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Capitol View commentary: Friday, May 3, 2019

Posted: 11:11 AM, May 03, 2019
Updated: 2019-05-03 16:11:55Z
Capitol View

CAPITOL VIEW

By Pat Nolan, NEWSCHANNEL5 Political Analyst

May 3, 2019

MAYOR DAVID BRILEY ON INSIDE POLITICS; THE SECOND TIME AROUND; WHAT FOLLOWS THE NFL DRAFT FOR NASHVILLE?; ONE YEAR LATER; EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS PASS THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY; THE END IS NIGH; UPDATES AND STORIES TO WATCH; LAST WEEK;

MAYOR DAVID BRILEY ON INSIDE POLITICS

Nashville Mayor David Briley is our guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week.

He joins us after delivering his second annual State of Metro and Budget Address on Tuesday.

He joins us as well as his campaign for re-election is underway. It’s a contest where Mayor Briley is facing at least three major opponents.

Since we will spend so much of our time discussing the details (some controversial) of his record $2.33 billion spending plan, I will urge you to watch us. I will offer some general reflections on his speech and some related budget developments later in this week’s Capitol View column.

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. 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.

Because of some requests, I will also start posting a link to the show each week on my Facebook page as soon as it is available, usually on Monday or Tuesday).

THE SECOND TIME AROUND

Mayor Briley’s second State of Metro address had a much more upbeat tone. Last year when he spoke, he had just taken office amidst a scandal that saw his predecessor resign. He was also still trying to get a handle on some unexpected revenue shortfalls that nixed a planned 3% pay raise for Metro workers. That controversial move and others from last year’s budget still cloud his second spending plan, even though the 3% raises for teachers and Metro employees have been reinstated. The new budget is over $100 million greater than last year. It’s a 4.5% increase which more in line with budget growth in previous years.

But Metro teachers are unhappy. They want much more than the 3% raise recommended by the Mayor. The School Board requested a 10% increase. Now, as of Thursday evening more than 350 of Metro’s 5,000 teachers are requesting substitutes to take their place in the classroom Friday morning. The School system has issued this statement regarding the impending “sick out.”

"We have been made aware that there could be a spike in teacher absences tomorrow in response to the mayor’s proposed budget. At present, we do not believe that this is a widespread issue. We are monitoring this closely and developing plans to assist schools that may need additional supports as a result."

Based on this statement and media reports it could be quite a challenging day at some Metro Schools.

Another challenge the Mayor faces in the wake of his speech, is mirrored in the results of a public poll released by Vanderbilt University on the morning of his address. It finds a sharp drop in a positive pubic response among Nashvillians as to whether the city is on the right track or wrong track. In 2015 when the question was asked, the numbers were:

Right track: 72% Wrong track: 22%.

That was in the same year as the last Metro elections. What are the results in 2019 as we approach our next vote for Mayor, Vice Mayor and Council?

Right track: 53% Wrong track; 45%.

Here’s more on the Vanderbilt poll , including that those surveyed still give Mayor Briley a 66% job approval rating!

This is the challenge for Mayor Briley: citizens are concerned we are growing too fast. They are uneasy about incentives given to large companies to bring jobs here and they say we need to do more for education. How does that mesh together with the Mayor’s four budget priorities of education, public safety, economic prosperity and quality of life? Mayor Briley’s three major opponents say his State of Metro and Budget speech is light on the details and skirts several major issues.

The mayor in his speech says he wants Nashville to be known as “the most equitable city.” He outlines the ways he is trying to do that in new city procurement rules, recognizing small businesses, LGBTQ businesses and both local and foreign- born business owners. But there are other challenges about equity in Nashville that this T ENNESSEAN op-ed writer was raising even before the Mayor’s speech.

There are also two emerging controversies the Mayor may have to deal with in the coming Metro budget debate. One is the Mayor wants to modernize and privatize the city’s on street parking system. The other is the Mayor wants to sell the city’s energy system that heats and cools many major buildings downtown. But opponents say the city won’t get a good return on those sales which they fear are being pushed to bolster another poorly funded budget.

For whatever reason, in his speech Mayor Briley made no comment at all about selling the downtown energy system. A supporter of mayoral candidate Carol Swain is talking about it. He has an op-ed on THE TENNESSEAN’s website alleging the sale of the energy system is due to years of mismanagement and to plug funding holes in the mayor’s budget. https://www.tennessean.com/story/opinion/2019/05/02/push-sell-nashvilles-downtown-energy-system-mismanagement/3644521002/

Mayor Briley did defend his parking plan saying it is a smart decision that will generate $300 million for Metro over 30 years, while still keeping the city in control of the policy issues involved with parking. He adds the extra money will go to support other traffic-related improvements including one to increase pedestrian safety.

But Briley opponent and state legislator John Ray Clemmons found some help this week in opposing the private parking plan. He joined his fellow Davidson County lawmakers to summon the Mayor’s staff and others in the Briley administration to come to Capitol Hill. There lawmakers expressed their unhappiness with the privatization idea, but they stopped short of saying they will sponsor a bill to stop it. After all, the General Assembly is ready to adjourn for the year anyway. And Nashville lawmakers have complained when Republicans on the Hill have messed in Nashville’s business. Therefore, the help for Clemmons on this issue from his colleagues turned out to be somewhat limited. https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/mayors-office-meets-with-lawmakers-concerned-about-privatizing-parking-meters

Getting back to his State of Metro speech, the Mayor also defended his half a billion dollar ten- year affordable housing plan. He pointed to endorsements to his Under One Roof 2029 proposal from U.S. Senator and Democratic Presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren along with the mayors of Boston, Atlanta and Washington, D.C. But he made no announcements about local businesses stepping up to meet his challenge for the private sector to pledge another $250,000 to his affordable housing proposal. He did announce this week more affordable housing grants being awarded through the city’s Barnes Fund. https://www.nashville.gov/News-Media/News-Article/ID/8534/Mayor-Briley-Celebrates-Approval-Of-Most-Recent-Barnes-Fund-Grant-Recipients.aspx

Here is how the Nashville print media covered the Mayor’s speech and his budget.
https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pith-in-the-wind/article/21066674/briley-mum-on-paying-for-proposals-in-state-of-metro

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/04/30/nashville-mayor-david-briley-touts-progress-vows-keep-city-track-annual-state-metro-address/3620689002/

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/01/mayor-david-briley-proposed-budget-metro-nashville-public-safety-pay-raises-public-school-funding/3624645002/

https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2019/04/30/state-of-metro-briley-details-priorities-for.html

WHAT FOLLOWS THE NFL DRAFT FOR NASHVILLE?

Nashville exceeded all expectations when it came to the NFL Draft.

After setting new records for attendance (600,000 in three days) and TV ratings (almost 48 million viewers), Nashville received nothing but rave reviews as the host city.

What do we do next? We will talk to the Mayor and get his thoughts, pros and cons, on hosting a Super Bowl? A World Cup? The Grammys? An MLB expansion team? A national political convention?

It is clear we continue to enhance the world’s image of Nashville when we successfully host major events. Did seeing those photos and drone shots of the masses jamming lower Broad even change our own minds about what is possible for Nashville to achieve?

Remember this: Nine years ago this month, the very spot on Lower Broad where the NFL Draft reigned was covered in several feet of brown, smelly flood waters. Some wondered if we’d ever recover as a tourist and convention destination. I’ll say we have! And some! What is next?

In this vein, it was announced this week that Nashville will host an MLS All-Star Game sometime in the future. Exactly when remains unclear. The city’s MLS expansion franchise doesn’t even join the league until 2020. The team will play its first two seasons at Nissan Stadium before moving into its own Fairgrounds stadium in 2022. It would seem likely an MLS All-Star Game would occur after that. By the way, the MLS has a policy that all its expansion teams will host an All-Star Game the franchise joins the league.

ONE YEAR LATER

One year ago this week (May 1), Metro voters resoundingly defeated a multi-billion dollar regional transit plan. Now supporters are regrouping to come with another proposal to deal with our ever -growing issue of traffic and congestion.

This time supporters are looking at doing things somewhat differently and taking time (the goal is 2024) to build a consensus on what to do. https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/one-year-after-nashville-transit-defeat-coalition-forms-push-improvements

EDUCATION SAVINGS ACCOUNTS PASS THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY

It has been the number one legislative priority of new Tennessee Governor Tennessee Bill Lee.

Now, with both Houses of the General Assembly approving this week, education savings accounts (ESAs), opponents call them vouchers, will soon become a reality in Tennessee (beginning in school year 2021-2022). You can be sure they will be a major celebration ceremony in the State Capitol when Governor Lee signs the bill into law within the next week or so.

It was, much like the Grateful Dead song, a “long, strange journey” to gain approval for the annual $7300 payments of public funds to qualifying parents to pay tuition and other education related expenses for their children to attend private schools.

The original proposal from the Governor went through quite a few changes in the last few months as it made its way through committees in both houses. The modifications included changes in income limits to participate, fraud protections and most importantly, what counties would participate and if home schoolers could get the ESAs.

After narrow approval margins in both houses of very different bills, it came down to a conference committee of lawmakers to smooth out the final differences. Those final issues included homeschoolers (no), the size of the initial program (15,000 students) and what counties will be involved in this narrowed down pilot program (Nashville & Memphis only). The conference committee also worked out what testing will be required for students and what verifications (income tax forms) will be needed to prove proper use of the ESAs and legal residency (even though that last issue might still wind up in court).

The changes were enough to get both houses to agree on the same plan, again by relatively narrow margins (51-46 in the House and 19-14 in the Senate). The GOP Super Majority is far from united on this. Rural lawmakers and local school board officials still see ESAs as an ultimate threat to their existence.

Democrats and school boards in Memphis and Nashville are even more up in arms. The school officials say they plan to sue the state because the measure is unconstitutional. They say that’s because it limits the program to just their districts without required consent from them or from local lawmakers. ESA

supporters say their bill is constitutional although they did insert a severability clause that would end the entire program if the inclusion of just Memphis and Nashville is struck down in court.

There was also a last- minute flurry of controversy when a new financial analysis found the estimated cost of the program would almost triple in size compared to an earlier estimate, going from $125 million to $330 million. But the bill still passed.

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/01/tennessee-school-vouchers-gov-bill-lee-school-voucher-plan-335-million-2024-new-fiscal-year/3639594002/ https://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/state-government/article/21066961/house-senate-hash-out-voucher-deal

THE END IS HERE

Thursday looked to be the day lawmakers would end the first session of the 111th Tennessee General Assembly. That happened shortly after 7:30 P.M., Getting there was at times quite chaotic.

One bill holding up adjournment for the year was the Republican effort to turn the state’s TennCare program into a first-of-its kind block grant funded with federal approval. But working out the details of that is turning out to be much more difficult than anticipated. The two houses were at odds, even a conference committee was not able to resolve the matter. The disagreement is also created problems with consideration of some other bills up for last minute consideration.

Read more at this link. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/02/tennessee-lawmakers-impasse-over-tenncare-block-grant-proposal/3654887002/

Things often get a little crazy in the final hours of session and this year was no different. House Democrats tried to stage a walkout, upset because of their party’s representation on the conference committee. But they were not able to leave because House Speaker Glen Casada had the side exits of the House chambers locked. And things stayed crazy after that, although Republicans ironed their differences and passed the health care block grant bill before leaving town.

https://www.newschannel5.com/news/democratic-lawmakers-locked-inside-house-chambers

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/02/tennessee-general-assembly-final-days-111-th-legislative-session-house-senate-republicans-democrats/3615928002/

As referenced in the NEWSCHANNEL5 story above, the last day of session was a particularly trying one for Speaker Casada. That includes a potential scandal involving his staff which we will outline a little later in this column. Casada says the reports are false.

Besides all the last day chaos and the passage of the ESA program, here are other highlights this week of the Legislature’s final days.

Both Houses agreed on the only legislation they are required to pass each year under the State Constitution.

They approved a $38.5 billion budget that also fully funds a Medicaid waiver for children with severe illnesses and disabilities. The Katie Beckett waiver, which would provide treatment coverage for those

children whose families don't otherwise qualify for Medicaid, had become a sticking point in the budget negotiation process last week and into the weekend.

The Senate even said it would rather cut taxes than fully fund the waiver. But the upper chamber ultimately went along with the House and agreed to the extra funds. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/04/30/tennessee-passes-38-5-billion-budget-including-katie-beckett-waiver-funding/3632128002/

The bill to make daylight savings time year-round is headed to Governor Lee for his approval. But more will be needed for that permanent time change to occur. That includes congressional approval and another OK by state lawmakers after that. So, keep planning to change your clocks twice a year for now.

The biggest surprise of the week came when Governor Bill Lee announced he would allow a bill to legalize on-line sports gambling within the state to go into effect without his signature. It had been thought the Governor would veto the measure due to his personal opposition to gambling. The Senate gave final legislative approval to the proposal, so it will become law.

A regulatory board will still need to be appointed before the Tennessee Lottery begins operating the sports gambling program. The expected $50 million to be generated will go to local governments for schools, infrastructure and programs to fight gambling addiction.

If you hold a smart phone in your hand while driving, you may soon get a ticket and a $50 fine. Tennessee leads the nation for distracted driving deaths involving cellphones, so a bill is headed to the Governor to sign to make that illegal. However, if you use your smart phone with no-hands technology or place it in a holder on your dashboard, that’s still legal for use. That’s true even though safety experts say using it that way will leave drivers distracted. And so, the impact of the new bill will do what?

Of course it wouldn’t be the Tennessee General Assembly with its members passing still more pro-gun rights legislation. This year it’s an alternative, cheaper gun permit system. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/02/tennessee-approves-bill-creating-alternate-gun-permitting-system/3652383002/

Elsewhere, the corporate and other opposition against bills considered to be anti-LGBTQ continues to grow. That opposition now includes all of Nashville’s pro sports teams which spoke out last week.

The opposition is yielding results. One measure that would allow adoption agencies to refuse to help LGBTQ couples was unexpectedly put off until 2020. It’s a move that got coverage even in a New York tabloid.

The same kind of unexpected delay occurred to another attempt to pass a controversial “bathroom” bill in the State Senate Wednesday night. https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/01/senate-rejects-bathroom-bill-delays-action-until-2020-lgbtq-rights/3647611002/

A bill to strength the state’s indecent exposure laws did pass the Legislature this week and it is headed to the Governor for his approval. But it has been watered down from an earlier version.

From the Associated Press: https://www.wvlt.tv/content/news/Watered-down-Tennessee-bathroom-bill-goes-to-governor-509310791.htmlhi

The business opposition to the LGBTQ bills seems to be getting enough success, it is receiving pushback from Republican House Speaker Glen Casada. He told THE TENNESSEEAN , businesses ought to “stay in their own lane” and out of politics. Really, Mr. Speaker?

There continue to be calls for Governor Lee to veto legislation approved by both houses that would impose strict civil penalties for groups found in violation of voter registration regulations. Opponents see the measure as criminalizing the voter registration process and a way to suppress the vote among African Americans and other people of color. So far Governor Lee seems publicly non-committal about what he will do with the bill, although it seems unlikely he will cast a veto on a matter the GOP Super Majority has so strongly supported in both houses.

If you want to express your thoughts on this or other legislation now on the Governor’s desk, his office has set up this link for folks to do that. https://www.tn.gov/governor/billreview.html

Governor Lee has made his own views known to VW auto workers in Chattanooga. He joined several other Tennessee elected Republican officials in recent years, to urge them not to unionize. https://www.commercialappeal.com/story/money/cars/2019/05/01/tennessee-governor-bill-lee-touts-non-union-vw-chattanooga-prior-uaw-vote/3638585002/

And as the session comes to an end there is this piece of good reporting by THE TENNESSEAN about a somewhat unique, if not downright strange story about a lawmaker hiring his own lobbyist.

UPDATES AND STORIES TO WATCH

Even though neither he nor his office have commented directly, THE TENNESSEAN has obtained court documents indicating Nashville State Senator Steve Dickerson is cooperating with a federal probe to ‘minimize his exposure” in the matter. Dickerson has been named in a lawsuit brought by federal officials accusing Dickerson and others who founded or own Comprehensive Pain Specialists of widespread fraud through unnecessary drug tests, dishonest billing and forged documents.

The court document was an e-mail written by Senator Dickerson’s lawyer, Ed Yarbrough. He is declining comment as well.

As mentioned earlier, as the legislative session approached its final hours, a potential bombshell story was broken by NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES and reporter Phil Williams . It involves the activities of a top aide to House Speaker Glen Casada. The matter appears so serious Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk is asking a special prosecutor be appointed.

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/politics/2019/05/02/cade-cothren-glen-casada-email-justin-jones/3651314002/

Casada says the stories are false and he spent time during an end of session news conference to berate the media, in particular NEWSCHANNEL5 for reporting it.

Stay tuned!

LAST WEEK

This week marks the end of era in Nashville journalism and politics. THE TENNESSEAN editorial staff has worked its final day at the paper’s longtime offices at 1100 Broadway. That address has been an important part of our city’s political power structure and lexicon for decades, especially when both the morning TENNESSEAN and the afternoon NASHVILLE BANNER worked in the same building. It was the place to be or drop by on election night, especially if the paper supported your candidate or causes.

Whenever a mayor or anyone wanted to seek office, unveil a new program or take on an issue, people asked: “Have you talked to and visited the folks at 1100 Broad? Are they on board?” Folks took their cues from there, checking to see how the papers covered related stories, as well as where the stories were played in paper: Front page? Section front? Buried next to the obits or somewhere else in the paper?

It’s a lot harder to read that today when the paper’s stories are played first on its web site. Folks now will also have to visit the paper’s new offices at the Palmer Plaza building on West End if they are looking for support or endorsements (although the paper seems to shy away from candidate endorsements these days. I am sure new traditions will begin and grow in the years to come at the paper’s new location, even as they flourished in the now by-gone years of Seig, Mr. Stahlman, Irby and Silliman Evans at 1100 Broadway.