Steven Hale details what went wrongish for the Amp on Capitol Hill. The short answer is, "Plenty," and much of it has been the result of the Dean administration being caught flat-footed. As to where things go from here...
The legislative fight over The Amp has stirred up a volatile set of political dynamics that could be factors in this and other issues going forward. For instance: What effect, if any, does the open gubernatorial race in 2018 have on issues that pit Democrat Karl Dean against Republican Beth Harwell? That's a juicy what-if. But at present, there's a more pressing issue, according to insiders and a good set of eyes: the frosty relationship between Dean and Davidson County's state legislators, exacerbated by the mayor's inability, or unwillingness, to cultivate Tennessee lawmakers on pivotal city issues.
Via Pith, a compromise has taken banning center lanes off of the table, but Mayor Karl Dean's signature bus rapid transit project will still need approval from the General Assembly if it has any form of dedicated lane.
As for the final legislation pertaining to The Amp, Turner said it's bad, but better than the original Senate language that would have effectively killed the project as it's currently proposed.
"I'm not comfortable with the deal, no, because I think we're stepping in — we've set a precedent here," he said. "And I think it's going to get very burdensome for the state to have to do this if we starting having to approve individual projects across the state like that. It's worked fine the way we do it. They say this is a new type of project, of course that's not what this is about, this is a political thing. This is the best thing for Metro Nashville, best thing we could've done. It's the compromise we ended up with."
Mike Schatzlein, president and CEO of Saint Thomas Health Services and chair of the Amp Coalition, had the following to say this afternoon:
“We are satisfied with the outcome in the General Assembly today. This bill clearly defines approval levels of local and state participation in the transit project process. We look forward to our continued involvement in planning for Middle Tennessee’s urgent and growing transit needs. The Amp Coalition will stay committed to educating the community and region about the benefits of The Amp as the first step in a Middle Tennessee transit strategy.”
A Senate bill which would stop The Amp under its current design passed overwhelmingly today and the Stop Amp Coalition thanked (among others) Americans for Prosperity for their support.
[...] Amp supporters are pinning their hopes on the House version of the bill, which does not include the provision banning the center-lane design. They're betting that Republican House Speaker Beth Harwell, who has said the state shouldn't fund the project, is less willing to support such strict design regulations.
Wednesday was a day of one step forward and one step backward at the General Assembly for supporters of the proposed Amp bus rapid transit line. One measure passed would not allow The Amp to run down the middle of any state highway, while the other would give state lawmakers the chance to decide on funding when Metro asks for it rather than during the design process. Steven Hale has the rundown of the bills, the thinly veiled criticisms and the talking points.
Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey would not predict what financial help the Nashville Amp bus rapid transit project could get from the legislature in 2015, but said state funding for the city’s program is "dead for this year."
“I do want to make sure that we’re using taxpayer dollars wisely and I do think some of this is just, again, emotion, that mass transit is good, cars are bad kind of thing,” the leading Senate Republican said. “And I’m not sure the Amp has ever been proven that it’s exactly what’s needed.”
The Senate Transportation Committee voted Wednesday to block state funding for Nashville’s $175 million bus rapid transit project, a budget amendment spearheaded by chairman Jim Tracy, a Shelbyville Republican and U.S. Congressional candidate. Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, a Democrat, was looking for the state to put in $35 million.
According to the Federal Election Commission, Tracy last year received a $5,000 campaign contribution from Lee Beaman, a main Amp opponent. Although Tracy told reporters he did not know Beaman was leading the charge to fight to the project, he said he knew of his opposition.
While Ramsey acknowledged the city is growing as a fast pace, he said Nashville is “not there yet” to need bus rapid transit and said “one year is not going to hurt anything.”
Dean will be termed out of office about a year from now, a fact when pointed out to Ramsey by a reporter led him to laugh and sarcastically reply, "He won’t?"
“This isn’t Atlanta and this isn’t New York City," he said. "Do we have some minor problems? Maybe. But I’m not sure that the city of Nashville is ready for a MARTA or ready for a METRO or anything like that. I won’t say nothing, but I do think we make sure that this is something that will be used and not highly taxpayer subsidized before we’re doing that,” he said.
House Speaker Beth Harwell didn't know about Tracy's budget amendment until after it was approved, the Nashville Republican told reporters. But she said she's unchanged in her opposition to funding the Amp ahead of other projects already on the state's priority list.
"We are underfunding our road projects across the state and I think they [state legislators] felt strongly that this was too big of an ask for any state money to be used for this project," she said. "I would agree with that."
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman and U.S. Congressional candidate Jim Tracy wants to edit the the state budget to ban it from funding bus rapid transit projects on state highways.
Tracy’s self-described “tightly drawn” language would essentially ban the state from allocating any money for the Nashville Amp, a signature yet embattled project spearheaded by Democratic Mayor Karl Dean.
“What’s it called, Amp? Those signs that says, “No Amp,” or “Yes on Amp,” those? It would affect that… No funds can be used for that,” Tracy explained to North Nashville’s Sen. Thelma Harper in the Senate Transportation Committee Wednesday in explaining his amendment.
“No, no use taking no vote, Hell, if you already know what you’re going to do,” Harper replied.
Under the current plan, Nashville was seeking $35 million in state funds to go with $60 million from Metro as well as $75 million from the federal government.
Major Republican political contributor and financier of opposition against the Amp, Lee Beaman, was on Capitol Hill today, and other die hard opponents have walked the halls of Legislative Plaza for weeks making their opposition to the Amp project known.
Transportation Commissioner John Schroer had cast doubt the state would be willing to help fund the Amp project in November, a plan to run a bus rapid transit line along West End to East Nashville.
House Speaker Beth Harwell had also said she was unwilling to fund the project this year, which led to Gov. Bill Haslam saying he would follow the speaker’s lead.
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