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Capitol View commentary: Friday, June 18, 2021

Capitol View
Posted at 11:54 AM, Jun 18, 2021
and last updated 2021-06-18 12:54:32-04

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

June 18, 2021

INSIDE POLITICS TAKES DEEP DIVE INTO THE BIDEN-PUTIN SUMMIT; WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES; COVID-19 IS STILL NOT GONE; JUNETEENTH

INSIDE POLITICS TAKES DEEP DIVE INTO THE BIDEN-PUTIN SUMMIT

This week the attention of the nation, and indeed the whole world, has been on the first meeting between U.S. President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladmir Putin. The summit was the last event on Mr. Biden first trip overseas as America’s chief executive. His itinerary also included sessions with the G-7 leaders and NATO officials meeting in Europe.

What does it all mean? Is “America really back” as the President repeatedly said during his journey? And what does “being back” mean?

To give his insights and perspectives, we invited MTSU political science professor and Dean of the Honors College, Dr. John Vile to join us.

We welcome Dr. Vile back to the program and thank him for joining us!

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, usually on the Monday or Tuesday after the show airs.

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A YEAR MAKES

Mayor John Cooper could not wait to sign into law the new $2.646 billion Metro operating budget after the 40-member Metro Council approved it early Tuesday evening without a dissenting vote.

The Mayor held a signing ceremony less than 18 hours later on early Wednesday afternoon. He was surrounded by teachers, first responders and others who will benefit from the record spending plan. Indeed, the new schools budget will give the system $80 million-plus in new funds, and if the Metro School Board approves, it will provide pay raises to make Nashville teachers the highest paid in the state.

Mayor Cooper also hopes the extra funds in the budget for affordable housing (three times the city’s current investment) will create opportunities for teachers and other city workers to live in the county where they work.

In fact, Amazon, one of Nashville’s newest, and soon to be among its largest corporate citizens, announced a $75 million commitment to provide loans to build 800 units of affordable housing in Nashville over the next five years. Funding in the new budget will also restore and boost mass transit in the city.

What a difference all this is from a year ago.

When Metro Council approved the current operating budget in June 2020, COVID-19 had shut down the economy, sales tax collections and government funding were uncertain. Property taxes were raised 34% to bridge the gap. A few months later, federal monies kept things operating, while tax collections did not tank completely due to on-line sales.

With the city now flush with funds from a resurgent economy as the pandemic eases, along the residue of funding from last year’s property tax hike, and continued and increased federal funds under the American Rescue Plan, Nashville is able to fund more city services for police, fire, EMT as well as for parks, libraries, animal control, General Hospital and several other city departments.

The Council rearranged just $16 million of Mayor Cooper’s $2 billion plus budget. The Council was so pleased with its work, members gave themselves a standing ovation after the final vote.

But two community groups were not pleased. Later in the evening, they staged a noisy protest in the Council chambers that required the meeting be recessed while Vice Mayor Jim Schulman and other Council leaders sought to quiet the situation.

The groups’ concerns are that still more needs to be spent on affordable housing and much less on police. However, many council members say the budget they approved this week is the best in years to help on many city services. Those Councilmembers (including members of the Council’s Minority Caucus), say their constituents want more police, and the operating funds to open and staff a new police substation to serve the growing Antioch community in southeast Nashville.

It is likely this budget debate will continue. In fact, last year’s property tax increase could be rescinded if the courts allow a special election (a decision is due today), and voters concur to change the Metro Charter to place the tax rate back to where it was in 2019.

Ironically, the tax rate to fund the new budget is almost a dollar less (93 cents) than the 2020 tax number. State law and a required countywide property reappraisal required the rate be lowered. However, if someone’s property increased in value more than the average rate of increase across the county (which is 34%), their property taxes could still rise.

Stay tuned.

Those protesting in the Council chambers Tuesday night are also concerned about the potential tsunami of evictions beginning in July when a federal moratorium, put in place during the pandemic, expires. The Council has few powers in the area of landlord versus tenant rights. The body has approved millions in federal funds to help those behind on their rent, pay those bills.

But red tape and bureaucracy has slowed that process as the city’s Action Commission scrambles to help.

COVID-19 IS STILL NOT GONE

It has been yet another week across the country of falling virus cases along with hospitalizations and deaths.

But, as a chilling reminder of how bad the pandemic was earlier this year, the death toll from COVID-19 in this country went over the 600,000 mark this week. Here are some ways to put that number in perspective.

With the number of vaccination shots also continuing to fall, there is new concern among health officials because a new and the most infectious variant of COVID-19 is quickly spreading around the world. In some areas the number of infections from the Delta variant, first found in India, is doubling every two weeks. Here is what that means.

The concern is, in particular, for people who have not gotten vaccinated. That would states such as Tennessee where the percent of the population 12 and over has struggled to get over 40% this week while those fully protected remains in the low 30s.

Meanwhile, the Delta variant is already being found in the Memphis area.

So what are our Republican state lawmakers doing? Bawling out the state’s Health Commissioner for doing her job and encouraging everyone, including young people, to get their shots. Really?!!?

In response, Democratic state lawmaker Gloria Johnson tweeted:

“These uneducated clowns aren’t going to be happy until we’ve gone back to blood letting, lobotomies, and lithotomies (don’t ask.)

As if the Scopes trial wasn’t embarrassing enough, hold the TN GOP’s beer.”

In case you are curious, a lithotomy is the “surgical removal of a stone from the bladder, kidney, or urinary tract. “ Ouch!

By the way, the state Health Commissioner is not the only top official some in the GOP state legislative Supermajority has in its cross hairs. One lawmaker is seeking a state Attorney General’s opinion about whether Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk’s stated refusal to enforce the state’s new anti-transsexual law is grounds to be removed from office.

JUNETEENTH

Sometimes when a significant change occurs, even if its symbolic, it can seem to come suddenly like a strong wind in a summer thunderstorm.

To me, the sudden and overwhelming approval this week by Congress to make Juneteenth (June 19) a federal holiday, and President Joe Biden, quickly signing the bill into law, falls in that category.

Juneteenth is a holiday long revered in the African American community. It is celebrated on 19 June to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. It was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, slaves were declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.

You could feel such a move to make it a national holiday was coming… eventually. The Metro Council considered the matter at its meeting Tuesday night, including passing a memorializing resolution to ask the city’s Civil Service Commission to allow Metro workers to take Juneteenth as a holiday in place of Veteran’s Day when June 19 falls on a weekday.

Now President Biden is already allowing federal workers to observe the new holiday today (Friday) even though this year, June 19 is a Saturday.

This is the first new federal holiday created since 1983 when Martin Luther King Day was approved by Congress, then signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. To contrast how quickly the Juneteenth holiday became law, it happened 15 years after MLK was assassinated. Juneteenth efforts have been going on years. It appears what galvanized national support was the George Floyd murder and other incidents last summer (and continuing) that have led so many protests and unrest.

Will cities and the 50 states soon follow suit and make Juneteenth a holiday? Every state except South Dakota has at least recognized Juneteenth. I think the Metro Council will support a holiday for Nashville. As for the state of Tennessee, will it become an issue? You might think so. But keep in mind the U.S. Senate approved the Juneteenth legislation by unanimous consent earlier this week! That is unheard of on Capitol Hill in Washington, especially in a body split 50-50 between Republicans and Democrats.

The final vote in the House was overwhelming. 415-14, with all those in opposition being Republican congressmen. Those voting no include Tennessee Representative Scott DeJarlais. I hope all those who stood in opposition will one day realize they are on the wrong side of history.

It was Victor Hugo, the French poet and novelist who said it best, "Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."

This week that is what happened in Washington.

In closing, let me tell a personal story. Despite being a great lover of history, I did not know the story of Juneteenth until I was an adult. Nobody taught to me in school. I was not taught much at all concerning the African American story in this country.

I found out about Juneteenth several years ago, when I was working for my client, the Metropolitan Development & Housing Agency. Residents in some of their developments were planning events to celebrate the holiday, which even then was known as Jubilee Day and the Black 4th of July. My client wanted some media coverage, which I got for them, even though that took me educating the reporters I talked to, about what Juneteenth was. Like me, they had no idea.

And now Juneteenth is a federal holiday. And it should be.

“A change going come” says the song. And it can come suddenly, even overwhelmingly when that time finally arrives.

There are already lots of Juneteenth celebrations planned throughout the area this weekend.