Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 2, 2011
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
December 2, 2011
NASHVILLE'S HOT STOVE; HOW TO PAY FOR THE PAYROLL TAX CUT; PRESIDENTIAL UPDATE; ARAB SPRING ON INSIDE POLITICS
During the winter off-season, when baseball fans get together to discuss their favorite sport, it's often called a "hot-stove session." It's a term that comes from days-gone-by when a lot of these kinds of gab-fests were held around an old pot belly stove down at the local county store.
Of course, the hot-stove name also sometimes reflects the heated arguments among fans about who will be the best team or hitter or pitcher in the coming season and/or which team has made the best trades. Nashville is about to have its own "hot-stove" baseball discussion concerning if and where to build a new professional baseball park near downtown.
A team of consultants has spent the last few months to come up with several possible sites for the new facility to replace the aging Greer Stadium off 8th Avenue South. The three areas that got the highest marks are on the East Bank of the Cumberland River; the old Sulphur Dell site near the Bi-Centennial Mall where Nashville's professional teams played baseball for many, many years until the early 1960s; and a couple of locations around 11th & Charlotte Avenues in the emerging North Gulch area.
Now there's still a lot of due diligence work to be done, especially how this likely "public-private partnership" between Metro government and the city's AAA baseball team, the Nashville Sounds, will split up the cost of land acquisition and construction to make any of the sites work. Given what the city's already spent on football stadiums, arenas and convention centers, it is unlikely taxpayers will want to take on all the construction costs involved. Land acquisition and the use of TIF financing is probably a more feasible role for Metro, although, looking at some of the preliminary dollar numbers in the consultant report, some of the proposed sites are a lot more expensive than others, especially if relocating existing businesses are involved (full disclosure: PSC Metals on the East Bank, one of the recommended sites, is a client of mine).
Already you can see the discussion starting over which is the best site for the new baseball park. The consultants and Mayor Karl Dean seem to lean towards the East Bank location, while Councilman-At-Large Jerry Maynard says the Sulphur Dell site has the best potential to attract new jobs and businesses to the city and to the adjoining North Nashville area in particular. Others may see the North Gulch area along Charlotte as a great location to further boost an already emerging part of town.
One casualty of the consultant report is the former Thermal Transfer site on the west side of the river, where previous a Sounds ownership group couldn't put a deal together to build a new ballpark during the administration of Mayor Bill Purcell. The consultants say the vacant Thermal land is the most desirable in all of downtown (and the only large green space left in the Central Business). Therefore that property is now too valuable for use as a ball park.
That is disappointing to the current Sounds ownership. Thermal was their first choice. But sources tell me, they are more than OK about going to the East Bank. As for Sulphur Dell or the Gulch, no thanks say the Sounds, who may well join with Major League Baseball to pull the franchise out of Nashville if something isn't decided in time to have the new ball park ready for use in the spring of 2014.
And so the ball park discussion gets hotter with 17 new Metro Council members likely caught in the middle in making the final decision about what to do (assuming the Dean administration can strike a deal with the Sounds and come up with a viable financing plan to acquire the property needed and build the new park).
Up until now, this new 40-member Metro Council has had to deal with issues such as allowing folks to keep chickens in their yards. Now, if you'll pardon the pun, the chickens will really come home to roost as in the next few months the Council also likely faces issues such as how (or if) to continue the city's annual subsidy to Nashville's NHL hockey team and a possible property tax increase next spring.
There's already a warm-up act on the next Council agenda, December 6. It's an economic development proposal from the Mayor that would entice a health care company to relocate its corporate headquarters to Nashville by receiving a multi-year property tax break. Now that's nothing all that new. But this time the firm is coming from just across the Williamson County line raising questions about exactly what kind of benefit the city will receive since most of the jobs and the employees are already "in the neighborhood," so to speak. In this case, bragging rights may come into play, since Nashville has recently lost several new corporate relocations to surrounding counties and this move would score one for Metro.
But with tax revenues getting tighter and tighter every year, will the Mayor and his economic team be able to convince the Council the deal is a good one for Nashville?
HOW TO PAY FOR THE PAYROLL TAX CUT
Returning to Washington after Thanksgiving recess and the disaster that was the Super Committee, I sense a slightly different attitude in Congress.
They know they are behind the political eight-ball. There is no deficit reduction or spending plan in place. There's also a pretty hefty tax increase (about $1,500 per taxpayer) that kicks in the end of this month when the Social Security payroll tax reduction expires.
I first began to sense the Republican members wanted to make a deal when Tennessee Congressman Marsha Blackburn was on my INSIDE POLITICS show last week. She quickly said she wanted to support extending the payroll tax cut. GOP House and Senate leaders have now said the same thing after earlier rejecting an extension claiming the payroll tax reduction hadn't done much good for the economy. But now faced with being blamed for in effect RAISING taxes by doing nothing to extend the payroll tax cut, hearts and minds seem to be changing.
Of course there is the issue of how to pay for the extended tax reduction and whether to keep it as it is or expand it to 3.3% as President Barack Obama suggests. The White House says it could save 3.3 million taxpayers in Tennessee up to $3.2 billion. Of course, both parties are at odds about how to pay for that.
But even here, it appears a somewhat different tone is being struck by both sides. The Democrats want a surtax imposed on millionaires to pay for the payroll tax reductions. No, counter Republicans, it ought to be paid for by freezing wages for federal employees until 2015 and reducing the size of the federal workforce by some 200,000 workers over time. But Republicans did add this…..a proposal to not allow millionaires to apply for unemployment compensation and some other federal assistance program.
Do you think the GOP is concerned that continued attacks by the President and Congressional Democrats that Republicans are the party of the rich, might be having some impact? Maybe but even here, Democrats did not respond (as both sides often have in the past) by rejecting out of hand the other side's suggestions. In fact, the Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid said he sees some things offered by the GOP upon which to build a compromise.
The Senate has already rejected the tax proposals of both parties to set the stage for negotiations. It won't be easy. Both of Tennessee's Senators don't seem comfortable with the tax extension. Senator Lamar Alexander calls it "a long term raid on Social Security funding, threatening its solvency" while Senator Bob Corker adds continuing the payroll tax cut is a bad idea that undermines the type of tax reform that's needed for long-term economic growth.
There's also the issue of tying the payroll tax reduction to extending long-term unemployment benefits beyond 99 weeks. Some Democrats are pushing for that and even GOP House Speaker John Boehner seems to want that to part of the package.
But despite these disagreements, could a trend be developing for Republicans and Democrats looking to find ways to work together for a change? Remember the Bush-era tax cuts will also expire before the end of 2012 without congressional action to extend them. Now that the GOP must be for something to keep those sacred tax cuts in place, the game plan of "just say no" won't work.
So will both sides be willing to compromise on this and maybe even on the larger issues such as deficit reduction and those looming automatic budget cuts left over by the failure of the Super Committee? It may be way too much to hope for….but it is the holiday season…what better time to hope for some kind of agreement that might be the beginning of the best Christmas present this country gets in 2012.
Continuing to be beset by charges of sexual harassment, and now a extra-marital affair lasting 13 years, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain says he wants to reassess continuing his campaign, including going home to talk with his wife. He plans an announcement on his future as early as tomorrow (Saturday).
But it's probably too late. I believe voters have already reassessed and they have decided to move on from Cain, who was once, just a few weeks ago, the front runner in the GOP contest. It wasn't just the sexual allegations (and how poorly he and his campaign responded to them), it was his equally poor handling of foreign affairs issues and other matters that exposed him as a not ready for prime time presidential candidate.
So while Cain continues to decline in the polls with each passing week, his demise is having quite an impact on the other candidates. Almost every poll I've seen indicates that almost every supporter leaving Cain is moving to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who is now the latest Republican candidate to assume the mantle of front runner or the "anybody but Mitt Romney" candidate to shoot up quickly in the polls.
And shoot up he surely is. For example, the latest Rasmussen national poll (December 1) shows Gingrich at 38% with Romney at 17%, Cain and Ron Paul at 8%. It is among several national surveys that show Gingrich with a double digit lead after being all but afterthought just a few months ago when his campaign got off to a terrible start.
It seems ironic that Gingrich is benefiting because of all "the baggage" that Herman Cain has acquired in recent weeks. Compared to Cain, Gingrich has accumulated enough baggage from his personal and political life over the past many years to rival a fully loaded 767 jet plane on the way from New York to L.A.
But so far, that has not created a problem for the former House Speaker. He is leading in some surveys in Iowa where the first caucus votes will be cast in about a month. Gingrich has also become much more competitive in the first primary race in New Hampshire (just five weeks away). This is a state where Romney was thought to be a lock but thanks to the endorsement of the leading newspaper in New Hampshire that could be changing .
Gingrich's continued upward movement seems to be causing Romney to spend more time and money on TV in Iowa to try and slow down Gingrich. But right now, the "anybody but Romney" movement continues to be a very potent, if not an increasingly dominant force in the GOP race. I wonder if the Obama campaign will start attacking Gingrich instead of just Romney? That would be a clear sign that the race has changed.
Romney was recently in Tennessee (Nashville) for a second time to raise funds. He was in Knoxville a few weeks back. He also got the opportunity to court House Speaker Beth Harwell during this latest visit. She was in attendance at the invitation of a donor. The Speaker, like Governor Haslam and other Tennessee GOP leaders (except for Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey who is strongly for Rick Perry), have resisted endorsing any GOP presidential candidates. I would expect that to continue until it is clear who the likely nominee is. Given the up and down nature of this race, there appears to be little upside for them to endorse anyone right now.
But despite being well behind in the polls, news reports indicate Michelle Bachman, another former one-time front runner in the GOP contest, is naming names for who she would consider to be her vice-presidential running mate, including billionaire and TV star Donald Trump who also once topped the Republican polls. Huh? I thought you had to be a current front-runner before anybody cared who you'd had on your ticket for VP. Besides I doubt there is anyone alive who move Bachman back up in the polls because she might select Trump or anyone else to join her on the campaign trail.
By the way, Trump is also popping off again about running for President himself as an independent with a final decision by next May at the end of the season for his TV show. Do I smell a ratings stunt? Trump has the money to fund a third party effort if he waits until May, but that is way too late to get on the ballot in several states. And if you are not on the ballot, you can't win a state and that's makes you a spoiler (ala Ralph Nader) not someone who has a real chance to be elected president. Now this new America Votes third party effort appears to be in position to be on the ballot in all 50 states which makes it much more viable, although I am still not convinced that its planned nominating process through an internet convention will place its ticket in a position to be viable, especially financially. But if there is ever a year the public is clamoring for a third party choice, 2012 sure seems to be it.
In closing, let's hope GOP candidate Rick Perry (Mr. Oops) can get beyond his "gaffe a week" campaign. His latest "oh no" moment came when he mistakenly told an audience of young people in New Hampshire that he looked forward to those "over 21" having the change to work vote for him next year. The voting age by an amendment to the U.S. Constitution adopted in 1971 (40 years ago) set the voting age at 18. Perry also then got the date for next year's presidential election wrong.
ARAB SPRING ON INSIDE POLTICS
2011 may go down in history as the year the Arab Spring began to reshape the Middle East and the rest of the Arab/Muslim world.
Taking a look back on what has already happened and what may lie ahead in 2012 and beyond, my guest on INSIDE POLITICS this week is Vanderbilt political science professor Thomas Schwartz.
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