Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 25, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, May 25, 2012

CREATED May 25, 2012

CAPITOL VIEW
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising

May 25, 2012

ANOTHER TAXING WEEK; THE BANE & BAIN OF PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS; INSIDE POLITICS TALKS WITH REPRESENTATIVES COOPER AND BLACK; SENATOR ALEXANDER AND SUSTAINABILITY; CORRUPT STATE GOVERNMENT DUE TO "ISOLATED" NASHVILLE; THE GOVERNOR TO HELP HIS FRIENDS

With a public hearing and the first key Metro Council vote just a little over a week away (June 5), both sides in the Nashville budget and property tax fight are doing what they can to get the word out to marshal their troops for the ongoing fight.

Those opposing the 53-cent property tax increase are sending out a postcard mailing countywide (quantity unknown) urging citizens to call or e-mail their representatives and urge them to vote no. There was an early goof when some of the cards sent out had wrong or conflicting names of which Council members to contact. That reportedly is being fixed and tax opponents are looking for funding for a second mailing if they can pull it together.

The anti-tax forces are also organizing a Tax Hike Rally on Thursday, May 31 at the Limelight Nashville on Woodland Street, featuring live entertainment and refreshments and, you can be sure, plenty of anti-tax talk.

The opponents are also looking for money to produce anti-tax yard signs to be placed in high traffic areas around Nashville. All this is a clear indication that the opposition to the tax is among the most organized ever in Metro's 50 year history. But the question is: How many votes do they have in the Council to craft an alternative budget that can make a tax hike unnecessary.

So far, the opponents don't seem to be coming out with any new or overly catchy proposals. The Beacon Center, a conservative think tank normally engaged with statewide issues, says the way to avoid the property tax hike is to just not approve any extra money for schools and to eliminate the subsidy the city gives every year to the Metropolitan Transit Authority which operates the city's bus system.

The Beacon Center says "increase(d) parental involvement and reducing (the) bureaucratic size" of the Metro school system is a better way to improve local education. Maybe money isn't everything, but I don't see how more parental involvement or fewer bureaucrats will do all that much to relieve the run-down conditions and the overcrowded classrooms in a number of  local schools, something which Mayor Karl Dean claims he will help relieve with his tax hike (along with raising starting teachers' pay to $40,000).    

As for MTA, ridership on the bus system has been setting records in recent months especially when gas prices were skyrocketing. Taking away the city's subsidy would frankly shut down Nashville's mass transit system, leaving many of us with a lot more cars and traffic to deal with every day coming to and from work. That's probably not the smart move for Nashville.     

In fact, the idea of a no-tax increase is probably a non-starter with a majority of Metro Council members. They know it's been seven years since taxes were raised and the cost to operate everything, including government, continues to go up. But while the budget and the size of Metro government has been cut back some in recent years, have the needs become great enough to justify 53 cents more on the property tax rate? The ability to noodle down the tax hike is probably the only way tax opponents can claim a victory, even though so far they don't seem to want to go that direction. But you can be sure some members of the Council will try that and start offering alternative budgets with smaller tax increases, looking for how and where they can knock some pennies off the Mayor Karl Dean's plan.

Mayor Dean meanwhile is continuing his all out public campaign to show voters (and the media) what a 53-cent tax hike will do for Nashville. Late in the week, he unveiled the full details of a nearly $300 million capital plan that will be funded with the increase tax revenues. That includes not only schools, but over $30 million in paving and road projects as well as another $12 for new sidewalks and repairs. The capital plan also contains more money for new parks and improvements to existing parks along more money for new fire halls, a police DNA lab to fight crime and a new library in Bellevue.

As you can tell these projects are spread out all over the community, and that's exactly on purpose to build support countywide for the budget and tax plan by convincing the public that a tax hike will not only help the city in general, it will make things better for them on a personal level in their own lives and in their own neighborhoods.            

To also help sell the budget and tax plan there is a citizen's group supporting the Mayor's proposals all the way. Moving Nashville Forward is sending out blast e-mails all over Nashville and it has its own Facebook page in operation (although they are a few weeks behind the anti-tax folks in getting organized). It will be an interesting test of each side's strength when the Council holds its public hearing and second reading vote on the budget and tax levy on Tuesday, June 5. We will find out which group can turn out the most folks with all of them wearing their competing specially colored t-shirts along with special lapel stickers and some carrying hand signs with catchy slogans.

The second reading vote could also be very instructive, especially if it is taken by roll call. It doesn't have to be, by the way. It could just pass on a voice vote, leaving both sides to wonder exactly who is and who is not on their side. That likely would make for still more intrigue and suspense for another two weeks leading up to the third and final vote (which will need a majority 21 votes for passage). That final vote is now set for Tuesday, June 19, but to further complicate and delay a decision, the Council could actually defer a final vote and wait and hold a special meeting sometime right before the June 30 deadline.

But remember, defeating the Mayor's budget and tax increase outright on second or third reading would be a bad idea. In fact, under the Metro Charter, if it fails, the Mayor's budget and tax hike would go into effect by default come July 1.  Our city's founding fathers wanted to make sure that no matter what happens there will be a balanced budget in place anytime a new fiscal year begins.

That doesn't mean Nashville mayors always get what they want. What it does mean is that "just say no" is not enough. Those who don't want a tax increase have to find a way to craft a balanced budget (and get at least 21 votes) that has enough cuts in it from what the Mayor's proposes that it balances the city's income with its expenses.

It won't be easy but it has been done a few times in the past. There's 1984 for example when the Council redrew the budget without a tax hike. In other years (including 1966 and 1980 among others) Council leaders scaled down tax increases and made cuts from what was proposed by the Mayor. Those Councils however were not term-limited. They had leaders that had deep institutional knowledge of both the Council and Metro government. This Council has just a handful of members who have ever even had to consider voting on a tax increase. While there are many capable people in this current Council, we are about to find out how well equipped they are to handle the test of fire that lies ahead of them during the month of June in dealing with the budget and tax levy for the new Metro fiscal year that begins July 1.               

THE BAIN AND BANE OF PRESIDENTIAL POLITICS

Mitt Romney, the presumed Republican nominee for President, frequently tells voters that his business experience in the area of private equity with Bain Capital has made his well equipped to be President and to revive the national economy. President Barack Obama says not so fast. He says being President takes more than that. He says being President is more than making a profit. It's about making sure everyone has a fair chance to be successful.

The President's re-election team sees the debate over this issue (Bain Capital) as a potential winning one for them. After all, it was tested by Romney's opponents in the GOP primaries (particularly by Newt Gingrich) and it had some success, particularly in Romney being defeated in South Carolina.

But this Bain issue has also become something of bane for the President's political existence in recent days. Once again, as is always in politics, it's your friends who will hurt you, not your enemies. That happened in this case when popular Newark, NJ mayor Cory Booker took issue with the President's attack ads regarding Romney and Bain saying he found them "nauseating" and that he "didn't want to sit here and indict private equity." Booker is now backing off those comments while the White House is still trying to recover from his statements which turned the Bain issue somewhat against the President, at least for a while.

It's not the only embarrassing situation the Obama campaign is dealing with these days. While the President has been gliding towards getting the delegates he needs to be re-nominated this summer at Democratic National Convention, in recent months in a few states, unknown opponents have scored a significant number of protest votes against him in the Democratic presidential primaries there. That includes 41% of the vote in West Virginia for a federal prison inmate from Texas; 41% in Arkansas for a Tennessee lawyer named John Wolfe and 42% in Kentucky for "undecided."

Now none of these votes will have much impact on the President's campaign and they come in states where the President isn't expected to win in November either, so it isn't likely to hurt his Electoral Vote total. But if you look at where the President lost (mostly rural areas) it could show a weakness that he will have to deal with this fall all across the country.

Meantime, a look at the results of the most recent national polls (Wall Street Journal/NBC & Washington Post/ABC) show Mr. Obama now holds only a 3% to 4% lead (within the margin of error) over Mr. Romney. That shows a continuing tightening of the race since Romney's GOP opponents conceded defeat and he began to consolidate the party behind him (at least to some extent). Romney's fund raising is also showing signs of improvement. That, along with the money being gathered and spent from outside groups and Super PACS, could create real problems for the President this fall, although he remains active on the fundraising circuit and still hold the lead in overall fund raising and money on hand.

There has been some good news in some ways for the President. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell has joined him in supporting same-sex marriage (although Powell declined another endorsement of the President for re-election). The President also saw another ridiculous effort by "birthers" in Arizona to stop him from being on the ballot there. After consulting with Hawaii officials (the state where the President was born), Arizona said "never mind" and now say they don't plan to pursue the issue anymore. Let's hope that's true forever. Enough

There's one final, somewhat strange situation, to talk about this week concerning about where the voters in Tennessee stand in the presidential race. A new poll by THE TENNESSEAN and Vanderbilt University found Mr. Romney just one percentage point ahead of the President in what has been thought to be a solid red state. This follows two polls from GOP guru Karl Rove that has placed the Volunteer State as only "leaning Romney" not deep red for the likely Republican nominee.

So is Tennessee a potential battleground state? I doubt it. THE TENNESSEAN poll showing it as a one percentage difference is based on all respondents, not registered voters. Among registered voters it appears Romney is up 7 points. The best way to really find out where the race stands here is to see a survey among likely voters which THE TENNESSEAN/Vanderbilt did not seem to include. I would suspect Romney's number would be even better among likely voters given Tennessee's recent presidential election history.

So why does Karl Rove still list Tennessee as only "leaning Romney" I am not sure. But the true test will come in the months ahead. If you don't see the two campaigns committing staff, TV money and more importantly, candidate time, Tennessee is not in play…and I don't think it is or will be.

As for the national electoral counts, it still appears the President is ahead although his lead is narrowing. The Race 4 2012 website (www.race42012.com) has (without including toss-up states) Mr. Obama with 293 electoral votes, down 6 from its last survey while Mr. Romney is at 206 (up 15, mostly from North Carolina flipping after the recent gay marriage election there and the President's endorsement of the issue).

Remember you need 270 to win and the 270 to win web site (www.270towin.com) probably has a pretty good handle on how close the race really is with the President at 217 and Mr. Romney at 191 with 130 electoral votes still undecided.

It's going to a horse race. Which candidate and party can turn out its base is the most likely to win.

INSIDE POLITICS TO TALK WITH REPRESENTATIVES COOPER AND BLACK

With Congress out of session again this week for the Memorial Day Holiday, it gives us a chance on INSIDE POLITICS to have two of our local congressional representatives join us, Democrat Jim Cooper and Republican Diane Black.

We talk with both of them about their efforts to form the Fix Congress Now! Caucus and the "No Budget, No Pay" bill they are trying to get passed. Without any support from the leadership in either party or either house, that's a very tough thing to get done, but both remain optimistic about their chances despite the long odds.

We talk a lot about the many challenges facing Washington and the nation. I think you will find our discussions interesting, no matter which party you support.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. That includes being on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5 on Sunday morning at 5:00 a.m. We are also on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS several times each weekend. Our air times are 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday.

You can see NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS on several local cable TV systems including Comcast Cable Channel 250, Charter Cable Channel 150 and on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

If you live outside the Nashville TV market, you can see excerpts of this and previous INSIDE POLITICS shows on NEWSCHANNEL5's website (www.newschannel5.com).

SENATOR ALEXANDER AND SUSTAINABILITY

Based on what you heard Republican state lawmakers say during the last session of the General Assembly, you might assume the word "sustainability" is not one of their favorites. That's particularly true since "sustainability" is a major element of the United Nations Agenda 21, a 20-year old environmental plan that some (including the John Birch Society) see as a U.N. plot to take over the free world.

State lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a resolution condemning Agenda 21. Governor Bill Haslam did not sign the resolution and allowed it to go into law. It's the only such memorializing measure he did not put his signature on this year. The resolution has no force of law. It merely represents the feelings of state lawmakers. Still you'd think most GOP leaders would shy away from anything that talks about "sustainability."

But apparently, that's not true for Tennessee's Senior United States Senator Lamar Alexander. His office has issued a news release praising Eastman Chemical and FedEx as "two Tennessee companies that have distinguished themselves in sustainability." The Senator also sang the two companies' praises during a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing a few days ago saying by doing such things as increasing the use by 20% of electric vehicles and hybrid trucks in their fleets, "they've saved resources and are saving money over the long term."

Yeah, sounds like a U.N. commie plot to me, too. Good work, Senator.

A CORRUPT STATE GOVERNMENT BECAUSE OF AN "ISOLATED" NASHVILLE

It's the ghost of Governor Ray Blanton, Rocky Top and Tennessee Waltz Past.

From reading a recent Harvard study and a resulting article by THE LOS ANGELES TIMES (May 23), it appears that Nashville is one of the most corrupt state capitals in the nation (along with Jackson, MS, Baton Rouge, LA, Pierre, S.D., Springfield, Ill., and Albany, NY.). The study and the article say that's because these cities are "isolated" from the rest of their state's population centers and therefore its news coverage (or lack thereof) doesn't do enough to keep the politicians honest.

Now the study writers admit that Nashville, unlike some of these other capitals, is a "major city in its own right." Our downfall according to the study seems to be being so far away from all the other major population centers in Tennessee (what Clarksville and Murfreesboro don't count?).

While the study has lots of complicated mathematical formulas, I am not sure it adds up to me. For one thing (as pointed out by a former unidentified Tennessee reporter who posted on the comment sections of the L.A. TIMES website), the size of the Capitol Hill Press Corps in Nashville was much bigger back in the infamous days of the Blanton administration, Rocky Top and even Tennessee Waltz compared to what it is today.

Now don't misunderstand. We likely deserve our ranking among the most corrupt U.S. state capitals during the study period of 1976 to 2002. But we earned it because of what the politicians did (and got caught doing) not because of the size of the media and its coverage. However I do hope editors and news directors will keep in mind the importance of making coverage of what goes on in our state government among their top priorities as they make future decisions about how to allocate ever- decreasing manpower resources to cover the news.

THE GOVERNOR TO HELP HIS FRIENDS            

 Like Governors before him, our present state's Chief Executive Bill Haslam says he plans to "help his (GOP) friends" in the General Assembly when they campaign for re-election this summer (and fall). While he didn't say it directly when he talked with reporters, this is clearly an indication from the Governor that he will be campaigning for one of the top Republicans in the House, Debra Maggart who is being targeted for defeat in August by gun groups and Tea Party supporters who believe she is to blame for "the guns in parking lots" and "guns in car trunks" bills not passing in the Legislature.

This may be also an indication of how the serious the challenge is against Maggart.

It is not unusual for governors to campaign for their party's candidates in the general election in the fall, although often with mixed results. My friend Joe White of Nashville Public Radio always reminds me that our governors historically don't have coattails, they have windbreakers, meaning despite their overall popularity, that doesn't always translate into votes for someone else like legislators. Governor Don Sundquist learned that, as did Governor Phil Bredesen. However, interestingly Bredesen, as an outgoing governor, was helpful to Nashville State Senator Doug Henry in warding off a strong primary challenge two years ago.    

Happy Memorial Day weekend, everyone! As you enjoy your holiday weekend, remember the men and women who have served our country over the year. Some gave their lives so we can continue to enjoy our freedoms and liberties. May we never forget.                                 

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