Capitol View Commentary: June 3, 2010
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
June 3, 2010
THE GOOD & BAD OF FLOOD RECOVERY; BUDGETS: THE GOVERNOR'S RACE; INSIDE POLITICS
Our cars aren't dirty anymore, but the toll taken by the Great Flood of 2010 continues to hurt this community even as we continue to recover.
Both of the city's water treatment plants are operating, although the Harrington facility that was out of service during the flood is only back to 50% capacity. So while car washes are back open, city officials are asking folks to still take it easy on watering the lawns or other uses that involve major gallons.
The opening of the car washes means some jobs restored, but the spike in unemployment continues in Nashville due to the Flood. Perhaps the largest single setback is 1,700 workers being laid off by Gaylord/ Opryland, most of that due to the damage and closure of the Opryland Hotel and the Opry House complex which will not reopen until well into the fall.
While Nashville looks with great anticipation and support for the CMA Festival next week with tens of thousands of fans flocking to downtown, even so, there are some issues. Some flood victims are being temporarily evicted from local motels because the rooms are needed for incoming CMA festival goers. Over the years, Nashvillians have sometimes been a little annoyed with all the extra traffic and the gawkers around town with the CMA Festival. But given what this means to put Nashville back on the map and to prove we are once again open for business, hopefully nobody will feel that way this year and maybe never again!
Both the General Assembly and the Metro Council meet about a block away. Both are grappling with budgets this month. Both bodies know times are tough, but they've pretty well known for weeks how things are going to work out.
Not that there haven't had a few rough spots. Now it appears both are finally coming to final agreements about their spending. It's about 2 months later than state lawmakers originally thought they'd do it.
For several days recently, lawmakers in both Houses and between both parties got into quite a squabble about a few final items that needed to be added or trimmed in the budget. It wasn't a large amount of money, but given election-year politics for both the governor's race and contests in the General Assembly, the issues got heated and the personalities (particularly between House Speaker Kent Williams and Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey) got crossways, leading to a breakdown in negotiations.
It appeared this could last for a while, before Governor Phil Bredesen, trying to work out his final budget, said he was "aggravated" at lawmakers and told them to work it out and go home. He even apparently made a veiled threat to go across the state and rally the public on the matter to get lawmakers to settle things.
Maybe it was going to all be settled pretty soon anyway, but within 12 hours of the Governor's "aggravated" comments, a compromise budget had been worked out, cutting back on fish hatcheries, restoring funds for premature infants and land conservation, even sales tax relief for flood victims along with a bonus for state workers. As I write these words it appears final budget approval is on the way with adjournment sine die for the General Assembly to quickly follow perhaps by Saturday, June 5. Finally!
As for the Metro Council, the budget may get done a bit early in June, especially since Mayor Karl Dean managed to avoid any tax increase or major budget cuts because the city is refinancing its long-term debt. While that refinancing could create some issues in a couple of years for the budget, city lawmakers love the Mayor's plan and seem ready to approve it as soon as possible….except for one issue. And it's an issue that Metro Council members and not even the Mayor can solve.
The issue revolves around cuts made in the schools budget (by the School Board) to save about $5 million to privatize custodial services. Those who worry they might lose their jobs have been complaining and asking the Council to change it. The problem is, the Council can't do it. Both the Metro Charter and state law say all the Council and the Mayor can do is give the School Board a set amount of money. How the funds are spent is totally up to the Board, neither the Council or the Mayor can impose their will on any of it.
This has led to some frustration for Council members who are looking for a way to send a signal to get the School Board to bend on this matter, even though contracts have already been awarded to begin the privatization of custodial services. Some council representatives said they ought to reject or defer the mayor's entire budget (including schools) as a sign of displeasure. Again, that won't work. If the Council rejects or defers a mayor's budget past June 30, the mayor's plan goes into effect automatically.
It's check and checkmate for Metro lawmakers on this unless they can persuade School Board members to relent (which would appear unlikely). And even if the School Board changes its mind where would anyone find an extra $5 million or more lying around in Metro's coffers to fix this issue?
In the end, I expect lawmakers can claim they have done all they can about this, but it's beyond their powers to change it other than do a lot of fussing and fuming. So the full budget will pass perhaps as early as June 15.
THE GOVERNOR'S RACE
Who would have thought some of the candidates in the Tennessee Republican Governor's race would be discussing the issue of casino gambling?
After all, none of the candidates are for such businesses in Tennessee, right?
That's what they all say, but Congressman Zach Wamp, in his latest assault on front-runner, Knoxville Mayor Bill Haslam, believes his opponent might be open to the idea since (Wamp says) Haslam's family business, Pilot Oil Company, operates gambling and casino operations in three other states either on its own or in partnership with others.
The Haslam camp strongly denies that, telling Andy Sher of THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS (June 2) through a spokesperson: "Mr. Haslam has made it abundantly clear he opposes casino gambling in Tennessee, and Pilot does not own or operate casinos in any state."
But there are now media reports (Metro Pulse in Knoxville, June 2) and photos surfacing that indicate there are video poker, slot machines and other similar gaming devices in Pilot Travel Centers in Nevada, Wyoming and Louisiana. The Haslam campaign explains that to Andy Sher saying: "(Pilot) leases space to companies that use the space for gaming." The campaign also says in Montana, all Pilot does is sell diesel gas to the person who operates the truck stop.
But there are apparently government documents that are also surfacing and circulating in the media (Knoxville Metro Pulse, June 2) that indicate there are state gaming licenses for two casino/slot machines operations in Pilot Oil truck stops in Louisiana with the owners listed as Mayor Haslam (at his home address) along with other members of his family. However, media reports also indicate similar operations in Nevada are operated by Leisure Gaming, Inc, a private Nevada company.
All this campaign controversy first began some months back when Mayor Haslam refused to join with other gubernatorial candidates in revealing their income and business holdings, saying it would not be fair to invade the privacy of other members of his family who own Pilot Oil.
Now given these latest accusations, Haslam may have no choice but to reveal more family business information to try and put this potentially explosive political issue (especially in a conservative GOP primary) to rest.
But after months of trying to get an ongoing debate started about Haslam's finances and business holdings, Wamp is trying to handle his own ethics issues that have bubbled up in the media (NASHVILLE CITY PAPER, Ken Whitehouse, June 1) and elsewhere. The controversy surrounds Wamp's ties to the Tennessee Valley Corridor (TVC) non-profit organization and an Oak-Ridge based PR firm (AtkinsCrisp Strategies). The article alleges TVC has been a "cash cow" for the PR firm (to up $2 million over the last decade). Wamp's son also works on his dad's gubernatorial campaign through the agency while the members of the firm consult with the candidate.
Wamp says there is nothing wrong with any of the relationships involving himself, TVC, the PR firm and his son. He says TVC is "squeaky clean" in how it raises sponsorships with groups and businesses. He says the whole matter is "gutter politics" which he blames on being spread around by Haslam's top advisor, Tom Ingram. Ingram responds by saying Wamp's assertions are "bizarre"…and Wamp "is making things up again."
A Haslam spokesman says Wamp "has his facts wrong again, and is either intentionally trying to mislead voters or hasn't done his homework."
Wow! Things are getting a bit heated I'd say, and we've still more than few weeks left before we even start early voting. Everyone's TV ads have stayed positive. But how long will that continue, given all these harsh words?
Maybe it's been a good time for Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey, the third GOP candidate to be able to stay away from the fray between Wamp and Haslam while Ramsey has been in the middle of the budget fight. Although it was clearly time to end that battle as well for the Lt. Governor and bring the legislative session to a close. It's probably also been a good time for Democrat Mike McWherter to begin his own publicity effort showing how he relates to workers and small businesses as he tries to do their jobs for a day in various counties across the state. Hey, you got to do something to try and stay in the news whole the Republicans duke it out!
I have to moderate a gubernatorial panel for the Tennessee Bar Association and other legal groups on Friday, June 4. Due to my logistics for the rest of this week, it will be the next column before I can give you my thoughts about the forum goes, including whether there is an effort among the Republican candidates to bring up these "ethics" issues during their part of the forum (even though we are supposed to focus on legal issues like prisons, judicial appointments and the selection of the Attorney General). We'll see what happens.
Our Senior United States Senator Lamar Alexander is my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend (June 4-6). There are so many issues to talk about from the local flood recovery to the oil spill in the Gulf as well as issues before the Senate such as "don't ask, don't tell" and a pending Supreme Court nominee.
You can watch our interview on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, Comcast and Charter Cable channels 250 as well as on Channel 5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Our broadcast times are Friday (June 4) at 7:00 p.m., Saturday (June 5) at 5:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. and Sunday (June 6) at 5:00 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.