Lee outlines budget cuts due to economic impact of coronavirus

Gov. Bill Lee speaks at a press conference on Tennessee’s coronavirus response in Nashville on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee’s office says $500 million in cuts will be needed for the current budget year and $1 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1. Finance Commissioner Butch Eley said the administration plans to balance the budget using reserves over three years.

The state plans to create a voluntary buyout program for state employees, reduce spending on building projects and maintenance, and dial back spending in all state agencies. But officials have abandoned previous considerations of suspending this year’s back-to-school sales tax holiday and delaying the end of the Hall tax on income from stocks.

“We will balance our budget each year while providing important services to our citizens,” Eley said in a release. “We’re adjusting to the immediate impact of the pandemic on state revenues of up to $1.5 billion through the end of the next fiscal year, planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

Here’s a release from the governor’s office.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Gov. Bill Lee’s administration today outlined new spending plans for state government that reflect significant revenue reductions due to the economic impact of COVID-19.

Department of Finance and Administration Commissioner Butch Eley presented state lawmakers with the revised budget plans for the current fiscal year, as well as FY 2020-21, which begins July 1, 2020, and a framework for the following fiscal year, 2021-22.

“We will balance our budget each year while providing important services to our citizens,” Eley said. “We’re adjusting to the immediate impact of the pandemic on state revenues of up to $1.5 billion through the end of the next fiscal year, planning for the worst and hoping for the best.

“Tennessee has a history of being one of the best managed states in the nation, and we intend to work with the Legislature to continue that tradition, maintaining low taxes and preserving reserves while achieving efficiencies in operations and continuing to serve our citizens.”

In March, the administration and the General Assembly agreed on $397 million in recurring reductions at the onset of COVID-19, and the administration is proposing an additional $284 million in reductions for FY 20-21, bringing the total to $681 million in reductions. Hiring and expenditure freezes have also been in place since March. The state will close the current fiscal year on June 30 with unbudgeted non-tax revenues, agency savings and reserves.

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Sethi denounces Nashville mayor as ‘cowardly’

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi speaks at a campaign event in Clarksville on Feb. 4, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Manny Sethi is denouncing Nashville Mayor John Cooper as “cowardly” for his approach to street violence following protests over the weekend.

“We saw this past weekend was political correctness run amok: cowardly Democrat Mayors, like John Cooper, are more concerned about political correctness and about what the liberal media thinks, than about protecting the people in our cities,” Sethi said in a statement.

Here’s the full release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Republican Senate candidate and conservative outsider Dr. Manny Sethi released the following statement on the violent riots in Nashville and across our country:

I am deeply saddened and angered by the death of George Floyd. America has justifiably already started a conversation about real criminal justice reform. President Trump had already signed a landmark bill. That was a good start, and we must continue this work so these types of incidents finally end. 

But what we saw in that video was not representative of most police officers. I have cared for police officers who have put their bodies in front of bullets to protect us. I have seen their courage and devotion up close.

Protests are inherently American. The right to petition for redress of grievances is a basic constitutional right. However, we cannot allow what these protests have morphed into to continue. We have moved far beyond peaceful protest into lawlessness. These ANTIFA-trained revolutionaries have no interest in a more perfect union. It’s not about solving problems in policing to them, or helping heal neighborhoods. They want to bring down this country. 

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Lee announces $200M relief program for businesses affected by shutdown order

Gov. Bill Lee, left, announces a $200 million relief program for businesses affected by the state’s stay-at-home order for non-essential businesses at Arnold’s restaurant in Nashville on June 2, 2020. To his right are House Speaker Cameron Sexton, Senate Speaker Randy McNally, Rep. Pat Marsh, and Rep. Harold Love. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Gov. Bill Lee has announced the state will spend $200 million of federal coronavirus relief funds to small companies affected by the state order to close nonessential businesses in an effort to stem the spread of the pandemic.

Here’s the release from the governor’s office:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, and the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group announced a new relief program for Tennessee businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tennessee Business Relief Program will direct approximately $200 million in federal Coronavirus Relief Funds through the Department of Revenue directly to small businesses that qualify.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has created immense economic pain across our state and especially among small businesses that faced temporary closure,” said Gov. Lee. “As we responsibly steward our federal stimulus money we have worked to quickly prioritize our small businesses and I thank the work of the Financial Stimulus Accountability Group for their partnership in this.”

The Tennessee Business Relief Program amounts awarded will be based on the annual gross sales of the business. More details will be posted on the Department of Revenue’s website in the coming days.

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Report: GOP considering Nashville as alternate presidential convention site

Republican officials plan to tour Nashville later this week as a potential alternate site for the party’s presidential convention, Politico reports.

Other potential locations reportedly include Las Vegas, Orlando, Jacksonville, and Georgia. The move comes as questions have been raised about whether the event can be held in Charlotte, the original site for the Republican National Convention. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, has said it’s up to Republicans to demonstrate they can safely hold the convention there.

Nashville hasn’t been opened for large conventions or sporting events so far.

Hill launches first TV ad of congressional bid

State Rep. Timothy Hill (R-Blountville) has launched his first TV ad of his bid for the Republican nomination to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Phil Roe.

According to Hill’s campaign, the ad “touts Hill’s record of being a Christian conservative fighter with a pro-life, pro-gun, pro-Trump record, and highlights the fact that Hill was personally invited to the White House by President Trump earlier this year due to his strong support for the Trump agenda.

Sixteen candidates are seeking the GOP nomination in the heavily Republican district. Other candidates include former Kingsport Mayor John Clark, state Sen. Rusty Crowe of Johnson City, former Johnson City Mayor Steve Darden, Kingsport pharmacist Diana Harshbarger, and state Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville.

Harshbarger has been running ads through her self-funded campaign and Clark recently got on the airwaves as well.

Carmack statue might have to return unless law is changed

The House returns into session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The state may have no choice but to return the toppled statue of segregationist newspaper editor Edward Ward Carmack under a state law enacted to make it harder to replace historical markers and statues.

According to the Heritage Protection Act:

A public entity having responsibility for maintaining a memorial, or a nonprofit entity acting with permission of the public entity, shall have the authority to take proper and appropriate measures, and exercise proper and appropriate means, for the care, preservation, protection, repair, and restoration of the memorial.

State attorneys interpret that last part about the repair and restoration of the monument to mean that governments are required to fix any damage. That means the statue knocked over in last weekend’s protests could have to be brought back to its former place of prominence outside the southern entrance of the state Capitol. That’s unless lawmakers decide to seek a waiver or pass a law affecting that particular monument.

Gallery: Back in session, though some distance more than others

The Senate convenes on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee General Assembly has officially returned into session after a 75-day hiatus during the coronavirus outbreak.

The House GOP held a caucus meeting on Monday afternoon in which a small minority of members wore masks. Some vigorously shook hands and joked that the weekend protests around the state indicate that social distancing is no longer important.

The Senate spaced desks in the chamber to provide maximum distance between the members. The House installed plexiglass shields between lawmakers’ seats.

Here are some photos of Monday’s proceedings:

House members are divided by plexiglas shields on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

 

House Speaker Cameron Sexton addresses the House Republican Caucus on  June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Senate Speaker Randy McNally presides over a floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The House holds a floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Curtis Halford, center, attends a floor session June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Reps. Matthew Hill and William Lamberth, standing right, confer during a floors sesion on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. Jerry Sexton attends a House floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Rep. David Hawk, left, confers with Rep. Kent Calfee on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Speaker Cameron Sexton presides over a floor session on June 1, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

 

 

Hagerty calls on president to invoke Insurrection Act, mobilze active-duty miltary

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty speaks at Nashville event on Dec. 3, 2019. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Republican U.S. Senate candidate Bill Hagerty is calling on President Donald Trump invoke the Insurrection Act to mobilize active-duty military forces in response to protests around the country.

“We cannot have another night of violence. It has to stop now,” the former U.S. ambassador to Japan said a release. “If we don’t, it propagates lawlessness.”

Trump has been mulling the use of the 213-year-old federal law, which would allow him to send troops to states without a formal request by their governors.

Here’s the release from the Hagerty campaign.

Nashville, TN — With the recent riots around the country, including Tennessee, Bill Hagerty, candidate for U.S. Senate, encourages President Trump to use the Insurrection Act to mobilize active-duty military forces in order to defend our communities from further acts of domestic terrorism.

“President Trump has already taken decisive leadership in recognizing ANTIFA as a terrorist organization,” said Bill Hagerty. “America is rooted in the rule of law. We cannot have another night of violence. It has to stop now. Period. If we don’t, it propagates lawlessness. To better protect our cities and communities from further danger, President Trump should use the Insurrection Act to its fullest extent. Mobilizing our military forces across the country will show that we will not tolerate domestic terrorism.”

 

House bill would do away with pre-election disclosures

Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro), right, attends a House GOP caucus meeting on July 24, 2019, in Nashville. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Voters would know a lot less about candidates’ fundraising activity under bill up for consideration on the House floor Monday. The measure sponsored by Rep. Tim Rudd (R-Murfreesboro) would do away with the pre-primary and pre-general reports candidates must currently file to cover the period ending 10 days before the vote.

[UPDATE: The House voted 87-5 to pass the bill.]

The bill would instead require only quarterly reports. Using this year’s election as a guide, candidates wouldn’t have to disclose how much money they had raised — or from whom — for more than five weeks between the end of the most recent full quarter and the primary or general election.

The Tennessee Registry of Election Finance says doing away with the pre-election reports would not significantly reduce the agency’s workload.

 

The measure would also do away with unitimized disclosures for contributions under $100.

The companion bill has yet to be head in the Senate, which has declared it will only focus on coronavirus-related or time-sensitive legislation in its return into session.

Should toppled Carmack statue be repaired at Tennessee Capitol?

State troopers guard the toppled statue of Edward Ward Carmack outside the state Capitol on May 31, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Protesters over the weekend tore down the statue of Edward Ward Carmack, a newspaper editor and U.S. Senator who was gunned down in the streets of Nashville in 1908. Carmack was a notorious segregationist, though it’s unclear whether the demonstrators specifically targeted the monument (a historical marker commemorating Nashville’s lunch counter sit-ins in 1960 was also destroyed).

The toppling of the Carmack statue nevertheless raises questions about whether it should be repaired. There’s been a movement underfoot at the General Assembly to replace the monument with one to frontiersman David Crockett, though those efforts have yet to make any significant progress.

The situation puts Republicans in a quandary. While most would no longer defend Carmack’s positions and statements, they also won’t want to accede the destruction wrought by demonstrators. On the other hand, taking affirmative action to restore the statue of an avowed racist would also prove problematic at best.

A recent edition of The Tennessee Journal delved into Carmack’s attacks on Ida B. Wells, who was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize last month for her coverage of lynchings in Memphis and the South.

New Pulitzer Prize winner Ida B. Wells was viciously targeted by Carmack

Ida B. Wells, who gained international renown for her fearless reporting about lynching in Memphis and the South in the 1890s, has been awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. Wells was the editor and a part-owner of the Memphis Free Speech and Headlight, where she wrote detailed reports and fiery editorials about extrajudicial violence against African-Americans.

One of Wells’ chief critics was Edward Ward Carmack, the editor of the Memphis Commercial who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate and was later gunned down in Nashville by the son of a political rival. Carmack, a statue of whom stands outside the southern entrance of the state Capitol, ran vicious editorials about the Free Speech while it was operating and about Wells after she fled the city amid threats of personal harm.

Wells was born a slave in Mississippi during the Civil War and was a teacher in Memphis before she had a run-in with the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad in 1884, when she was removed from a train for refusing to leave a first-class car (for which she held a ticket) that was reserved for white passengers.

State law required “accommodations equal in all respects and comfort” for first-class ticket holders, and a circuit judge found the other car was of lesser grade because it allowed “smoking and drunkenness.” Wells was awarded $500 (more than $13,500 today). The Tennessee Supreme Court overturned the decision three years later, finding the two rail cars were equipped alike and that Wells’ had acted in bad faith by seeking to “harass” the railroad by creating conditions for which she could file a lawsuit. Wells gained acclaim in the black press for her firsthand accounts of the legal challenge, and began making writing about race issues her full-time job.

In the pages of the Free Speech, Wells took aim at a frequent pretext for lynchings. “Nobody in this section of the country believes the old thread-bare lie that Negro men rape white women,” she wrote in 1892. If white men weren’t careful, Wells wrote, the public would reach conclusions that would be “very damaging to the moral reputation of their women.”

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