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Capitol View commentary: Friday, May 1, 2020

Capitol View
Posted at 1:28 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 14:28:13-04

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL 5 Political Analyst
May 1, 2020

MAYOR JOHN COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS AS THE TRIPLE WHAMMY HITS NASHVILLE FULL FORCE; SOME METRO BUDGET THOUGHTS; THE BEST NEWS IN A WHILE; THE STATE OF TENNESSEE BEGINS TO REOPEN ITS ECONOMY; HOT SPOTS; THE ECONOMY MOVES TOWARD DEPRESSION TYPE NUMBERS; STATE BUDGET AND REVENUE ISSUES BEGIN TO SURFACE; VOUCHERS; ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL; ANOTHER WEEK OF NUMBERS, HOPE FOR SPORTS AND EVEN MORE KINDNESS;

MAYOR JOHN COOPER ON INSIDE POLITICS AS THE TRIPLE WHAMMY HITS NASHVILLE FULL FORCE

The triple whammy hit Nashville full force this week.

In addition to struggling to stop the coronavirus pandemic like the rest of the nation and the world, and just beginning to reopen our economy, the city simultaneously has been grappling with two other serious issues.

One is the devastating impact of the March 3 tornado that damaged several neighborhoods. The second is the budget issues Metro has already been facing before the other two whammies occurred.

All this has literally left Metro broke. Mayor John Cooper is now proposing what he calls “a crisis budget.” With the city projecting a revenue loss of almost a half a billion dollars by June of next year, the Mayor says he has no choice but to propose a 32% property tax hike to deal with what he calls “the greatest financial challenge the city has seen in a lifetime.”

Mayor Cooper is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

We really appreciate him finding time to join us. We’ll also ask him about the latest in Nashville’s ongoing war with the virus, including extending his Safer at Home order until at least May 8, and ordering everyone to wear a face mask while out in public. We have a quite a lot to discuss. Tune in!

INSIDE POLITICS airs several times over the 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.

One option for those who can’t 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 the week after the program airs.

Finally, I am now posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday.

SOME METRO BUDGET THOUGHTS

Mayor John Cooper has not gotten off to a good start in selling his crisis budget and 32% property tax increase. Some minority councilmembers are openly critical that the mayor’s office did not consult or inform them, in the hours just before his budget presentation Tuesday afternoon, of exactly what was coming. He didn’t tell city department heads either, although the Mayor did announce back in late March that he would be seeking a “substantial” property tax hike.

When the folks you need to pass your budget and tax hike are saying that budget and tax plan was drafted in secrecy and was done without transparency, while reminding the Mayor that approval of his proposal is far from a done deal, John Cooper clearly has a lot of work to do in terms of damage control.

To make matters even more difficult, some council leaders such as At-Large member and Budget & Finance Committee chair Bob Mendes wonder why there are different and conflicting numbers in the budget slide presentation given by Mayor Cooper compared to another budget slide presentation put up by the Metro Finance Department a few hours later. I’ve never seen that happen.

Hopefully, the number differences can be explained and reconciled. But I would say in my more than 40 years of covering, observing and even helping to pass city budgets and tax increases, I have never seen a start with such a puzzling and difficult beginning as this one has experienced.

I thought the Mayor’s budget presentation was overall excellent, but it was perhaps aimed a bit too much toward government and finance experts, with too many numbers and government terms. I think he may need a “Budget and Tax Increase Primer for Dummies” to sell his plan better to average citizens.

Regardless, Nashville is in a crisis like none other in its history. Hopefully, our city leaders can come together and find a consensus way to move forward, as difficult as that is surely going to be. The triple whammy is with us. We have to deal with it, even as we go through what is likely to be the mother of all budget and tax debates in Metro’s history…and all of it to be done in the midst of a pandemic. God help us!

THE BEST NEWS IN A WHILE

Before we begin to discuss another week of difficult and challenging news about the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating impact on our economy, this week for the first time since we started this war with COVID-19 about six weeks ago, there is good new this week about what seem to be a drug treatment that helps those stricken with the virus recover sooner.

It's not a vaccine. It is not a cure or an immunity. But it appears to be, for the first time, a true possible “game changer” in this war against the pandemic, where until now, the virus has always been winning. I know all of us sure hope so.
There is even hopeful news this week about when a vaccine might be available.

President Donald Trump continues to push for a Manhattan Project style effort to get a vaccine as soon as possible.

THE STATE OF TENNESSEE BEGINS TO REOPEN ITS ECONOMY

In what will hopefully turn out to be good news (if the virus doesn’t return), this week the State of Tennessee began to reopen its economy in 89 of its 95 counties. Urban areas such as Nashville, Memphis, Chattanooga, Knoxville, Jackson and Sullivan County are on their own to plot their rebound plans through their county health departments.

On Monday, the state allowed restaurants in the 89 counties to reopen at half capacity with social distancing “pledges” being in place. That includes everyone using masks, employees having their temperatures taken, wearing gloves, disposable menus being employed, while everyone is at least 6 feet apart. On Wednesday, retail businesses were allowed to open under similar restrictions with gyms to join the business rebound today (Friday). Hair salons, barbershops and massage parlors will be able to do the same early next week. Although not every restaurant business feels safe enough to re-open yet.

There is even some dispute in areas where cities and county governments disagree about how quickly to proceed. The Lee administration says the county has the final say.

There is at least one local Tennessee District Attorney blasting all the Governor’s executive orders concerning the pandemic.

The State Attorney General has been asked, and has rendered a quick decision, opining the state’s emergency powers preempt local government. Under questioning however, Governor Lee has not said whether he has any intention to do that in terms of overruling the state’s big cities in reopening their economies.

Tennessee’s Stay at Home restrictions expired yesterday (Thursday) and the Trump administration this week ended the national social distancing requirements. Now the Trump Justice Department it may well try to legally challenge the remaining shutdown orders still in place in a number of cities and states across the nation.

As for Metro, the one week delay in reopening until at least May 8 is seen to be helpful to some restaurant owners. They see it as an opportunity to learn more about the city’s requirements so they and their employees can be ready and safe when they do reopen.

But for at least one businessman, who owns several local restaurants, “enough is enough” he says in an open letter to Mayor Cooper and other Metro officials.

Among other reopening efforts for the state, last minute snags developed. Dental-related offices were supposed to open yesterday (Thursday) but that was deferred until next week, because the government guidance about how to reopen safely, is not ready. It left dental industry officials unhappy.

Elective surgeries apparently did resume Thursday, since the threat of the virus overwhelming hospitals and the rest of the medical system no longer appears an imminent threat. The move to allow elective surgeries seems to end the Governor’s efforts to ban abortions in the state, as a means to preserve critical supplies for front line health care workers. The abortion ban was challenged in federal court as being unconstitutional, and choice advocates prevailed in rulings from both the district and appellate federal courts.

The rapidity by which the state is moving ahead to reopen Tennessee’s economy is raising concerns. While Governor Lee maintains he is moving ahead based on science and data, there are those who tell me they fear the Governor’s decisions on what to open are being done on a “whack a mole” or “squeaky wheel” basis. As examples, when small but vocal groups of demonstrators showed up across the state and at the State Capitol demanding the Governor’ Stay at Home mandate be removed, within 48 hours, the Governor announced his intentions to do just that. While reopening restaurants and retail establishments are among businesses being opened first across the country, reopening gyms and beauty salons are not. Nashville’s 4-phase reopening has close contact businesses such hair care, nail care and massages reopening in Phase 2 (4 weeks into the process), while gyms can reopen for another 2 weeks after that in Metro’s Phase 3.

It appears groups applying pressure to reopen earlier did it through phone calls as well as putting on pressure through stories in the mainstream media and posts on social media.

In terms of reopening salons, barber shops and massage businesses, the decision came even after a new statewide executive order seemed to have those concerns shut down through the end of May.

Another area where the Lee administration is beginning to catch heat is whether it is accurately reporting information about the impact of the virus on the state. A number of governmental entities across the nation and the world have revealed the number of deaths from the virus were incorrect. It seems Tennessee may also have such information but is not inclined to be transparent and share it with the public. It is not the first time during this pandemic it has been reluctant to share the information it has.

THE TENNESSEAN

HOT SPOTS

The biggest hot spot this week is the growing number of food processing plant employees who are sick with the virus. The result is the plants they work at, are either closed for cleaning or closed for business. This is creating concerns about a nationwide meat shortage especially after a top official of Tyson Foods said in an open letter that the nation’s “food chain is broken.” The reaction to that led President Trump to quickly (this time) to invoke his war production authority and command the packing plants reopen and stay in production.

The action by the President has brought a strong rebuke from the union leader of employees at one of the Tyson plants in Tennessee.

Another hot spot in Tennessee and across the nation is the growing number of virus outbreaks in nursing homes. It has gotten to the point this week that the state says it will test all 70,000+ patients in the 700+ nursing home related facilities in the state. The state also says it is willing to test nursing home employees too, if requested. Meanwhile, Governor Lee went to the White House Thursday to attend a briefing on nursing homes with President Trump.

It appears the Governor and Tennessee’s efforts concerning nursing homes were spotlighted during the briefing.

Nashville has been trying to stay on top of a potential virus outbreak hot spot at the Fairgrounds. That’s where 4 homeless citizens who came there began developing symptoms, leading to quick action by the Metro Health Department to identify, isolate and contact trace anyone involved, along with testing several folks at the Fairgrounds homeless facility and everyone at the Union Rescue Mission downtown.

A new emerging hot spot in Tennessee and across the nation is hunger, the millions of people out of work (many for the first time ever) and now out of food.

THE ECONOMY MOVES TOWARD DEPRESSION TYPE NUMBERS

Even with the efforts this week to begin to reopen the economy, the coronavirus induced recession in the United States seems to be taking on aspects of becoming a depression. Requests for unemployment benefits grew another 3.3 million this week, bringing to about 30 million people total who have requested aid in the last 5 weeks since mid-March. That unemployment benefits number represents almost 20% of the entire American workforce.

The unemployment benefit news in Tennessee is equally bad. The number of new unemployment benefit requests this week soared to more than 40,000 this week.

To make matter even worse, there are reports the trust fund Tennessee use to pay its portion of benefits could run out in 4 months.

Meantime, the horror stories continue across the country and here in Tennessee about newly unemployed folks seeking to get their benefits, but after weeks of trying hard, waiting and hoping, still no luck.

There was still more bad economic news this week: the American economy shrank by almost 5% in the first quarter of the year. Since the virus pandemic didn’t hit until the last few weeks of the quarter (March) that means the second quarter (between April-June) is likely to be even worse.

Congress is working on yet another virus relief bill. It would be its 5th such piece of legislation. The effort got off to a rocky start when Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky stirred up a firestorm when he said he would prefer states and local governments like Nashville declare bankruptcy rather than the federal government give them any more help to pay for the ongoing tax revenue loss they have experienced due to the pandemic. The Majority Leader has backed off a bit, saying he’s open to listening to arguments for more funding. Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi no doubt gave McConnel plenty to think about proposing almost $1 trillion to help state and local governments.

Another sticking point is Republican insistence that businesses be given immunity from lawsuits arising out of the reopening of the economy.

Regardless, some kind of bill is almost sure to pass. It’s time for another round of $1200 stimulus checks to keep everyone’s head above water until the virus passes, even if more than few folks have yet to receive their first check under the
program.

STATE BUDGET AND REVENUE ISSUES BEGIN TO SURFACE

When the coronavirus pandemic hit town in mid-March, the Tennessee General Assembly recessed after quickly passing a reconfigured state budget. I told you then that the revenue numbers lawmakers used to balance the current state budget and the spending plan that begins in July were highly likely to be inaccurate. That’s why lawmakers plan to come back to town June 1 (assuming its safe) to sort things out.

Already there are signs it will be a tougher job than expected with the Lee administration already imposing a hiring freeze as well as other cutbacks on spending.

At the same time, the chief economist of the Legislature Fiscal Review Committee sent a letter to lawmakers with more bad news about state revenues which have sharply plunged (much like Nashville and the rest of the nation).

The overall question is: How much of the state’s Rainy Day fund will be needed to make up the shortfall? That is assuming the deficit doesn’t turn out to be even larger than the Rainy Day fund itself? I sure hope not. The fund had been projected to reach $1.5 billion in the original FY2021 budget proposal.

While state employees were told this week many of them can continue to work from home if they can, employees of the General Assembly are coming back to the Hill next Monday (May 4) to get ready for the lawmakers’ return. They will also help with some committee sessions that will need to held before the Legislature goes back into session. As for the public, the legislative offices remain closed, accessible by appointment only.

VOUCHERS

Even though schools in Nashville and Memphis are closed for the rest of the current academic year, when they reopen in the fall the state’s education savings account program is set to begin.

But lawsuits have been filed to stop the program as being in violation of the Tennessee Constitution. To move matters along, and possibly render a decision in the case as early as next week, a local Nashville Chancellor heard eight hours of oral arguments on-line in one of the cases this week.

ON THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL

With the August GOP primary to pick the party’s nominee to replace Tennessee’s Lamar Alexander in the U.S. Senate now just 3 months away, we saw this week our first digital attack ad among the two leading Republican candidates.

The attacking candidate Dr. Manny Sethi from Nashville says his opponent, former ambassador to Japan Bill Hagerty, acts “entitled” and engages in “self-dealing.” The charges surround a $2 million line of credit the candidate received from a bank to fund his campaign.

The Sethi campaign ad seeks to link the line of credit to the recent difficulties and controversies surrounding the federal Payroll Protection program. That federal effort recently failed in efforts get banks to loan money to “mom and pop” businesses so the small companies could stay in business and keep paying their employees during the pandemic. That didn’t happen as the money seemed to go instead to large companies who had access to other sources for funds. The program then ran out of money. Congress has now refunded the efforts with closer legislative oversight also put in place.

Here's a story about the Sethi ad.

Here’s a link to the ad.

I have seen no response from Hagerty about the ad. There may be reasons for some to take a dim view of the close relationship between the candidate and the bank involved, but while the ad insinuates the line of credit the former ambassador received is connected to the Payroll Protection program, it does not provide any evidence of that in the ad itself.

In the presidential campaign, the apparent Democratic nominee, former Vice President Joe Biden tried this week to put an end to persistent allegations he sexually assaulted a former staffer back in the 1990s. He went public with a straight- out denial.

As for President Trump, he says he is ready to get out of the White House and begin holding his signature campaign rallies across the country, although given the virus outbreak, it is hard to say where that might be.

ANOTHER WEEK OF NUMBERS, HOPE FOR SPORTS AND EVEN MORE KINDNESS

It has been another difficult week.

For example, there is this report released Friday morning. It says we can likely expect two more years of virus misery.

More iconic events are being cancelled, the Iroquois Steeplechase here in Nashville and even the Little League World Series in Pennsylvania.

This week there does seem to be hope for pro sports returning. Major League Baseball might find a way to start a shortened season by sometime in June or July, but without any fans.

As for minor league teams like the Nashville Sounds, their future still seems to be still up in the air for this season, and for some minor leagues, even longer than that.

An NFL season for the Titans is also up in the air, and if it does happen, it may too be without fans. The No fans for the NHL and the Nashville Predators if they have games, although they are inching towards a re-opening to complete a season cut short in March by the pandemic.

The return to sports looks tentative at best, while the numbers from the virus are depressingly real. Six weeks in, some states saw record amounts of new daily virus cases. One big of good news over one million people have recovered from the virus worldwide.

As of 9:00 a.m. CDT (Friday)

WORLDWIDE
Cases: 3,274, 747
Deaths: 233, 792
Recovered: 1,023, 911
U.S.
Cases: 1,096, 268
Deaths: 63, 766
Recovered: 132, 544

STATE OF TENNESSEE
State numbers updated daily at 2:00 p.m. CDT

NASHVILLE
Metro officials say we must average no more than 80 new virus cases per day if Nashville hopes to begin to reopen its economy on May 8.

Based on today’s numbers (Friday) we may not be off to a good start with 163 new cases!

Metro Public Health Department officials announced today a total number of 2,832 confirmed cases of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Nashville/Davidson County, an increase of 163 in the past 24 hours.

The confirmed cases range in age from 2 months to 99 years.

Two additional deaths were reported in Davidson County, an 85-year-old woman and an 87-year-old man, both with underlying health conditions.

A total of twenty-seven (27) people have died after a confirmed case of COVID-19. 1,466 individuals have recovered from the virus.

The MPHD COVID-19 Hotline received 181 calls on Thursday, April 30, 2020.

Total number of cases: 2,832

Cases reported in the past 24 hours: 163
Cases by sex
Male: 1,347
Female: 1,261
Unknown: 224

Total Cases by age

Unknown 157
0-10 67
11-20 195
21-30 726
31-40 532
41-50 429
51-60 353
61-70 219
71-80 103
81+ 51

Total 2,832

Recovered 1,466

Deaths 27

Total active cases 1,339

Total number of tests administered Total positive results Total negative results Positive results as percentage of total
26,598 2,832 23,766 10.6%

As grim as the numbers remain, the kindness remains more uplifting than ever!

COVID-19 Relief Kits
Pop-up songs with deliveries
Free legal help for Nashville artists

Stay safe and well! Keep praying too!