It may be the only thing they do well, other than cow-tow to Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey.
But when it comes to putting pen down to paper to actually propose a plan…one that he even is pushing for…its just too much for him to muster.
So this morning when I heard him talk about his “Tennessee Plan” on an endless loop…a plan that, by the way, only exists in his head, MY head nearly exploded because I knew it was a crock.
Haslam was in town yesterday on a (campaign) swing through the Greater Memphis Chamber of Commerce’s annual luncheon. It wasn’t an official campaign swing mind you, but it might as well have been.
I mean, for God’s sake, he talked about increasing income inequality as if he actually gave a crap about it. Of course he had no idea about how to fix it or anything else. He just knows its there…not why. (look in your Medicaid expansion policy crystal ball Governor)
Haslam’s been shadowboxing with the Feds on Medicaid expansion for months. On Monday, he released a letter detailing his oft parroted complaints about Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. But there’s one problem with this craftily written letter/press release…
His plan still only has a name, no real details
In fact, the Governor has sent no real details to the Feds of what his “Tennessee plan” would be…which is why when the Tennessee House Democratic leadership calls the whole thing a farce, they’re being too kind.
This is messaging over meat.
This is the healthcare policy equivalent of “let them eat cake”.
This is complete and utter BS.
The Governor has no real plan to expand Medicaid, even though 63% of the state wants it.
What’s more, there’s no plan to have a plan. Just more talk, more wait and see until the money runs out.
So when working people who don’t have insurance at work get sick, the Governor will continue to not understand why they’re getting poorer…even though healthcare costs have traditionally outpaced the inflation at a rate higher than anything but college tuition.
This is called “willful ignorance” and its sick that the Governor thinks he can tout it as “leadership” and not get called on it.
The whole AutoZone Park affair has shades of the baseball poem, Casey at bat. An idea, a solution for a downtown gem, that should by all rights, be a home run for a city that is trying desperately to keep the momentum going on its effort to revitalize the area.
But a series of missteps and miscalculations sent two pitches past the Wharton Administration. These missed opportunities could sink the whole deal, and deliver a serious blow to an administration that has had difficulty articulating a coherent long-term vision for the city.
Monday is the third pitch, and the question is, will “Casey” be able to deliver, or will the air be the only thing shattered by the force of Casey’s blow…like the penultimate stanza of the classic baseball poem.
We’ve known since 2009 that the Redbirds were in dire financial straits. The team has never made money, and defaulted on its bond payments that year, which is what brought Global Spectrum into the picture in the first place.
In 2010 the private equity firm Fundamental Advisors bought the outstanding bonds for less than .40 cents on the dollar. That discount, reflected the uncertainty surrounding the financial management of the Redbirds and the previous year’s default.
The point is…the problems at 3rd and Union have been known for some time, so it should come as no surprise that we are where we are. Which is what makes the rest of the story so puzzling.
In April, we heard the first details of the deal that is currently before the Council.
At the beginning of November we found out the city was close to closing a deal pending Council approval.
Then just two weeks later, a well publicized invitation only rally, that excluded members of the City Council was held…a move that left some on the Council publicly puzzled…and likely privately annoyed.
The snub could have been managed, but questions raised by incoming Council Chairman Jim Strickland…which were still unanswered by Nov. 27th…just six days before the Council would be asked to decide…were never really answered.
And so, with an 0-2 count, the Council delayed the vote until Monday, Dec. 9th. Whether or not this becomes the hone run the administration…and all the fans of Mudville…are hoping for is largely up to them.
But if it fails, the failure will rest not on the Council, but the Administration, for poor communication, and even worse politics.
It seems like we’ve heard this story before. The administration comes before the City Council at the last minute with details on a well publicized deal that seems to blindside the body.
Some of this is overblown (Crosstown, for instance, has been about $15m for a long time…though the details of the financing may not have been as well known), but stretching back since the beginning of the Wharton Administration, this has been the norm.
You might have thought something would change after the most recent budget battle in June. That was more mess than anyone should want to put themselves in. But much like that deal, in this deal the administration came across as looking inept at gaining consensus on a deal that should by all rights be a home run.
Now, at the end of the second year of Mayor Wharton’s first full term, his agenda seems to have fallen into a randomized piecemeal approach, with no articulated long-term plan…much less a destination.
The turbulence the last two years have brought on has also shaken confidence in the Mayor. The biggest structural challenges for the city…poverty, unemployment, and crime are further hampered by a declining revenue base as huge swaths of the city remain underdeveloped due to decades of physical expansion without much population growth. None of these issues are getting the focus they deserve from City Hall.
And to a certain degree, you saw that in the recent referendum on a sales tax hike to fund pre-k education. The small disorganized opposition didn’t oppose Pre-K, but the lack of movement on the issues impacting the population beyond 3-4 year olds. Certainly, creating more opportunities for them would help those same 3-4 year olds…and might even increase support for generating the revenue necessary to fund Pre-K.
From the outside looking in, it seems more like the battles are picking the Mayor rather than the other way around.
On a couple of levels, it feels like the Administration is getting played on the premium they’re being asked to pay for the ballpark.
Fundamental Advisors paid .38 on the dollar for the bonds in 2010. The City is expected to pay about the same amount for them before the auction next year.
Has anyone asked what the bonds would go for if they actually went to auction? Would Fundamental Advisors be able to turn a profit on them?
It doesn’t seem likely. If the bond holder thought they would, they wouldn’t be willing to sell for the same price they bought. But letting the bonds go to auction would put a major attraction downtown at risk. A risk I don’t think the city is willing to take. Nor should they.
So while this may all seem like a bad idea that saps away money that might be put to better use, in the end, I don’t think its a bad deal. Its just a deal that has been presented badly…and I tend to agree with the Commercial Appeal editorial that says the City Council should be irritated about it.
We’ll see what happens tomorrow. I won’t make any predictions. But I will say, that if this administration wants to get more done in the city, they need to get some messaging together other than waiting until the last second to stir a panic and then get a deal done. That’s no way to run a city, plan for the future, or keep your gig in Oct. of 2015.
Seems like my early predictions are coming to fruition.
In his March release, it says he’s announcing the “Tennessee Plan” which was supposed to be something like the Arkansas Plan…but different. Unfortunately, this was…at best a fib. The Governor hasn’t released any specifics of the “Tennessee Plan” to the Feds, and as such, the plan doesn’t exist anywhere except in the Governor’s imagination.
In the eight months since the announcement, there’s been a bunch of nothing from the Governor.
Budget talks in November revealed what folks call the “woodworking effect”…or what happens when people start actively looking for insurance only to find out they qualified for Tenncare all along. That “effect”will be a budget buster to the tune of $172m for the author (Gov. Haslam) of the state’s largest budget to date.
It’s important to remember…these aren’t people who suddenly qualify for Tenncare…these are people we should have been covering all along.
As the year comes to a close, we are starting to hear about major cuts to rural hospitals, most of whom are the only lifeline rural families have. These cuts are just the prelude to closures, that will mean rural folks will not only NOT have access to coverage, but likely die in an emergency because needed care was too far away.
Our neighbor to the north…Kentucky, is both running their own exchange and expanding medicaid. Kentucky has been in the spotlight of what the Affordable Care Act, AKA “Obamacare” is supposed to do and be…a way for all people to get health insurance coverage that is within their means.
A recent article in the Indianapolis Courier-Journal could have just as easily been written about the differences between Kentucky and Tennessee. In fact, it practically is.
Both Gov. Haslam (TN), and Gov. Pence (IN) both want to embark on Medicaid expansion in a way that would mean working poor people would have to pay for some of their healthcare costs…which means that suddenly someone making 101% of poverty would have a whole lot more out of pocket expenses than someone making just a few dollars less a pay period at 99% of poverty.
There are over 500,000 people not currently enrolled in Tenncare that live in households making $25,000 or less (133% of poverty) in Tennessee. That’s a lot more than the 330,000 predicted to come on line under Medicaid expansion. The difference is the impact of the woodworking effect.
Gov. Haslam and Gov. Pence want these people to pay more for two reasons:
1. It will cost them less making them seem more fiscally conservative, even if they aren’t.
2. They claim it will keep people from “taking advantage of the system” and add some “personal responsibility” to the program.
That’s a slap in the face to working folks…to assume that they would game the system just because they “could”. Working folks don’t have time to game the system, they’re too busy working.
This is about people…people who live all over the state.
People who live in remote areas because that’s where their work is. Farmers, businessmen and women, children and the elderly…people just like us city folk…that just happen to live in the country.
Over half the state’s population lives in Tennessee’s mostly rural 80+ counties. That’s a lot of ground to cover for the 3.4m who don’t live in Tennessee’s big 5 counties (35% of the population) or the other 10 with a healthy rural/urban mix. But not living in one of the state’s largest counties doesn’t mean people should be without a hospital…and due to the economic realities of providing rural healthcare…that’s the fate they face.
In a release from the Tennessee House Democratic Caucus, Chairman Turner called on the Governor to act…rather than let people needlessly suffer:
“This Christmas, Governor Haslam has the opportunity to give thousands of working men and women in Tennessee the best gift possible – longer and healthier lives,” said Chairman Turner. “I understand it will be difficult to get the expansion passed in the legislature, but the Governor owes it to the people of our state to try. If he stands by and does nothing, the hospital closures, the jobs lost, and the premature and preventable deaths of Tennesseans will rest squarely on his shoulders.”
It is a preventable tragedy. One that is so easily preventable, its almost madness that we’re even discussing people lives in such a flip manner. When Lt. Gov. Ramsey says:
“obviously this is going to hurt. In some cases there may be hospitals that have to close — but look, if you want to operate in a free market, things like that happen. But I think overall they will figure out a way to cut this.”
I’m sure the families of the people who suffered thanks to the “free market” Ramsey describes will understand.
After all, ideological purity is much more important than someone’s life.
What about Speaker Harwell? She’s only slightly more sympathetic:
There are some rural hospitals that will be hurt; there’s no doubt about that. But the health care industry is a changing industry and those that can’t keep up, they just simply can’t,” she said. “I’m sorry that that might happen, but again, if it was a little exaggerated, we’ll find out in the next six months.”
As for Governor Haslam…he hasn’t compared the human cost to an ideological test yet…in fact, he’s done what most folks with his pocketbook do to working folks…ignore them.
The worst thing about the layoffs, departures of services, and eventual closures of rural Tennessee hospitals is that it will be a slow decline…much like what many rural communities have already seen as businesses leave their communities and their populations age.
Hospitals are community pillars. They are institutions that help hold up the towns they serve. As they close…and they already are, the towns they serve and the people around them will suffer health related challenges…and economic challenges as the jobs the hospitals once hosted also disappear…and along with them, their trained, well paid workforce.
Ramsey, Harwell and Haslam will say I’m exaggerating…but its already happening…just not all at once. The slowness of it all will give them time to shift blame, distort reality, and manufacture scapegoats.
Hopefully people won’t fall for that.
Just look at Kentucky.
The irony is…the largely rural districts that vaulted them and their Republican colleagues into power…are the ones that will suffer most.
That suffering means more tragedies…and preventable decline for communities that cannot afford to bear them.
As a long time advocate of Pre-K, and someone who actually spent over a year researching the impact it can have on the development of young children, I understand all too well the high rate of return in the long run. I knew that return wouldn’t be measured in years, but in decades. That’s really how everything should be measured…but will never be as we quest to ever shorten the time we see a return on our investment.
As a society we’ve morphed from a relatively patient people, to the policy equivalent of day traders, buying and selling for pennies of return, to Adderall junkies demanding we be fed pills to fuel our “more better faster cheaper regardless of just how crappy the product ultimately is” lifestyle.
But that’s another point entirely.
The failure of the measure doesn’t have to be the failure of the cause. The slogan didn’t say: “Our Only chance to advance”.
It was a chance. One we as a city chose not to take. Arguing the wisdom of that vote is walking backwards. But in looking backwards, perhaps there are some lessons to be learned for the next time. There can be a next time if we want it.
This is not entirely the City Council’s fault. The state government plays a much bigger role in the way we collect revenue than the City ever could. But because the poor pay a disproportionately larger percentage of their income in taxes than wealthier Tennesseans, there’s ample reason to be leery of a sales tax to pay for something that will largely benefit the poor.
This was my secondary objection to the measure, though I did vote yes on it.
My primary objection was that it was a sales tax increase to pay for Pre-K and mask a property tax decrease, that would amount to basically nothing for middle income people ($20/year).
I feel confident that if all the money were benchmarked for Pre-K, and certain elements were better crafted, the issue would have passed.
Last night, after the election result was certain, I heard several elected officials who lent a good deal of political capital to the cause say several things. To paraphrase the most oft repeated refrains:
1. People don’t want to pay more taxes.
2. People don’t trust government.
3. Things have to change.
There are some important things to note here:
1. None of them said people don’t want Pre-K.
2. Isn’t it the height of irony that an elected government official would acknowledge publicly that the people, who elected them, don’t trust the government they were elected to play a deciding factor in?
3. Taking these first two into account, it seems clear that things do have to change, though perhaps not in the way said elected officials intended.
Speaks volumes in my book.
But there are other issues as well.
The 8 member, unelected board that would administer the funds made folks queasy. Memphis has more than its fair share of unelected boards that handle city money in ways that make even the least observant question the rationale. I’m not sure many people have the stomach for another.
Another thing that added to the discomfort is the charge that the Pre-K system in Memphis already has empty seats…one that, to my knowledge at least, was never verified. Because the City can no more make Pre-K compulsory than levy an income tax, the practical considerations here may have given some voters pause.
Finally, the silver bullet nature of the campaign…
Pre-K isn’t going to solve long-term unemployment, or generational poverty…at least not in any term that I will live to see.
Pre-K isn’t going to train people for the hundreds of jobs at Electrolux that remain unfilled due to a low-skill workforce.
It isn’t going to help get people to those jobs if they are qualified to do them.
It isn’t going to hold slum-lords accountable when they allow their property to deteriorate so they pay lower property taxes, all while charging the same amount of rent to their tenants.
Pre-K doesn’t do anything for the generations that came before this one, that need just as much, if not more help than their kids, so they can take part in making a better future for their community.
It doesn’t work to fill the gaps in skills that people desperately need to get out of the grip of poverty level minimum wage jobs.
It doesn’t give a second chance to the folks who may have made a bad decision or two in their lives, and are now cast aside as economic untouchables with little or no opportunity.
It may help increase educational attainment, and by extension, help decrease crime and poverty, but lets be honest, that’s no less than 20 years out.
That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t work to have universal Pre-K here in Memphis, it just means we have to be honest with ourselves.
This ain’t the walk off home run that it was billed to be.
The winners…if there is such an animal in this situation, have a heavy load to carry, though I am skeptical that they will.
I partially agree with Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland when they said, the onus is on the opponents to bring something forward to help make this happen, though I think they give their opposition too much credit. The scant voices who fought this on a wing and a prayer aren’t why it failed. They didn’t help get it passed, but they don’t deserve credit for squashing it either.
The solution, that has been said by some of the anti’s is use the $57m the city owes the schools to pay for it. That assumes a lot…most importantly, that the schools are ok with the city spending their money without their permission. It is also a very short-term plan for funding Pre-K. $57m would last for about two years, if that.
To the anti-salestaxers I ask, “What’s your plan?” How should the city begin the work of addressing the long-term inequities that have brought us generational poverty, low educational attainment, and an opportunity vacuum for those whose circumstances are beyond their control?
I ask this, with the implied understanding that the City, on its own, cannot address all these issues…the State and Federal government have more than their fair share of the blame in complicating…if not exacerbating these circumstances.
I ask this because simply acting as a foil to political rivals isn’t leadership any more than 40-odd meaningless votes to repeal Obamacare is leadership. Opposition without a workable alternative is nothing more than a cynical political ploy.
I’m actually looking forward to it, because perhaps the ideas will net something this initiative never did, which is community input on the final product. Maybe this alternative will actually look, sound, and feel more like the people it seeks to serve. And maybe, just maybe it will be successful at the polls.
Until then, the ball is in your court.
The real thing I’m interested in is seeing just how quickly the next group picks up the ball and runs with it on this and related issues. Something’s gotta give.
We’ve got too much of a whole lot of things that keep us down and a whole lot more of the “it can’t be done” attitude that I fear this result will only fuel.
We can do more, we just have to start. Its that simple. We can start anywhere…housing, workforce training, education…seriously, we’ve got more than enough people that need help in these and more areas that finding a place to start isn’t the issue…starting is.
It all comes down to how bad we want it, and the next few weeks will go a long way to answering that question.
How bad do you want it? I hope the answer to that question isn’t “Not bad enough”.
Earlier this month, Kevin Kane of the Memphis CVB told the City Council that the Cook was functionally obsolete, something I could have told you before the $100m renovations, approved in 2001.
Realistically, that would have been the time to build, but the political will just wasn’t there.
Days after Kane’s statement, Otis Sanford said a convention center just isn’t in the cards.
I think it should be part of the discussion of downtown development.
I think it HAS to be.
I also think that any discussion has to have an element of a larger conversation that transparently assesses our current assets, liabilities, and doesn’t seek to solely “keep up with the Nashvillians”.
I spent way more than a decade in the Convention business. I’ve done my fair share of events, large (25,000) and small (<250) in just about every convention center and arena in the US. I've been out of the business for more than a year now, but things haven't really changed that much. Planners are still looking for three basic things: a place they can sell to their attendees (read something they can't get at home), convenient accommodations (lodging, travel), and space that isn't overly restrictive.
Newness doesn't necessarily play into most decisions...it can attract people, and scare them off depending on their tolerance for the unknown. Lots of hotel options and convenient parking are more important for conventions bringing lots of folks in from out of town town than "newness". Most conventioneers don't give a crap about the space...unless it's really bad. They care about the place.
Our current space is constraining. One event I still get calls to do can't come back to Memphis even though they want to because the space is too small, and more importantly, there aren't enough hotel rooms downtown. Between 3,000 and 6,000 room nights are lost because of the size of our convention center on that one show alone.
Add COGIC to the mix, and that's a lot of money being left on the table.
We can't make a decision based on two shows, but those two shows can give us an idea of what we're missing.
As I said in this 2008 post, any plan that doesn’t start with the FedEx Forum at the center of it is missing the boat. We’ve got an awesome arena that could be used a lot more if we planned our conventions around it.
One convention I did for several years used both arena and convention center space. In Houston, we occupied the Toyota Center for two weeks, and a huge chunk of the nearby George R. Brown Convention Center for about 10 days. 15,000 attendees, over 150 crew members, hundreds of thousands of dollars in catering, convention services, and local labor. It was a lot of money.
That show moved every year, using the Georgia Dome in Atlanta and the Edward James Dome in St. Louis…as well as their accompanying convention centers.
Now we may not be ready for something on that scale just yet, but we’d be fools not to plan to be. The truth is, we need a ton more hotel rooms downtown, but there’s not much incentive to build under the current situation, and there’s just about no place near the Cook to put a new large hotel (unless its serving Bass Pro) on that end of downtown.
This will be the critical “chicken/egg” argument that gets brought up. But last I checked there were two new hotels slated to start building downtown. I’m not sure how many rooms that will add up to, but with a 60% occupancy rate, there’s a better than average chance that we could add more capacity downtown in the near future.
Breaking ground on a newer, bigger convention center would increase those chances…so long as it was done in a way that allowed for that growth very near by. That’s key.
By the way…if we ever want to host an NBA All-Star game, more hotel rooms is probably the first priority. We have one of the nicest arenas in the country. Our arena isn’t the reason the NBA hasn’t come here yet. Its hotels, pure and simple.
Beale St. is a huge asset, though until recently, folks may not have thought of it that way. But we can’t get so caught up in Beale as the central driver of evening tourist fare that we don’t think about the area in a bigger way.
There’s a lot of undeveloped or underused land in the downtown area (west of Danny Thomas, north of Crump, south of A. W. Willis).
I’d have to go back and check, but I think much of that space is thought of currently as potential residential space. Residential isn’t going to bring us more hotel rooms. We need to connect our assets in a way that makes people want to come to Memphis, or hold their convention here.
Reconsidering plans that may have been in the works for years has to be part of this. And having plans for expanding the core “tourism” area downtown also has to come into play…even if those plans don’t come to fruition for a decade.
We’ve got a lot of assets, even if not all of them are downtown. The Civil Rights Museum (a USAToday “iconic attraction), all the music…from the blues, to Sun, Stax, and even Elvis (Graceland was the other USAToday “iconic attraction” from Memphis). While these things may not be right next to each other, they are attractions that are meaningful to people outside of Memphis…even if those folks don’t know it. They are connected in ways that may not be evident to folks here. In fact, their stories are more intertwined than you might imagine.
We’ve got to tell those stories, and the story of how they’re intertwined better…but we’ve also got to connect these dots for people so they have more of a reason to come here.
That’s what marketing is.
Right now we seem to rest primarily on Elvis, and to a lesser degree, Sun and Beale. The Civil Rights Museum is too often an afterthought…which is unfortunate, because the story it tells is a huge connector to the music from these different places.
Clayborn Temple needs to be a part of that as well. It’s a shame that this historic building has been allowed to decay the way it has.
But back to this proposed committee. If it comes to fruition, we need to be real honest with ourselves and the people about where we stand right now. That means how much we’re doing at the Cook now. How many room nights that is, and how many rooms there REALLY are downtown (they say more than 4,000…but what does “downtown” mean to the CVB?).
We don’t necessarily need to think about trying to directly compete with Nashville. They’ve got more convention space than they can deal with between the new Music City Center and Opryland. We need to be realistic…which means neither undervaluing, nor overvaluing what we have to offer here.
We also need to carefully evaluate how we’re selling Memphis. Other cities our size have scads of sales people flung clear across the country. We have to look at the current sales plan for Memphis, and evaluate it against other cities (bigger and smaller) to find the right fit for us.
We need to consider that the Cook is still viable for some events, even if it’s not the best spot for all of them (I’ve done scads of events in the Ballroom and Cannon Center and they are valuable additions to Memphis).
Most of all, we have to be honest with the people about what the committee finds.
I support the idea of exploring a convention center because I know first hand what it can do for a city if its done right. But I’m also leery of the way another big project that gets handled.
We don’t need another Beale St. landing. Hell, we didn’t need the first one.
We don’t need another shadowy semi-autonomous board (RDC) that acts as if the public doesn’t exist and doesn’t take care of city assets (like Mud Island).
If anything, we need to have fewer of these kinds of boards.
Most of all, we don’t need another boondoggle…and this could turn into one real quick. Which is all the more reason to make the proposed committee the model for transparency…unlike the aforementioned shadowy semi-autonomous board that also has its hands in the downtown area.
Anything less is a recipe for failure…and that’s something we certainly can’t afford.