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Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 14, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, June 14, 2013

CREATED Jun 14, 2013

CAPITOL VIEW

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

June 14, 2013

AMPING ON; NASHVILLE AMONG BEST CITIES AGAIN; AN EXCEDRIN HEADACHE KIND OF WEEK; LT GOVERNOR RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLITICS; IMMIGRATION

AMPING ON

Moving on down the line, Mayor Karl Dean's bus rapid transit program to connect East and West Nashville via West End Avenue (called THE AMP) breezed through the Metro Council last Tuesday night (June 11). City leaders approved $7.5 million for further detailed planning on the project. It's part of a larger $300 million dollar capital program the Council approved that will renovate and build schools and do other brick and mortar projects across the city. The AMP funds won't be spent unless the federal government (which would provide most of the funding) gives its preliminary OK.

As we predicted in last week's column there was an effort to stop the program by deleting it out of the city's Capital Improvements Planning budget but that failed resoundingly 28-6. There was also an attempt to slow down the project by requiring a study be done on running the AMP along Charlotte Avenue. But that too failed on a voice vote.

Now it's up to the Dean Team to get the feds to say OK. Congressman Jim Cooper has expressed his doubts that will succeed. But Mayor Dean says the Council's support is a clear signal to Washington that Nashville is serious about improving its transit system. If federal support is given, then it will be up to the Mayor to get one "final" Council approval by approving funding for the rest of the local match to build the AMP system. The Mayor has not said where the other local monies will come from except to rule out a special tax on property owners or business along the route. That lack of specifics is annoying to some long- time Councilmen such as At-Large member Charlie Tygard. But obviously a large majority of the Council is willing to wait and see on how final local funding will be done.

Finance Director Rich Riebeling has been a real whiz in finding ways to fund capital projects like such as this in recent years. The bet at the Courthouse is he can do it one more time (passing the AMP through its last local stop toward construction) with the bus rapid transit system beginning service in 2016.

But first, and next, comes Washington approval….and who will be right: Mayor Dean or Congressman Cooper about a federal OK?

NASHVILLE AGAIN AMONG BEST CITIES

Another week and there is still more recognition of Nashville as being one of the best cities in America. That includes a FORBES MAGAZINE list (June 12) that places our fair town as the second best in the nation to find a job this summer.

Another ranking caught my eye too. It's from a group called Credit Donkey. It has produced a list of the Best Cities for Savvy Young Families to start a family.

Out of the top 100 metropolitan areas, based on cost of living, cost of daycare and the unemployment rate, Nashville came in fifth (behind Tulsa, OK, Birmingham, AL, Oklahoma City, OK and Greenville SC and just ahead of Knoxville, TN, Baton Rouge, LA, Boise, ID, Columbus, Ohio, and Des Moines, IA).

Those who put together the list said: "Nashville can brag about having one of the lowest costs of living on our list, offsetting its higher day care costs (though while still low compared to the national average, is somewhat higher compared to other cities on the list)."

The survey did not factor area events and attractions into its rating system, but "we include them…for your consideration" the survey says.

Here's what they said about Nashville: "Nashville is the music industry's Southern hub and home to the Grand Ole Opry. Country fans will appreciate the annual CMA Music Festival (which had its best festival ever last week), and families can also look forward to the Tennessee State Fair each September."

Say what? Really? Has anybody told the Metro Council which will soon be debating the future of the Fair and the Fairgrounds in Nashville? In approving the new Capital Budget by the way, the Council did include the possibility of renovations or new construction at the Fairgrounds. That doesn't mean that will be the master plan the Council will adopt. But without just a project in the planning document, the city could spend no funds in that direction without amending the Capital Plan (which takes a likely impossible to achieve two-thirds vote during the fiscal year).

AN EXCEDRIN HEADACHE KIND OF WEEK

Some years back, a headache pain reliever (Excedrin) used to advertise how its product could help get rid of those throbbing pains in our heads caused by everyday tensions or problems. Governor Bill Haslam may have needed a few of those little pills this week.

First, when Phil Williams of NEWSCHANNEL5 INVESTIGATES decides to take a closer look at things, that usually means everyone needs to pay close attention because some important, surprising, and always newsworthy things are about to be revealed.

Such has been the case with a number of state contracts Phil's been investigating. Already some of the agreements are being scraped or redone while others are still raising eyebrows. That includes a 5-year, $38 million annual agreement with a Chicago-based multi-national firm, Jones Lang LaSalle to manage state property. What's raising particular interest is that Governor Haslam, when he was running for office in 2010, disclosed he had investments in the company of more than $10,000. The disclosure is required from candidates by law.

So does he still have such holdings? Nobody seems to know. You see the Governor doesn't require himself or his cabinet officials to disclose their sources of outside income (as was done during Governor Phil Bredesen's time). Besides the Governor has placed all his investments, except for Pilot Flying J, in a blind trust which he doesn't manage or know anything about it.

So only those managing the blind trust would seem to know for sure if the Governor still has an interest in this property management firm, but they are not allowed to disclose anything.

Already this is making some of the Governor's fellow Republican leaders (Lt Governor Ron Ramsey and House Speaker Beth Harwell) seek a little political distance, telling Phil Williams and the rest of the media there needs to be a full review of the contract which began as a $1 million consultant contract on office space and has now grown (in about a year) to $3.8 million a year for 5 years.

If that's not enough to give the Governor some discomfort, now comes a federal court ruling that the Haslam administration violated the First Amendment rights of the Occupy Nashville protesters when they were arrested by state troopers in late October, 2011 during their prolonged sit-in on Legislative Plaza. Undisclosed monetary damages and legal costs could be accessed against the state, although an appeal of the matter to a higher court is also as an option.

The Governor and his administration also lost another round in local Circuit Court here in Nashville this past week when a judge issued an injunction stopping pending layoffs in the State departments of General Services and Labor and Workforce Development because the workers were not given the required 60-day notice and assistance with job counseling and placement help to find other jobs. That appears to be violation of the new civil service rules the Governor got passed through the General Assembly a few months back. A full court hearing on the matter is set for Monday.

Getting back to state contracts, the General Assembly's Republican controlled Fiscal Review Committee also wants to look into some state contracts on its own. Committee Chairman Senator Bill Ketron says one contract awarded is "squirrely" and said others "have at least the appearance of a common thread in that they were awarded to companies that have some connection to government insiders " reported THE KNOXVILE NEWS SENTINEL (June 12).

Add all this into the concerns the Governor must have about the ongoing federal investigation into his family-owned Pilot Flying J company (and all the lawsuits being filed by trucking companies) and I could sure understand if Mr. Haslam had a few little pains in his head (if not his neck ) these past few days.

LT GOVERNOR RAMSEY ON INSIDE POLITICS

It's hard to believe but it's been two months since the General Assembly ended its latest term and went home for the year. This week on INSIDE POLITICS, Lt Governor Ron Ramsey will be my guest to give us a belated assessment of what lawmakers achieved (or didn't) and what controversies lie ahead (and, trust me, there are plenty of them).

We'll certainly talk with the Lt. Governor about the issues surrounding the Governor and his administration (which we outlined above) as well as the legislative controversies always swirling on the Hill (even when the General Assembly is out of session). There's never any lack of topics to discuss with Governor Ramsey, including issues and decisions being made up in Washington.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 NETWORK. Our air times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday on the main channel, WTVF-TV NEWSCHANNEL5. We are also 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 is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel. For those outside Nashville or who don't have cable access, portions of INSIDE POLITICS interviews are posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

IMMIGRATION

For the first time in years, comprehensive (and in some ways bi-partisan) immigration reform legislation is up for debate on the floor of the U.S. Senate. Both of Tennessee's Republican U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker voted to allow the debate, and, not surprisingly they are getting heat from the right wing of their party to oppose the bill.

In an Open Letter (June 11) from State Representative and 4th District congressional candidate Joe Carr he urges both lawmakers "to lead on immigration reform by rejecting the Rubio-Schumer amnesty bill and demand Congress fulfill its Constitutional duty to secure the borders." Carr adds the pending bill is "an overly complex. Obamacare-style bill while we don't even enforce existing laws on the books."

Interestingly, I didn't receive the "open letter" from Carr's office or campaign staff. Instead I found it on the blog site of former Metro Councilman Rod Williams (A Disgruntled Republican in Nashville).

As for the two Senators, they are both being cautious in their statements about the immigration bill. Senator Alexander who is up for re-election next year, says he sees the debate as "an opportunity to secure our border and fix a broken system," adding "Millions here illegally have de-facto amnesty. We are excluding scientists and workers who could help grow our economy. …after examining this legislation and every amendment closely, I will be voting to secure our border, end de facto amnesty and create an effective immigration system that respects the rule of law."

Senator Corker, who was just re-elected to a six-year term in 2012 gave this assessment of his position which seems somewhat more positive about the legislation than the senior Senator. "I don't think our country can afford to keep kicking the can down the road on immigration reform…I hope as the bill is debated the border security and visa overstay issues will be addressed in a way that allows me to support the bill."

A final vote in the Senate could come before July 4th.