By Pat Nolan, NewsChannel5 Political Analyst
June 3, 2022
METRO SAYS THE SCHOOL VOUCHER DECISION IS WRONGLY DECIDED; INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE METRO BUDGET; A NEW GENERAL HOSPITAL? MORE PARTY BUS ISSUES; THE MASS SHOOTINGS CONTINUE; NO SMOKING; INFLATION IN NASHVILLE IS THE WORST IN THE COUNTRY?
METRO SAYS THE SCHOOL VOUCHER DECISION IS WRONGLY DECIDED
Mayor John Cooper said two weeks he would fight back against the recent Tennessee Supreme Court ruling that the state’s pilot school voucher program was constitutional, even after two lower courts said it wasn’t.
This week the Metro Legal Department on behalf of the Mayor, and the city of Nashville, filed a request with the High Court asking the 5 Justices to take a second look at their decision because they got it wrong.
The Mayor says the 3-2 decision will create even more underfunding for local education, leading to closed schools and teacher layoffs down the road.
I am not a lawyer or a constitutional scholar. The lower courts did rule in Metro’s favor that the pilot voucher plan, involving only Memphis and Nashville schools, is illegal. But I can’t remember a case where the state High Court reversed itself on a decision that it just rendered. But who knows? Stay tuned.
Metro and the state are in a growing education battle that also involves an increased number of charter schools being approved by the state over local objections. There is also continued unhappiness with Metro’s share of state funds under the new funding formula set to take effect in the fall of 2023.
The city is already facing a $20 million state cut this school year because of declining enrollment. The state has deferred such action for the last two years due to the pandemic. But now those cuts are set to begin even as Mayor Cooper, the Metro Council and the Metro School Board are set, for the second year in a row, to increase local school funding by another record amount of $92 million.
INSIDE POLITICS LOOKS AT THE METRO BUDGET
Nashville Mayor John Cooper has proposed a record spending plan for all of Metro government of nearly $3 billion for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
It is now up to the Metro Council to decide what to change or approve its own budget.
Otherwise, the mayor’s budget goes into effect by default.
The Council wants your input.
Tuesday night, June 7 the Council will hold a public hearing to listen to your thoughts on the budget at the historic Metro Courthouse.
One of the council members who will be there to listen is Metro Councilmember at Large, Burkley Allen.
She is our guest this week on INSIDE POLITICS.
We thank Council Lady Allen for joining us and welcome her 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.
A NEW GENERAL HOSPITAL?
In the midst of this budget process, there was a surprise this week. The city’s Hospital Authority heard a consultant plan for a new General Hospital, moving from its current location on the Meharry campus, to park land in the Metro Center area near the Ted Rhodes Golf Course.
Meharry provides the doctors for the hospital. Officials at the school express surprise, saying they haven’t been consulted. Metro Hospital officials respond Meharry should be aware. But that is based on a letter sent to the school two years ago in 2020.
Councilmember Allen told me some members of the Council have been somewhat aware of a potential move, but such an effort is not reflected in either of the pending budgets now before the Council, operating or a 5-year Capital planning document.
For now, the Capital plan is more critical. If the concept, a budget number and a source for funding for a new hospital is not in the Planning budget, the city can’t spend any money to move forward until it is. The Capital budget for this year must be approved by June 15. To amend it after it is adopted takes 27 votes, or a two-thirds majority of the Council.
MORE PARTY BUS ISSUES
Nashville is a party city.
We get to prove that again next week (June 9-12) as the CMA (Country Music Association) Festival comes back to downtown Nashville for the first time in three years. Organizers are expected perhaps a record positive financial impact on the city from this year’s CMA Fest.
But what will this first major post-pandemic downtown festival mean in terms of the congestion created by the street closures that have already begun, and those seemingly- everywhere party buses that clog the streets?
The city’s Transportation Licensing Board is once again working on new regulations to deal with the issue. Last week Mayor John Cooper suggested the city might be better off without having any party buses.
The chorus of officials and other city leaders grew louder this week with both the Metro Police Chief and the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce speaking out on the issue.
The CMA Festival is also enforcing a new rule on a long-time hot button issue that had nothing to do with the heat (even though temperatures are likely to be back near or in the 90s by the end of next week). Festival organizers are banning the wearing of any clothing or anything else related to the Confederate flag.
Finally, local public health leaders are reminding CMA Fest-goers to remember that COVID-19 and its latest highly contagious omicron variant are still around and could be an issue even for those attending outdoor events. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says the virus has re-emerged at a moderate level in Davidson County.
THE MASS SHOOTINGS CONTINUE
About the only thing changing in the gun violence debate in this country is the increasing number of mass shootings and deaths.
Since I last wrote on this topic two weeks ago when the country was reeling from the mass murder event targeting African Americans at a grocery store there have been at least two more major mass murder events indicating no one is safe in any public place in America.
First, there was the senseless slaughter last week of 19 children and 2 teachers in an elementary school in a small town in Texas and now 4 dead this week (Wednesday) in a mass shooting at a hospital complex in Tulsa. OK.
There have been 20 mass shooting events across the country just since the Texas school massacre. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that guns are now the number one killer of children and adolescents in this nation.
It all means these terrible events are now coming faster than reactions from the ones before they can be processed, as there are other incidents of gun violence that aren’t making as many headlines.
Here in Tennessee, those seeking tougher gun laws in the state descended on the State Capitol seeking action. But they went to the seat of a state government, which every year for the past several years, has passed new laws increasing gun rights in Tennessee.
Here is what the Republican leaders say they are doing on this issue, which for the most part, is not what the gun control advocates are demanding.
On the national level, the Democratic-controlled U.S. House seems poised to move new gun laws. But most of their measures are unlikely to get the 60 votes needed in the Senate where Democrats and Republicans both have 50 seats. There is a bipartisan effort among some Senators to craft compromise legislation addressing some of the issues involved. But the outlook that anything can pass remains, at best, unclear.
President Joe Biden believes he sees momentum building that could get the Senate to act. He went before the nation Thursday evening to deliver a prime-time address. It has been almost 30 years since Congress passed any gun legislation. It seems unlikely that all the measures the President would like passed will make it through Congress.
In fact, pro-gun groups are gearing up to stop anti-gun legislation, including federal “red flag” laws that would limit or stop gun possession of those suspected of mental health issues that make a threat to themselves and others. Such a bill died in the last session of the Tennessee General Assembly.
Since 2007, indoor smoking in most Tennessee restaurants and bars has been banned. But until recently there has been a significant loophole. If a 21 years and older requirement is adopted by an establishment such as a restaurant, bar or performance venue, smokers can continue to puff away.
Now the General Assembly has passed, and Governor Bill Lee has signed into law, a measure that allows local government to pass their own laws banning smoking in all restaurants, bars and venues.
This fight has been waged and won on Capitol Hill in Nashville largely by musicians and related music associations convincing lawmakers to pass this law and to get several bars and venues to ban smoking on their own voluntarily.
It remains to be seen how quickly Metro Council might act to pass such a law. I don’t predict what the Council will do or any piece of legislation. But I do think the odds for approval are much better than the 1970s or early 1980s, when one of the first efforts to ban smoking came to the Council floor.
In those days, smoking used to be allowed almost everywhere at the Metro Courthouse, including during Council meetings. When the bill came before the Council to ban smoking in all Metro buildings, it was quickly amended to exclude the Council and, after still more amendments were added, smoking would have been allowed just about anywhere in Metro.
The bill was pulled off the floor from further debate. It was years later, after the health hazards of smoking became more prominent, that a smoking ban in Metro buildings including the Council chambers passed.
There was so much smoking in the old days at Council, my wife used to say when I came home from a meeting: “You must have been to the Council meeting. You and your clothes smell like a cigarette.” She was right. I did smell like a cigarette.
For a long time, I couldn’t smell it. I grew up with two parents who were chain smokers. I lived in a home where, if second-hand smoke will kill you, I should be dead. That was somewhat intensified by my trips with my dad to Brown’s Diner and Rotier’s when I was younger. Fortunately, I never did take up the smoking habit. Over time after I was married, my sense of smell returned and now I can smell someone smoking from a pretty good distance away.
I bring up all of this, to point out how much public opinion on this matter has changed in my lifetime, making it much more likely the current Council will approve this local smoking ban in restaurants, bars and venue as allowed under this new state law.
INFLATION IN NASHVILLE IS THE WORST IN THE COUNTRY?
If you live in or around Nashville, I don’t have to tell you.
Inflation is bad.
This week THE WALL STREET JOURNAL ran a front-page story (Thursday) saying it may be the worst in the nation!
There does not appear to be any major relief immediately in sight.
Friday, the latest national jobs and unemployment report found some decline in the red hot jobs market that is driving consumer spending, and in turn adding to inflation pressures. Another positive sign is that unemployment is not yet rising.
But when will the 8% plus cost in prices begin to go down?