over the weekend to highs only in the low 90s. Even the nighttime lows are close to or setting all- time records! The severe thunderstorms that rumbled through Nashville Friday morning (down to 79 degrees on my car thermometer )brought earlier than expected relief, if it only temporarily, at best. The storms also created some significant power outages.

The National Weather Service has been issuing a heat advisory every day and both the Nashville Electric Service and the Tennessee Valley Authority are urging customers to raise their thermostats to 78 degrees, especially during the hottest times of day from 2:00 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. That will avoid some of the shock of a sky-high power bill next month and keep the local electric grid from failing. There have some small power failures each day, but remember, a power outage is a small one until its impact your home, business or workplace. NES has stopped any customer disconnections for lack of payment while the heat wave continues

I don’t usually write about the weather in this column. But if we reach 100 degrees it will be the first time for Nashville in a decade. The latter part of June 2012 has another significance for me. I suffered a serious stroke during that heat wave. By the grace of God, and the love and help of my family and friends, I survived. I am blessed that, after being spared as the Irish say, I am thriving in this second life I’ve been granted.

Hopefully we’ll all come through this summer of discontent and change too.

PROPOSED CHANGES TO MAYOR JOHN COOPER’S RECORD $2.97 BILLION METRO OPERATING BUDGET

The Metro Council always makes changes in the mayor’s proposed budget. The only exception to that was in 2020 when the Council failed to pass anything, and the budget proposed by Mayor John Cooper went into effect by law automatically.

In non-property tax increase years, usually the budget changes made by the Council are relatively small.

That appears to be true again this year.

After weeks of committee meetings and talks with city agencies, the preliminary substitute budget being sent out for review from Budget & Finance Committee Chair Burkley Allen recommends adding or adjusting the budget by a total of only about $8.6 million.

Several of the proposed changes in the proposed substitute budget are of note:

First, to cover the $22.6 million dollar deficit in the school budget caused by a cut in state funds due to declining enrollment, the preliminary substitute budget divides that up, with roughly 1/3 of the monies coming from Metro’s fund balance, 1/3 from the Metro general gov't budget, and 1/3 from the school’s budget.

As for new funding added to the budget:

$4 million more to Metro Schools for pay raises. In addition to the 4% COLA (cost of living) steps, and raises for bus drivers, cafeteria workers, and paraprofessionals already included in the proposed budget, this added increase will bring all support staff up to a living wage and address pay compression issues.

$2.9 million for an additional .5% cost of living increase that will bring the total Metro employee raise to a 4.5% cost of living increase plus the (6%) step raise for those employees who are eligible.

$200,000 for the Metro Sports Authority to fund a new study on city’s obligations for Nissan Stadium.

About $75,000 for the Community Oversight Board. The COB would be allocated funding for one new position as well as a specially designated new legal position in the legal department.

It appears most of the new funds needed will come out of the city’s reserve or contingency accounts as well as $1.7 million out of the city’s general fund balance.

Councilmember At Large Allen is also recommending that non-profits requesting funds be allocated 50% of their wish list requests or be considered for American Rescue Plan funding. It is not clear what the dollar number would be to fund this.

There are a number of other minor changes in Chairperson Allen’s preliminary substitute budget now being reviewed by the city’s Finance Department and all the 39 members of the Council. A final substitute budget is set to be posted, along with any other budget amendments on the Council’s website Friday afternoon. The full Budget & Finance Committee will meet Tuesday afternoon to finalize the substitute budget with the full Council approving it at the full Council meeting Tuesday night.

MAYOR COOPER WANTS MORE CHANGES DOWNTOWN

Just a week or so after telling city regulators that Nashville doesn’t need party buses, now Mayor John Cooper says we also don’t need sidewalk vendors downtown.

While the Metro Traffic and Parking Commission says it will discuss the matter next month, I suspect a prohibition like this will take Metro Council approval too. Nashville has become an internationally-known party town and while I hear other cities such as Scottsdale, AZ (the “New Nashville” says THE NEW YORK TIMES) are taking our place as the national capital for bachelorette parties, you know we will remain a major tourist mecca.

So is the Mayor being cranky or can he read the calendar and see by this time next summer he will be in the heat of a re-election campaign? The Mayor hasn’t actually publicly announced he is seeking a second term but he is doing a lot of things lately that make him look and sound like a candidate.

Another one of those indications came this week when the Mayor recommended spending $20 million in one-time American Rescue Funds to expand the city’s participatory budget process which has been deemed a success where it was used last year in North Nashville.

The Mayor says the new funds will be available to all parts of Nashville trying to recover from the pandemic, but he adds the monies will be prioritized to the parts of the city with the greatest need.

A DISTURBING STORY ABOUT DISASTER RELIEF EFFORTS IN NASHVILLE

An investigation this week by NEWSCHANNEL5’s Jennifer Krause has raised serious questions about the transparency and accountability of how more than $12.5 million disaster relief funds, raised in the wake of the March 2020 tornadoes, have been distributed and accounted for by the Community Foundation.

The Community Foundation has been the go-to agency in terms of organizing disaster fund raising in Nashville. You wonder if the group will maintain that status without some answers or more information.

 INSIDE POLITICS TAKES A SECOND LOOK AT THE HOUSE SELECT COMMITTEE INVESTIGATING THE JANUARY 6th TAKEOVER OF THE U.S. CAPITOL

Three public hearings have been held, and more are still to come, for the House Select Committee.

That is the group that has been investigating the January 6th takeover of the U.S. Capitol. It is an effort which the committee says was a coup and an effort to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

How are the sessions being received in terms of attracting and keeping the public’s attention?

Besides reporting its findings, what does the committee hope to accomplish?

And what impact will this have on American politics, especially upcoming the 2022 mid- term elections?

To help sort all that out, as well as look at other related issues, our guest this week on INSDE POLITICS is MTSU professor, Dr. John Vile, who is also Dean of the Honors College there.

We thank Dr. Vile for joining us again.

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.

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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.