Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 15, 2012
By Pat Nolan, Senior Vice-President, DVL Public Relations & Advertising
June 15, 2012
DOWN TO THE WIRE; INSIDE POLITICS; WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MONDAY IN JUNE MAKES; JOE WHITE
DOWN TO THE WIRE
With the Metro Council set to take its third and final vote next Tuesday night (June 19) on Mayor Karl Dean's budget and 53-cent property tax increase, it is crunch time at the Courthouse. Council members must decide if they want to approve the mayor's plan or find 21 votes for an alternative budget and tax rate. Despite some strident opposition to the Mayor's tax proposal, a different plan (especially one with no tax increase) is proving to be rather difficult to construct, given the likely cuts that will mean to city personnel and services.
Both sides (pro-tax and anti-tax) have been putting in their last minute efforts to garner support both in the council and within the community. Mayor Karl Dean spoke to the city's most influential civic group (Downtown Rotary) and received a standing ovation at the end. He also took reporters on another road trip, this time to Bellevue to show the cramped, outdated conditions of the current library facility there along with a visit to the site of a new regional library that will be built in that community if the mayor's budget and tax is approved.
On the other side, the Beacon Center (which has helped lead the anti-tax fight) released a poll of likely voters showing 68% opposition to the property tax increase (have you ever seen a poll that showed the public in favor of a tax hike?) On their Facebook page, tax opponents have also been making posts threatening recall efforts to oust any council members and oust Mayor Karl Dean for supporting the tax hike.
In the political hothouse atmosphere of the final days of this debate, even "rumors" can create quite a bit of turmoil. For example, Metro school officials sent a message to council members concerned about unattributed reports they were hearing about an effort to cut in half the school's portion of the tax hike (taking some $23 million out of a $46.5 million request). School Director Dr. Jesse Register warned of "disastrous" cuts if that happens. But so far, neither the Dean administration nor council members I've talked with seem to think that proposal is being seriously considered, although some were more than a little annoyed at the way school officials reacted to the situation.
Meanwhile it seems another Metro official, Sheriff Daron Hall, is getting a more positive response from the Council about possible cuts his budget is being asked to take. Sheriff Hall seems a bit miffed that while Mayor Dean always talks about supporting public safety, his department has been taking a series of cuts, including $200,000 more this coming year. Given the overall decline in the jail's census of prisoners and other matters, administration officials say the cut is "insignificant." But Sheriff Hall provides a lot of inmate labor to help council members clean vacant lots and ditches in their districts (and do it faster than Metro) so there seems to be some sympathy among council members to try and restore some or all of his agency's proposed cuts.
This is one of the strange elements of this year's tax and budget plan. Increased funding is targeted to only certain government agencies and departments (such as police, schools, etc), while many others are being cut as in previous years. It makes for keeping a united front very difficult to do when city department heads are called to appear before the council when it holds budget hearings.
Before next Tuesday, there will be many amendments considered to change the Mayor's budget and tax plan. As always, none will be more prominent than what is proposed by the Chairman of the Council's Budget & Finance Committee. After all, he (or she) has chaired the Council's budget hearings and his or her name appears as the main sponsor on both the budget and the tax levy bills.
This year that chairman is Sean McGuire. His alternative budget, released Friday afternoon is a somewhat different one. It cuts the budget, but it doesn't cut the amount of the tax increase. Councilman McGuire wants to delete about $8.6 million from the Mayor's budget (the equivalent of four and half cents of the property tax hike) and take the funds and place it in reserve funds to "hopefully ensure we will not need to ask the public for another property tax increase in the next few years since it will go towards paying down future debt obligations."
I am not sure Councilman McGuire's proposal will make many people happy. The anti-tax folks will be livid that the Mayor's 53 cent property tax increase will be fully approved, while the city departments and agencies receiving cutbacks, including $3.5 million for Metro Schools, will be very much opposed to this revised spending plan. By the way, most of the cuts are much lower than the one for schools and are spread across the government, focusing in particular on existing contingency funds as well as other reserves and subsidies. And that's where still more controversy will ensue, as cuts are proposed to eliminate any funds going to the State Fairgrounds ($200,000), the Municipal Auditorium ($591,500) and the Farmer's Market ($148,000). Funding for MTA will also be reduced. By the way there is extra money being given to one department in Councilman McGuire's alternate budget…for Sheriff Daron Hall.
The McGuire alternate budget may also create some issues for the Dean administration. While they will certainly support approval of the full tax hike, are they on board with the cuts? And if we need more funds for future debt service payments why weren't those monies included in the original budget by the Mayor?
To sort through all this and look ahead to the Council's final vote next Tuesday, my guests on INSIDE POLITICS this weekend are Council members Charlie Tygard, Steve Glover and Robert Duvall. I think you will find it a very, very interesting discussion.
By the way, we invited Councilman McGuire to join us and we offered him several opportunities to come down and be on the show, but he said his schedule would not allow it.
INSIDE POLITICS airs several times each weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK including 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. You can also see us on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS, beginning at 7:00 p.m. Friday (tonight) as well as 5:00 a.m., Saturday, and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m. on Sunday.
NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS can be seen on several cable TV systems throughout this area, including Comcast Cable Channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.
WHAT A DIFFERENCE A MONDAY MAKES
It could happen this Monday (June 18). If not, it will surely happen on Monday, June 25.
That's when the U.S. Supreme Court will, issue its final set of rulings for this term, including two highly awaiting decisions, one on the constitutionality of the federal health care law and the other on a challenge to the immigration laws passed by the state of Arizona.
Both decisions could have a major impact on the direction and tone of the ongoing presidential and congressional elections. It has not been a good month for President Barack Obama and the Democrats (holding the Gabby Giffords' congressional seat in a special election this week did help some). But, regardless, if somehow the President and Democrats get favorable decisions in one or both of these Supreme Court cases, all the gaffes being made ("the private sector is doing fine") and the recent unfavorable economic reports coming out (unemployment is back up & media U.S. household wealth has declined nearly 39% from 2007 to 2010) won't seem quite so bad.
If not, and the Administration loses both cases, the beginning of a decline in the polls (the President's jobs rating is already down below 50% again, and even way down overseas) could well continue and make it difficult for Team Obama to get its balance and its mojo back for the fall election.
So this coming Monday or the next one could be a really big day politically.
Congratulations to longtime local print and radio journalist Joe White on his retirement.
I wish him all the best but I must say I am sorry to see him go. Joe was a great mentor to me in my early days and he kept me from making a lot of mistakes running down the wrong leads or reporting the wrong information on a story. He has such great institutional knowledge of Metro and state government and he's always willing to share it with his readers and listeners as well as cub reporters.
While WPLN-NASHVILLE PUBLIC RADIO has the best radio news team in the local market and employs a host of excellent reporters, Joe's skills and background will be tough to replace. I will also miss Joe not being as frequent a guest on INSIDE POLITICS to discuss what's going on. He's always know what is happening and he is not afraid to express his opinion (something that I doubt will ever change).
So best of luck, Joe! I am sorry I missed your retirement party because I was traveling last week. Enjoy yourself with all your "extra time" in retirement, in particular being with your wife, Pam, enjoying that houseboat you've been renovating together (at least that's what the radio station's e-mail says). I suspect you will still pay attention to what's going on in state and local politics, so don't be a stranger. And on behalf of your longtime readers, listeners and all those cub reporters like me you've mentored over the years, thanks so much!