Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 22, 2012

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 22, 2012

CREATED Jun 22, 2012


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

June 22, 2012



It was almost anti-climactic last Tuesday night when the Metro Council finally voted 32-8 in favor a new city budget and a 53-cent property tax increase for Nashville. The budget was a substitute from what Mayor Karl Dean unveiled May 1, but not by much. When the Mayor announced he could live with what Council leaders had put together as an alternative, it was pretty clear how things were going to turn out.

Only $8.6 million was "cut" from various departments in the mayor's spending plan. Those funds were moved into a reserve account for a potential future "rainy day" to cover some balloon payments the city faces on its bond debts.  The tax increase was not changed a single penny, much to the consternation of the anti-tax groups that mobilized against any increase.

For the Dean team it was a tour de force. From past experience working in a mayor's office, I can tell you anytime you are seeking a tax hike the most critical goal is to "protect the pennies." That's exactly what happened, while also allowing supporting council members to still say they "cut" the budget (for whatever that's worth).

Most of the cuts will be a pain for city department heads to deal with (almost of all of them have had cuts every year for the past several years), but they will find ways to handle it. It could create problems for the Metro School Board which got the largest cut of $3.5 million dollars. But out of an overall increase in the schools budget of over $40 million, I suspect something will get worked out, although school officials claim layoffs will be involved. The most critical cuts could be the actions to wipe out the small annual subsidies Metro has given for many years to the Farmer's Market, the State Fair and the Municipal Auditorium. All of them have been "problem children" for the city in the past, and I suspect those problems will not end and might even get worse or at least more controversial with these cuts.

So what else happens next? For those who opposed the tax hike, their bravado talk of starting recall elections against any council members who voted for the tax hike seems more than a bit too ambitious. They can't do that against over ¾ of the Council. Maybe they will seek some limited targets in the Council to go after. But apparently so little did their recall threats scare council members that some who offered their own major budget and tax plans alternatives voted for the final budget and tax increase after their suggestions were tabled. It appears most of those who voted against the tax hike were members of the Council on the ballot in August seeking election to the Legislature.

There has also been talk among the anti-tax folks to start a petition drive to amend the Metro Charter to change the budget process. It's not clear exactly what they plan to offer, but if they can decide on a plan, there is a potential window of opportunity.

State law says to call a referendum on a charter amendment it requires the signatures amounting to 10% of the registered voters who participated in the last general election. There's a general election coming up in August. Very few people are expected to participate (maybe as few as 30,000 to 50,000). If that happens, that means you'd only need about 3,000 to 5,000 signatures to call the charter vote. That is potentially a doable number I think. But time will be of the essence. There is also a general election in November (the presidential ballot). That's when hundreds of thousands will flock to the polls, and any charter petition drive in the following months will face an almost impossible task to get on the ballot.

As for Metro government and the Council, usually a tax increase means some time to feel that things with local government are pretty good and reasonably funded for a while. Not in this case, in fact there could be another big fight brewing over where the Council will have to set the property tax rate next year at this time.

How can that be? Here's how. Next year, all properties in Davidson County will be reappraised in accordance with state law which requires it every four years. Given the struggling economy, it is likely that property values overall have declined a bit, and therefore the Council, rather than lowering the property tax rate (as it has always done in the past because real estate values have grown) may have to raise the rate instead so the reappraisal doesn't result in cutting city revenues from what the city had in the past.

But can the Council do that? If the tax rate adjustment needed to keep the city whole is more than 3 cents, it will put that rate above the cap now in the Metro Charter. A lawsuit by somebody would appear likely, finally forcing the courts to decide if the property tax cap is legal under the law and the state constitution. 

If it is, it means probably any future property tax increases will need voter approval, something which given the public polls on the most recent tax hike, show any future tax increase will be a long, difficult putt indeed. So perhaps you can understand why many in the Metro Council wanted to keep  as many of the pennies as possible in this most recent property tax increase, and save them for a future rainy day. A day which may not be so far away.


Now that Nashville has concluded a two-month long community debate over our budget and taxes, it's time to look back and celebrate another important decision in our city's history. That is the vote 50 years ago this coming week (Thursday, June 28, 1962) to combine the governments of the old city of Nashville and Davidson County into one consolidated metropolitan government.

This week on INSIDE POLITICS we take a look back at how that decision was made (it is a very interesting story) and we learn about how the city plans to celebrate its 50th birthday. My guests are the three co-chairs appointed by Mayor Karl Dean to carry off the celebrations that will continue until next April 1, the actual day 50 years ago that Metro government began. Those three co-chairs are George Cate, a true founding father and the city's first vice-mayor, State Senator Thelma Harper, who is also a former two-term member of the Metro Council, and John Seigenthaler, the editor and publisher emeritus of THE TENNESSEAN.

For full disclosure, I am a member of the committee planning the celebrations which begin next Thursday at noon in the park in front of the Historic Metro Courthouse. That's where Mr. Cate and the other surviving members of the first Council will join Mayor Dean and all the other living mayors as well as all current and former council members and other past and present city officials in celebrating this special milestone. Everyone is invited to enjoy the live music and free food available.

As for INSIDE POLITICS, you can see it several different times this weekend on THE NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK, including 5:00 a.m. Sunday morning on the main channel, WTVF-TV, NEWSCHANNEL5. The program also airs on NEWSCHANNEL5 PLUS at 7:00 p.m., Friday; 5:00 a.m. & 5:30 p.m., Saturday; and 5:00 a.m. & 12:30 p.m., Sunday. THE PLUS airs on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and on NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2.

In a few days, an excerpt of this show will be posted on line here at www.newschannel5.com. It will join previous INSIDE POLITICS shows t help those who would like to see it but don't have cable service or live outside the Nashville area.


Tennessee U.S. Senator Bob Corker has begun TV ads in support of his re-election effort this year. He's is heavily favored to win. In fact, if anything in recent days, the field of candidates who oppose Corker, especially on the Democratic side, look even less imposing (if that's possible).

First, there's Park Overall, the actress and environmental activist, who is the hand-picked candidate recruited by state party leaders. But an article by Chris Carroll in THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES-FREE PRESS (June 19) reports that Ms. Overall has been "extremely ill" battling an inner ear infection and diabetes that has sidelined her for three weeks.  She's even had surgery on her ear drum and, according to the story, she said" "I called the Democrats and said, "I'm too unwell to continue, take me off the ballot." But that's not possible, so she reportedly will to be well enough to get back on the campaign trail as early as this coming week (the week of June 25).

But while the candidate is fortunately on the mend, her campaign may be down for the count. She was already getting a very late start on building her statewide support, name recognition and most importantly a campaign war chest. Now doing that in time to win in November looks truly impossible. It also raises questions whether she will even win the Democratic nomination in August.

But she is not the only candidate in the Democratic Senatorial field having problems. Thomas K. Owens has been charged by authorities in Johnson City with solicitation of a minor (a 7-year old girl). According to a TENNESSEAN on-line story (June 20), a mental evaluation found the candidate has a "severe mental disease" and the story continues: "As for the allegation he (Owens) stated: ‘I have a problem with that."

A spokesman for the state Democratic Party says it is seeking a "legal remedy to try and remove his (Mr. Owens') name from the ballot. There's no place for a candidate like that on the Democratic ticket in Tennessee."


Some media coverage has added extra spice to the GOP congressional primary race in Tennessee's 6th District (as if incumbent Diane Black and challenger Luanne Zelenik need it). The two ladies had a hotly contested battle two years ago which Black won narrowly, but which also sparked a ongoing controversy over some campaign ads run by Zelenik that are still the subject of legal action in the courts.

Now comes a front page photo on the cover of THE MURFREESBORO POST. It shows Zelenik at a shooting range seemingly about to take a shot at a head-and-shoulder campaign photo of her incumbent (Black). After what recently happened in an assassination attempt against former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords that would seem to be at the least in very poor taste. It turns out the photo is not what it seems. It was photo-shopped to add in the picture of Congresswomen Black.

Both sides are crying foul and complaining to the paper. An Editor with THE POST blames the photo on "part of a deadline scramble newspapers sometimes face." That's according to an on line article in THE NASHVILLE SCENE (June 21). "Time is short, someone comes up with what they think is a good idea, groupthink takes over," adds the POST editor"

The editor adds in a statement: "The cover was not intended to advocate violence." I saw no apology in the statement (as reported by THE SCENCE) to either the candidates or the readers. More deadline scrambles and group think, I guess.                            


As we've been discussing the past few weeks in this column, in terms of his re-election efforts, will the month of June be a boon or a swoon for the administration? It's been a good bit of both so far.

This past week, the President invoked his executive powers to try and stop a slowly building fight with Republicans in Congress who want more documents to see how badly the Justice Department (and Attorney General Eric Holder) botched an illegal gun sting operation in Mexico. The move by the administration didn't work and now General Holder faces the likelihood of the full House approving a Contempt of Congress resolution against the nation's top law enforcement official.

It's not clear how much permanent damage that will cause since the matter smacks of a lot of partisan politics, but I suspect it's another fight the President would just as soon not have to get into because it doesn't really mesh with his overall campaign re-election themes (except the one that says the Republicans are doing everything they can to make the administration's life miserable.

Meanwhile, two of the President's more controversial new policy stands are getting mixed reviews.  His support for gay marriage drew opposition from Southern Baptists who said no to gay marriage in a resolution in its recent national convention. The President's announcement to grant more leeway from deportation for young illegal aliens who came into the country as children, seem to gain support from national Latino leaders, with the President expected to get a warm reception from Hispanic political official at a national convention, after his GOP opponent, Mitt Romney got a reported lukewarm reception when he spoke to the same group.

Romney has a difficult situation in dealing with this issue (and to a lesser extent with the gay marriage topic). The likely GOP nominee was tough on these matters while trying to capture the Republican nod. For example, he made statements he would veto any Dream Act legislation, which is somewhat similar to what the President is proposing for young illegal aliens as a pathway to citizenship.

But now facing the general election in November, Mr. Romney must very careful how he deals with this topic (and gay rights). If he is too tough he can keep his GOP base happy, but it could cost him votes in key battleground states where the Hispanic and gay voting numbers are growing). No wonder in recent days, Mr. Romney has been vague in many of his answers to reporters about the new Obama immigration policy.

But in assessing the month of June, and how it has helped or hurt the President, none of this may matter as much as what happens next week, maybe as early as Monday, June 25. That's when the Supreme Court rules on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) as well as a challenge to the tough immigration laws passed in Arizona. A victory of the Obama administration in one or both cases would be huge in terms of regaining and keeping momentum for the President. Losses will make matters more difficult especially as early indications are the next jobs report coming out soon will again not be a good one to show improvements in the creation of new jobs or a decrease in unemployment.