Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 18, 2013

Capitol View Commentary: Friday, October 18, 2013

CREATED Oct 18, 2013


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

October 18, 2013



The government shutdown and credit crisis is over in Washington, at least for a few months. The deadlock has cost the economy billions of dollars say economists, and unfortunately no one is sure that it won't happen again, as incredible as that seems. It's not clear anything has been resolved towards a permanent solution to our fiscal issues, with what happened this week just kicking the can down the road again (and not very far).

When you have a disaster like this, journalists usually want to talk with the folks who are on the front lines, so they can give a first-hand account of what's happened, why and what comes next (if the insanity that's Congress can be explained). So we invited the folks who represent our viewing area in Congress to join us on INSIDE POLITICS.

None of the Republicans (Marsha Blackburn, Diane Black, Scott DesJarlais) could make it work for their schedules. We are working on next week for at least one of them to be on. Democrat Jim Cooper could drop by so he will be my guest.

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network. Those 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. on Sunday. THE PLUS is on Comcast Cable channel 250, Charter Cable channel 150 and NEWSCHANNEL5's over-the-air digital channel 5.2. Portions of INSIDE POLITICS interviews are also later posted on NEWSCHANNEL5.com.

And don't forget you can now watch INSIDE POLITICS in real time with live streaming video on NewsChannel5.com. That means if you have a computer and internet access, you can see INSIDE POLITICS anytime its airs on the PLUS. It no longer matters what cable or satellite service you have or where you live. It's so easy to see us now, you should tune in.


In terms of economic development (or pretty much anything else) if you do something well, keep doing it. That seems to be the case here and Nashville and for Tennessee this past week. For example, Nashville has done a great job hosting basketball tournaments, especially at Bridgestone Arena.

Now it's paying off big time as beginning in 2015, the city will host a Southeastern Conference Basketball Tournament (either men's or women's) every year for the next 12 years! Actually if you expand that to include the NCAA Women's Final Four this coming spring you can make 16 straight years of March basketball madness downtown (probably with a distinct "blue mist" image for all the Kentucky fans coming down here for the men's games). No matter what color the fans wear, the games will mean millions of dollars every year for downtown restaurants, hotels and other businesses.

And then there are the 900 automotive related businesses that have come to Tennessee in past several years. It has made us something of an automotive mecca (like a Detroit South). So, given all that, plus our central location, it seemed to only make sense for Korean tire maker Hankook Tire to announce it plans to build its first American production plant in Clarksville investing $700 million and creating 1,800 new jobs!

The opening of the new facility by 2016 will be a real lifer for that area. Hemlock Semiconductor had plans for a $1.2 billion dollar plant there. But the markets for polysilcon went south and the project (and most of the jobs) got scrapped.


In the wake of the federal government shutdown, several states stepped forward to put up the funds needed to re-open national parks in their areas (the Statue of Liberty, the Grand Canyon among others). These attractions are so important to those communities and to the many privately-owned businesses that depend on them that such an effort to pony up the funds seems like almost a no-brainer.

So Tennessee and North Carolina worked together to get it done, and the Great Smokey Mountains National Park in East Tennessee, the most visited national park in the nation (9 million folks a year), was re-opened early Wednesday morning, a day or so before the overall government shutdown ended.

But could it have been done sooner? According to an Associated Press article (Monday, October 14) Governor Bill Haslam said an agreement with the federal government came too late last Friday (October 11). According to the AP, "Talks reached their conclusion just before 5 p.m. on Friday, with the federal government saying the state would have to wire the money in order for the parks to reopen. The governor said the banks were already closed at that point. "

So nothing happened, with the Great Smokey Mountains National Park staying closed the entire three-day Columbus Day holiday weekend. That also means closed in the midst of the park's once a year tourist peak to see all the beautiful fall foliage.

I thought banks stay open until 6 PM local time on Friday? With the economic impact of the Park being closed estimated at $3.3 million a day (according to an article in THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS), were there no bankers on stand-by waiting and willing to stay late and get the money wired? Did the feds go home for the weekend too?

What a missed opportunity, losing $3.3 million a day when it costs only an estimated $60,000 a day to reopen the park. Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander and two of our congressmen, Phillip Roe and John Duncan had already submitted legislation to get the state reimbursed within 90 days after the government shutdown ends. Senator Alexander says "the Smokies closing is like a BP oil spill for Tennessee."

He's right, so where was the urgency? The Governor said on Tuesday October 15 (KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINEL), with the Park still closed, one remaining detail was to get two area county governments (Blount and Sevier) to pick up 10% each of the cost or roughly $6,000 day. It is not known if that's an issue for the counties. As for state funding, the governor says it would come from funds already allocated to the State Tourism Department.

Finally sometime mid-Tuesday afternoon October 15, the governor announced the Park was reopening with all its normal operations beginning on Wednesday, October 16. And with the government shutdown now ended (for now) the state is even getting most of its money back from the feds. That's good, and the Governor should be commended for stepping up to open the Park early, even if it was for just one day. But it's still too bad about that lost holiday weekend.


The administration of Nashville Mayor Karl Dean has abandoned its idea to borrow $200 million to cover the city's unfunded pension liability. The plan was unveiled and sent to the Metro Council last week. But based on Council reaction, which ranged from lots of questions to outright opposition, the Dean team quickly said "never mind", the city really doesn't need to do it anyway right now, and withdrew the proposal.

Apparently there was little, if any, spade work done to prepare councilmembers to be ready for this idea. Some say they heard about it for the first time reading the newspaper, Oops! That being the case, it probably is a good move to drop the plan and keep the administration's powder dry for any other major projects it has in mind during its last two years in office (a baseball park and the rest of the local funding for THE AMP come to mind). Frankly, this effort by the Mayor's office was snake bit from the beginning as the bill was not filed correctly in time for the necessary public hearing to be called. Ouch!

Mayor Dean and his finance officials have never been shy about proposing "creative" ways to add, leverage and/or refinance debt. But this kind of pension proposal has a bad reputation for what's happened in other cities. That's where, unlike Metro, these municipalities had other fiscal issues and/or hadn't made their annual payments to fund current pension obligations. But those differences can be hard to explain, so moving on is probably politically smarter for the administration to move on.

But that doesn't mean Metro's future unfunded pension liability has gone away. It's still looming out there for this or some future mayor or council to deal with somehow. While Metro has taken some steps to limit increased pension liability by reducing benefits somewhat for future new city employees, none of the options to deal with the present unfunded future pension liability are attractive (including a tax increase or cuts elsewhere in Metro operating budget sometime in the future).


Nobody should have rightly expected gangbuster fund raising numbers from Republican U.S. Senate candidate Joe Carr. He didn't even enter the race until mid-August which is more than half way through the latest reporting period (3rd quarter).

But just $52,000? Good thing Carr could bring over the money he raised from his abortive 4th District congressional race (about $100,00). But even so his fund raising activity appears quite weak compared to his incumbent opponent Lamar Alexander. The Senator reported bringing in over $837,000 in the last three months for a total of $3.88 million raised this year (through September 30,) and with $2.8 million in cash still on hand.

Carr campaign officials explain their poor $$ numbers by saying they've had to focus on transitioning races and on obtaining key Tea Party endorsements in recent weeks. Now they expect much better numbers for 4th quarter. But regardless, they still shouldn't appear to have their candidate fibbing to a talk radio show audience and to reporters by saying he'd raised a "a little bit less than $100,000…total for this quarter." Yeah, he's really raised about half of that actually.

The Carr campaign must do better. The candidate himself has estimated he needs at least $5 million from his own and outside independent sources to have a chance to beat Alexander.

But those super PACs won't give any of their monies if the Carr camp doesn't show a lot more financial support of its own, certainly more than the $50,000 it raised so far. Right now, it appears Carr has raised less this past quarter than even all the congressional incumbents in Tennessee, several of whom don't seem to have active opponents.

Even embattled 4th District congressman Scott DesJarliais did better than Carr, who is one of his former opponents. DesJarlais pulled in $113,000 from July through September. That's much better than he did before, raising just $39,000 from April to June. Now he even has $171,000 in the bank compared to $88,000 in July. But the congressman is still woefully behind his major opponent Jim Tracy. The State Senator pulled in $181,000 last quarter and has $767,000 in the bank. Money does assure you can win a political race, but being down about 4 or 5 to 1 is not a good sign of impending re-election.

Fund raising numbers also raised some eyebrows in the Kentucky U.S. Senate race where Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes pulled in more money last quarter than incumbent minority leader Mitch McConnell . She raised over $2.5 million, McConnell $2.27. But the Senator still has over $10 million on hand to Grimes' $2 million in the bank.

McConnell has some "difficult approval numbers" in the state according to the Huffington Post and the LEXINGTON HERALD LEADER (October 15). Those poll numbers may get still worse in the wake of the recent debacle in Washington (even though McConnell can say he helped broker a settlement of the mess and got Kentucky billions more in federal money for a damn project in the state).

The Senator also has a Tea Party primary challenger in Louisville businessman Matt Bevin who will likely try to capitalize on McConnell's involvement in the congressional budget truce and get Tea Party activists to open their wallets and pick up their support for his campaign. Joe Carr needs the same thing in Tennessee (especially folks opening their wallets). He will also try and take advantage of Senator Alexander's yes vote for the budget/ debt limit bill. Alexander has said consistently he wants to re-open the government, but among Republicans in the Tennessee delegation only Senator Bob Corker joined him in that sentiment on this legislation. All seven Tennessee GOP congressmen voted no, making Tennessee perhaps the Tea Party capital of the nation.


When is a tax really a fee?

Well, I guess it's when Metro is building a "war chest" (as one convention center official put it) to help recruit businesses and other groups to come to Nashville and holdings meeting and conventions at the new Music City Center. The new ¼ cent "fee" was approved by the Metro Council this past week (after being authorized earlier this year by state lawmakers). It will be applied on sales of some goods and services sold downtown although apparently some merchants and business folks say they'll eat the cost and not pass it on to customers. But I would not count on that forever, even though it likely won't add up to all that much for each of us individually.

This is apparently something all major cities are doing to attract and maintain its convention business. So with our massive investment in the new Center I guess we have to do it too. As I have said before, this new facility has to be successful or there will be the devil to pay for Metro down the road. This fee does not go to the operational expenses for the Center although the construction costs for the new center took a big (if maybe not completely unexpected) hit with the loss of a land condemnation case doubling the price for a key piece of property (now $34 million with interest). That judgment was confirmed by the State Supreme Court with Metro saying it has higher than expected hotel motel tax collections to cover the increased expense. Good thing


The State Supreme Court also ruled unanimously this week that's the controversial Voter ID law is legal and within the powers of the General Assembly to impose in order to prevent voter fraud. So if you have a Memphis Library card it's still only good for checkouts not casting ballots. Despite the ruling I am sure there will be continued efforts in the legislature to repeal Voter ID because it is bad public policy (or a solution still looking for a problem) even it is legal to enact. But those who want to get rid of the law are probably wasting their time until they win quite a few state legislative races.

Also in the area of the state's appellate courts, Governor Bill Haslam continues to flesh out his plan to fill court vacancies even though the old appointment system was allowed to elapse by lawmakers earlier this year. The Governor is appointing his own Judicial Appointments Commission made up of several members of a similar Commission that reviewed applicants before.

I suspect with the Governor acting (and the Attorney General saying its legal) lawmakers will decide to leave well enough alone and not reauthorize the old law when they return this January. Besides, lawmakers have already placed a constitutional amendment on the ballot for voter consideration in November 2014. The amendment would further change the judicial selection process by requiring State Senate and State House approval of gubernatorial appointments.

It is unclear what voters will decide. Some activists such as John Jay Hooker say it's clear that these judges all need to be directly elected by the people not appointed, then confirmed with a yes-no vote by the public. Hooker has never gotten anywhere in the courts with his arguments, but that had not stopped him and probably won't in the future, especially if the constitutional amendment fails next year.


Now I don't normally pass along announcements of upcoming community meetings, but here's one from the Mayor's office that caught my attention. On Thursday, October 24 at the Nashville Farmer's Market from 2:00 until 3:30 PM (hey, I didn't pick the time which is during normal working hours), there will be an information and community meeting regarding the mayor' proposed Sulphur Dell baseball park.

The announcement says both "Metro and the state of Tennessee which owns property at the proposed location, agreed a community meeting would be an important step in the ongoing process." OK, but what is the process? So far very few details have been released about the project which is likely a public-private partnership also involving the city's Nashville Sounds AA baseball team.

So maybe we'll learn more about the financing, the mixed use private development reportedly put together with the project and how Metro and the state might do their land deal for property the state now uses for state workers' parking. A new parking garage perhaps funded by Metro? And how will the ball park itself be funded and by who?

All the announcement from the Mayor's office says about the program at the meeting is that it will include "a presentation on how a downtown baseball stadium can enhance an urban neighborhood." Is this also an effort to allay any NIMBY thoughts and concerns about the development from nearby neighbors such as Germantown and Hope Gardens?


OK, I've still a ways to go in terms of my recovery.

I had to work an all-day, out of town, open house event for a client last Saturday. It had me walking and/or on my feet from about 8:30 in the morning until 2 in the afternoon with an hour and a half car ride each way back and forth to Nashville.

I tried to take some breaks and sit down and rest when I could, but I was completely worn out the rest of the day. I rested some on Sunday, but it's clear my stamina still needs some work, despite my twice weekly workouts at the Y. So I will keep after it.

Of course my left side versus right side strength continues to be a challenge. But all I know to do is keep working at it as I increase my weights and hopefully my stamina as much as I can.

I did manage to keep working out twice a week. I've done it every week since May but I wasn't sure I'd be able to do this past week since I had to spend all day on the out of town event I mentioned above. So I went Tuesday morning for my workout and then went back the very next day (Wednesday) for my regular weekly exercise session with a trainer. Two days in a row back to back is a first for me. But I did it. Heck my brother Bill goes to the Y almost every day and both my daughters did half-marathons last weekend (both did personal bests with Katie finishing in under two hours).

Now Katie is off to do a full marathon later this year, and she and her husband Mike Rosenhagen did very well in a Team Cross Fit competition two weekends ago. Kelly, my other daughter is training for other half-marathons so I am still an exercise novice even in my own family.