Capitol View Commentary: Friday, December 19, 2013

CREATED Dec 19, 2013

CAPITOL VIEW

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

December 18, 2013

THE HCA HQ MOVE AND THE AMP: NO CHRISTMAS TRUCE; STILL LOOKING TIGHT; NEVER MIND; THE

BUDGET DEAL; KERR & CASS ON INSIDE POLITICS

While the AMP bus rapid transit debate has raged on, supporters have championed the West End part of the route because of greater existing population and business density there. That includes the two new Hospital Corporation of America (HCA) companies (Parallon Business Solutions and the Sarah Cannon Research Institute) whose headquarters were planned to be built there as a part of the long awaited West End Summit development near the split of West End and Broad.

But now due to apparent financing issues for the Summit site, HCA has decided to relocate the HQs to a property in the North Gulch along Charlotte Avenue. That adds 2,000 more workers (plus) to the density along Charlotte which has often been touted by AMP opponents as a better route for the mass transit effort. That boost alone probably doesn't make Charlotte the best AMP route choice based on density, but if you drive in and out of downtown on Charlotte you'll see lots of other new in-fill development, and all that combined with the HCA move could sure give the West End AMP opponents lots of new ammunition to press their arguments.

With the AMP project already somewhat stalled because of reluctance by state officials to pony up their share of the project ($35 million), I was already hearing rumblings about changes to the AMP route to mollify opposition and help gain state financing. Will we hear more now after HCA's move?

For now the strategy of the administration of Mayor Karl Dean seems to be to continue the push to get more of their plans in place and the money lined up. That includes $4 million from the regional planning organization which was approved recently. The Dean team also feels very good about approval (a few months from now) of the federal monies needed which is the largest part of the AMP financial pie.

I guess the hope is to line up everything else, build more public support, and then put the full court press on the state to get with the program and not be the odd man out. That could be effective especially with federal officials weighing in with their dollars. But then I remember the last group of federal folks that offered the state billions of dollars (with no matching funds needed from the state for several years) to expand our Medicaid (Tenncare) program. But the answer to that has been, and looks likely will continue to be, thanks, but no thanks. Will it be any different concerning the AMP?

Meanwhile the HCA Headquarters change will need new approvals from both the state and Metro officials regarding the financial incentives being given to the company for making this investment in the city's inner core. I would suspect they will modified as needed, and approved again without major difficulties. The new HCA HQs will be part of a much larger mixed use development including offices, retail, restaurants and a hotel. I think the overall development has a very interesting name.

The name is Capitol View, the same one that I have used for this column the last 12 years. It's pretty catchy huh? LOL

NO CHRISTMAS TRUCE

Metro's on going education war over charter school is not taking any time off the holidays.

Just a day before unveiling its annual Metro Schools' Report Card, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce officials told the media (TENNESSEAN editorial board, December 16) that the Metro School Board ought to quit complaining about the cost of new charter schools and focus on providing a quality education in all local public school classrooms instead.

Then Mayor Dean (a strong charter school advocate) weighed in while speaking at the event unveiling of the Chamber report card (which kind of got a bit lost in all the news coverage of the verbal fireworks). The Mayor, perhaps previewing next spring's budget battle, let loose with both barrels.

As for getting extra money to deal with the new charter schools or an expanded Pre-K program he said: (NASHVILLE SCENE December 16) "No department gets a blank check and that includes schools." The Mayor pointed out that he and the Metro Council have annually provided record amounts of funds for schools. He added only 8% of students attend charter schools and so the issue may not be one of just financial resources: " Its time to closely scrutinize our spending on education. …The question we should ask about every public dollar spent on education is, will this help our children learn? And if the answer is not yes, then we need to change course."

In particular the mayor hinted that rather than focusing the cost of charters, the School Board ought to make sure parents have "quality choice" for their children. "If a (zoned) school is not functioning right, then make changes, and be relatively quick about it."

Perhaps sensing he was not on favorable ground in this forum to win a fight, Schools Director Dr. Jesse Registe pointed out (in his remarks) the fiscal impact of adding up to 2,000 new students a year in addition to new charters being added. He said he looks forward to the results of an outside audit commissioned by the city now being conducted on local school spending.

And with that the verbal sparring over education fell silent, perhaps for the holiday break…but certainly not for very long.

In fact, according to THE TENNESEAN (on-line article December 17) School Board members Amy Frogge says it's astounding the Dean administration is declining board efforts to use its rainy day fund to buy computers and other materials needed to get ready for the new Common Core education standards next year. While mayoral control over school spending is limited, the action by the Dean administration means school officials with have to find the funds out of their already over-stretched operating budget.

And so it goes…

STILL LOOKING TIGHT

Based on the latest revenue projections from the State Funding Board, Governor Bill Haslam still faces a difficult job in his upcoming budget proposal to the General Assembly. While growth is projected to be between 2.85% and 3.25% for the general fund, almost all the new revenue being generated will be eaten up by required increases in K-12 education funding (BEP) and for Tenncare (even without it being expanded under the new national health care law).

So where does the Governor find the money he'll need to fund those pay raises he's promised so Tennessee in the next few years can boast our teacher salaries are the fastest growing in the nation? Good question. The Governor has instructed state departments to prepare budgets with cuts of up to 5% and some may have to do at least a bit of that. Still we all know how difficult it is to rob Peter to pay Paul, especially in an election year.

NEVER MIND

After his members unanimously told him, "What were you thinking?" Nashville Representative Mike Turner has changed his mind. He is staying on as Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.

Turner told reporters he was quitting a few weeks ago because of continuing disagreements he had with State Democratic Party Chair Roy Herron. So has that changed? Apparently not, as Turner told THE CHATTANOOGA TIMES FREE PRESS: " I've talked to Roy and Roy's doing the best that he can. And he's going to do what he does, and I'm going to do what I do, and we're moving on."

Well, all righty then! Mike is a colorful guy, "good copy" as we say in the media, even when Democrats aren't major players in the General Assembly right now. So I am sure the Capitol Hill Corps is glad he's staying around in leadership as we all "do what we do" when the session begins next month.

THE BUDGET DEAL

Despite both Tennessee Senators saying they would vote against it, the full U.S. Senate, as expected, voted 64-36 (Wednesday December 16) t to join the House in approving a bi-partisan budget deal that will likely preclude any more government shutdowns prior to the 2014 elections. That is, if Congress early next year actually passes budget appropriations (this bill just set budget targets and already there is a push to revisit dome of the more controversial changes including military pension cuts).

Senators Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker however did not agree on what to do in the critical procedural vote to end debate on the matter. Needing a super majority of 60 votes to break the filibuster (it passed 67-33), Senator Alexander voted yes. Senator Corker voted no. Corker said his opposition to the budget deal was because it would "bust spending caps (sequestration) without making meaningful changes to mandatory programs." He voted against cloture because no debate or amendments were allowed on the floor.

Senator Alexander says he is against the budget deal because it "avoids the federal government's most urgent need: reducing the growth of runaway entitlement spending." As for why he voted yes to cut off debate, Senator Alexander explained in a statement: "I appreciate the efforts of Representative Paul Ryan and Senator Patty Murray (who chaired a bi-partisan special committee of both Houses that negotiated the deal) to bring certainty to the budget process."

But the only certainty about Alexander's yes vote on cloture was the sharp criticism from his opponent, State Representative Joe Carr. He issued a statement saying the vote "demonstrates how out of touch" Alexander has become. "Today's vote is yet another example where Senator Alexander's claim to be conservative fails to pass the small test."

Those Tennessee House Republican Congress members who voted for the deal are also getting heat from conservative Tea Party and other groups. That includes Congressman Diane Black who served on the special committee along with representatives Marsha Blackburn, Stephen Fincher, Chuck Fleischmann and Phil Roe. There is talk of primary challenges against those House members but that is probably just talk and not much else.

Ironically, however, one of the Tennessee congressional representatives who voted against the budget deal took another blow to his re-election efforts this week when the conservative Citizens United group endorsed State Senator Jim Tracy over incumbent Scott DesJarlais saying Tracy is the "true conservative the district needs."

We will see if Congressman DesJarlais' fund raising improves when he reports in January, but right now the holiday season does not offer much hope for him in the New Year the August 2014 election draws closer.

KERR & CASS ON INSIDE POLITICS

You see their by-lines and read their stories and columns almost daily in THE TENNESSEAN. This week Gail Kerr and Michael Cass are my guests on INSIDE POLITICS. We discuss the new book they and several members of the paper's staff have produced entitled NASHVILLE RISING: HOW MODERN MUSIC CITY CAME TO BE.

It's a look back on the past 50 years concerning the major events, issues and trends that have shaped Nashville and its growth. It's a must read if you love Nashville and/or history. It also has many wonderful photographs from the paper's archives.

I think you'll find our conversation enlightening. Michael has been on the show several times to discuss politics. I am thrilled to have Gail join us. She's a Nashville treasure. We've been good friends for many years, and I've tried to bring her on several times, but we could never work out schedules. Now we have!

INSIDE POLITICS can be seen several times each weekend on the NEWSCHANNEL5 Network. Those times include 5:00 a.m. Sunday and 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 it airs on the PLUS. So it no longer matters what cable or satellite service you have or where you live. It's very easy to see us now live! Log on and tune in!

Next week on INSIDE POLITICS (December 27-29) we'll re-air my interview with Nashville PR executive Keel Hunt about his fascinating book COUP, the remarkable inside story of how Tennessee Governor Ray Blanton was removed from office and Lamar Alexander sworn in early almost 35 years ago in January, 1979.

This is my 47th and last Capitol View column for 2013. Thanks so much for reading!

My next Capitol View will be sent out on Friday, January 3. I hope you'll keep reading it in 2014!

To everyone, Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and a Blessed New Year!