Monthly Archives: February 2023

Nashville government, airport bond ratings upgraded as lawmakers take aim at both

(Image credit: Nashville International Airport)

Bond rating agencies are upgrading their outlook on Nashville and its airport even as state lawmakers take aim at both in the purported interest of improving their governance.

Kroll Rating Agency last week upgraded the city of Nashville from AA to AA+, one step below a perfect AAA rating. Meanwhile, Standard & Poor’s raised its long-term and underlying rating for the Metropolitan Nashville Airport Authority from A+ to AA-, with a stable financial outlook.

Republican lawmakers are mulling bills to cut the size of the Metro Nashville Council from 40 voting members to 20 and replace mayoral appointments to the Airport Authority with picks by the governor and the House and Senate speakers. Separate measures would limit how Nashville could spend privilege taxes collected at the city’s convention center and take over appointments to the city’s sports authority.

New TNJ alert: How to ease the anti-Nashville frenzy, Lee’s big-money play for express lanes

Each TDOT region gets the same amount of money.

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Could deal on 2028 convention ease GOP’s anti-Nashville frenzy?

— Bill Lee’s $3.3B roads plan includes sending big money to sparsely populated areas, indexing the hiked EV fee.

— Supreme Court nominee Dwight Tarwater in his own words.

— Obituaries: Redistricting advocate Maclin Davis and former senator and lobbyist Tommy Haun.

Also: McNally was alerted to heartbeat issues by watch, Cade Cothren gets delay for Registry case, Guy Jones to retire from prosecutors’ group, and lawmakers charge into trying to regulate drag shows.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

Senate Speaker McNally hospitalized, pacemaker likely needed

Senate GOP leaders hold weekly press gaggle on Jan. 18, 2018. From left are Sens. Mark Norris, Randy McNally, Bo Watson and Ferrell Haile. (Photo credit: Schelzig, Tennessee Journal.

Senate Speaker Randy McNally has been hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat. The Oak Ridge Republican said tests showed he will likely need a pacemaker.

Update: McNally said the procedure was a success

Here are Yellen’s comments at Ultium’s new Spring Hill battery plant

Here are U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen spoke at the site of Ultium Cells’ new electric vehicle battery factory near the General Motors plant in Spring Hill on Wednesday. Here are her remarks as prepared for delivery:

Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for that kind introduction. I’m grateful to the leaders and workers of Ultium Cells for having me here today. Construction sites like this give me hope – because they mean that we are in the process of building something new. In this case, it’s a 2.8-million-square foot factory with some of the most advanced battery manufacturing processes in the world. And it’s a factory that will support 1,700 high-tech jobs.

The good news is that new factories are not just being built in Spring Hill. All over the country, we are seeing a wave of investments in American manufacturing. This is thanks to the hard work of leaders like Representative Steve Cohen from Tennessee. As the President laid out last night, the Biden economic plan is working – and the results are beginning to reveal themselves.

Today, I’d like to speak to you about the President’s economic plan: the progress we’ve achieved and the work that lies ahead. I’ll first begin with our plan to rescue the economy from the depths of the pandemic. That was in 2021. Then, I’ll turn to the historic economic legislation we enacted in 2022. And finally, I’ll talk about 2023 and beyond: the years when we harness the promise of our plan.


When the President took office, our country was in the depths of the pandemic. About 400,000 Americans had died from COVID. Three thousand more were dying each day. The public health calamity had triggered an economic one. In January 2021, about 800,000 Americans were filing jobless claims each week. That was higher than the worst moments of the Great Recession. The effects of this economic catastrophe were not just captured in staggering numbers. They were felt by millions across the country. Two years ago, President Biden said in his first address to Congress that: “one of the defining images…of this crisis…has been cars lined up…for miles… waiting for a box of food to be put in their trunk.” 

The truth is: in 2020 and 2021, we faced the tail risk of an economic crisis that could match the Great Depression. Short of that, we faced the possibility of a protracted economic downturn that would cast a long shadow on the rest of the decade – with millions of homes, businesses, and livelihoods lost, many to never return.

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Tenn. roadbuilder group backs funding side of Lee’s $3.3B infrastructure plan

Gov. Bill Lee speaks in the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state Capitol in Nashville on March 22, 2021. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The Tennessee Road Builders Association is expressing support for Gov. Bill Lee proposal to spend $3.3 billion as part of his Transportation Modernization Act. The plan includes creating new bidding and contracting methods to speed up construction of roads and creating public-private partnerships to build and operate express lanes. The association is still evaluating the proposed changes to the bidding and contracting rules.

Here’s the statement from the Road Builders’ executive vice president Kent Starwalt:

The Tennessee Road Builders Association supports Governor Lee’s budget initiative to provide $3.3 billion in additional funding to upgrade our transportation infrastructure to reduce congestion; improve safety; and to provide economic development opportunities. Specifically, we have been and remain committed to supporting funding to 6-lane (3 lanes in each direction) our rural Interstates and to add significant capacity to our state’s urban transportation networks. TRBA will be reviewing the legislation and looks forward to a robust conversation with the administration and the legislature on this important issue. 

UPDATE: The House Transportation Subcommittee advanced the bill to full committee on a voice vote Wednesday.

New spending in Gov. Bill Lee’s budget proposal

The state Capitol on March 16, 2020. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

Here is a look at the $7.38 billion in new spending (including $796 million from federal and other sources) contained in Gov. Bill Lee’s spending plan for the budget year beginning in July:

DepartmentNew spending
(federal/other sources)
Transportation – General Fund Subsidy$3,312,123,000 ($6,123,000)
F&A. TennCare$863,138,300 ($546,799,800)
Miscellaneous Appropriations$800,585,400
Education (K-12)$515,556,800 ($30,205,600)
Economic and Community Development$254,817,500
Children’s Services$193,477,900 ($106,306,700)
Environment and Conservation$187,521,300 ($20,549,000)
Finance and Administration (F&A)$173,403,400 ($273,200)
Higher Education$162,404,100
Commerce and Insurance$48,285,200 ($4,754,200)
Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services$46,176,800 ($14,316,500)
Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities$42,993,000 ($15,707,700)
Health$34,311,100 ($1,786,600)
Commissions$34,219,700 ($29,750,000)
Tennessee Bureau of Investigation$32,792,900 ($1,673,000)
Agriculture$19,817,900 ($782,400)
Military$17,129,300 ($981,400)
Labor and Workforce Development$15,387,100
Court System$11,937,800
General Services$9,901,300 ($5,223,000)
Treasury Department$9,878,000 ($7,042,000)
Tourist Development$8,476,000
Attorney General and Reporter$7,353,900 ($922,000)
Comptroller of the Treasury$7,126,900
District Attorneys General Conference$4,920,700 ($652,400)
District Public Defenders Conference$4,305,200
Secretary of State$3,548,000
Veterans Services$3,299,600
Wildlife Resources Agency$3,166,500
Human Resources$2,163,700 ($2,163,700)
Board of Parole$452,900
Human Services$376,000 ($83,200)
Office of the Post-Conviction Defender$38,100
Executive Department$13,700

Read Gov. Bill Lee’s annual budget address to state lawmakers here

Gov. Bill Lee delivers his State of the State Address on Jan. 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig)

Gov. Bill Lee is making his fifth State of the State address to state lawmakers on Monday evening. Read his remarks as prepared for delivery here:

Thank you very much. Lieutenant Governor McNally, Speaker Sexton, Speaker Pro Tem Haile, Speaker Pro Tem Marsh, Members of the 113th General Assembly, Justices, Constitutional Officers, cabinet members, staff members, friends, family: Thank you for being here. I’m proud to serve the people of Tennessee with you.

And to those of you who are new to this General Assembly, I want to welcome you. You have accepted a call to serve, and I have come to realize how valuable and important that is. Whether or not we agree on everything, I genuinely look forward to working with you. You’ve accepted a high calling, and I want to say thank you.

Being governor of this state is the honor of my life. And it’s infinitely more rewarding to serve with a wonderful first lady by my side. Maria wishes that she could be here tonight. We’re getting ready for the next stage of her journey, and we want to thank all of you – in this chamber and across the state – for your prayers and support. It means the world to us. From her heart and mine, thank you.

Two weeks ago, I took an oath to uphold and defend the constitutions of Tennessee and the United States of America. As I said on Inauguration Day – this halfway point is a good time to reflect, but it’s an even better time to plan. Because our state is leading, the nation has great expectations for us. What will future generations say about Tennessee in the year 2023 and beyond?

As a seventh-generation Tennessean, I often think about the role that our state and her people have played in the great turning points of American history. From the courage of early settlers and abolitionists, to the leaders of Women’s Suffrage and Civil Rights, Tennesseans have long served as a guiding light in our nation’s moments of transformation.

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Lee to talk economic development, abortion, roads, and conservation in State of the State address

Gov. Bill Lee’s office is releasing excerpts from his State of the State address on Monday evening. Here is the preview to what the Republican has to say on issues including infrastructure, abortion, economic development, and conservation:

“Tennesseans have accomplished remarkable things in our 226-year history. Once again, we are called to be a guiding light and carry the spirit that took our state from frontier to frontrunner. So, as I look ahead to the next four years, with four challenging, yet fruitful years in the rearview, I can see that we’ve arrived at a pivotal moment.”

Expanding Opportunities for all Tennesseans

“Our investments in public education, workforce development and safe schools – and our commitment to freedom and families – have all earned national recognition. Our commitment to a high quality of life does not stop at the borders of big cities – in fact, it begins in the most rural areas of our state. Thanks to that commitment, the number of distressed counties in Tennessee has dropped from 15 to 10…and we are not done.”

Modernizing Rural and Urban Transportation

“It’s time to invest in a transportation strategy for one of the fastest growing states in the country. We cannot solve this problem with debt or higher taxes, but we have to do something. Right now, there’s a $26 billion dollar backlog of projects across the state. Simply put, we are way behind, and we have to change the way we fund and build our roads and bridges.”

Supporting Strong Families

“Pro-life is much more than defending the lives of the unborn. This is not a matter of politics – this is about human dignity. We can have a healthy debate about the policy specifics, but we can also agree that America is rooted in a commitment to human dignity.”

Creating a Brighter Future

“From Mountain City to Memphis, our state is blessed with natural beauty and rich resources…Through the years, Tennessee has maintained responsible stewardship of our natural resources, but it’s time to develop a conservation strategy that balances our state’s economic growth with a plan to protect our environment.”

New TNJ alert: Farewell to the Goose, campaign finance roundup, Nashville upheaval

House Speaker Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), left, and Rep. Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) await the begin of the State of the State address on Jan 31, 2022. (Erik Schelzig, Tennessee Journal)

The latest print edition of The Tennessee Journal is out. Here is what’s in it:

— Farewell to Golden Goose: Lobbying legend Hensley dies at 80.

— Money matters: A look at the last campaign cycle’s biggest donors, recipients, vendors.

— Nashville mayor begs off bid for second term as GOP lawmakers target capital city’s autonomy.

Also: Former gubernatorial legal counsel Dwight Tarwater chosen for Supreme Court opening, John Cooper wont’ seek another term as Nashville mayor, Paul Sherrell looks in the mirror, and Cameron Sexton channels Travis Bickle over the state of Lower Broadway.

As always, access the your copy of the TNJ here.

Or subscribe here.

UPDATE: Lee makes Tarwater pick for Supreme Court official

Gov. Bill Lee on Thursday nominated Dwight Tarwater, a former legal counsel to then-Gov. Bill Haslam, to fill an upcoming vacancy on the state Supreme Court.

Justice Sharon Lee, the lone remaining member of the high court appointed by a Democrat, is retiring in August. The other finalists are state appeals judges Kristi Davis and Tom Greenholtz.

Here’s the release:

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Today, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the appointment of Dwight E. Tarwater to the Tennessee Supreme Court and Matthew Wilson to the Court of Criminal Appeals, Western Section.

“Dwight is a highly qualified attorney who will bring significant experience to the Tennessee Supreme Court,” said Lee. “His understanding of the judiciary’s appropriate role and commitment to the conservative principles of judicial restraint make him well-suited for the state’s highest court, and I am proud to appoint him to this position.”

Dwight Tarwater is a partner at Paine, Tarwater, Bickers, LLP. Tarwater brings more than 40 years of legal background to the Tennessee Supreme Court, including decades of trial and appellate experience and service as Chief Legal Counsel to Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. Tarwater earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of Tennessee and J.D. at the University of Tennessee College of Law. Tarwater will fill a vacancy created by the retirement of Justice Sharon Lee, effective August 31.

“Matt’s extensive background in criminal prosecution has prepared him well to serve Tennesseans on the Court of Criminal Appeals,” said Lee. “I am confident he will bring valuable expertise to the bench, and I appreciate his service.”

Matthew Wilson is an Assistant United States Attorney in the Western District of Tennessee. Wilson brings significant criminal law experience to the Court of Criminal Appeals, including nearly 20 years of legal service at both the state and federal levels. Wilson earned his bachelor’s degree at Auburn University and J.D. at Florida State University College of Law. Wilson will fill a vacancy created by the death of Judge John Everett Williams.

Each of these judicial appointments is subject to confirmation by the General Assembly.


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