The Center Square [By Vivian Jones] –
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee will not provide an additional $82.6 million in COVID-19 relief to Nashville. Instead, Lee suggested Thursday that Nashville Mayor John Cooper lift burdensome restrictions on businesses and reprioritize existing relief funds to support businesses struggling to survive.
Cooper requested the additional $82.6 million Sept. 8, and Lee denied the request Thursday, suggesting the city manage relief funds more effectively to help speed economic recovery.
“This is about stewardship. This is about responsibly utilizing taxpayer dollars,” Lee said during a news conference at the state Capitol. “I believe that we should cut budgets and not raise taxes – that’s the first responsible action that we should do. … Metro’s approach has not been consistent with our approach.”
The metro Nashville area has received more COVID-19-related relief funds per capita than any other Tennessee county – a total of $3,745 per resident – according to a letter the governor sent Thursday to Cooper.
Lee pointed out the metro Nashville area has benefited from $2.5 billion of the $13 billion in Tennessee’s COVID-19-related response funds, including $121 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds paid by the state directly to the Metro-Nashville government.
Despite this investment, Metro Government’s economic recovery has been slow.
“We have to get our economy moving forward. Metro Nashville is the least rapidly recovering economy of all metro regions in the United States as of right now,” Lee said. “That means … that our strategy in that particular place from an economic standpoint is not an effective one.”
Lee criticized Metro Government’s failure to provide substantial relief to businesses in the city.
“I must share my deep concern that, of the $93 million in Coronavirus Relief Fund dollars spent to date by your administration, only $5.7 million has been budgeted for relief to businesses,” Lee wrote. “This concern is heightened by the ongoing challenges ahead for Nashville business owners who have already endured some of the most restrictive limitations on commercial activity, as well as a recently enacted property tax increase.”
The governor suggested Cooper “reprioritize” the city’s remaining unbudgeted $27.3 million in relief funds to provide economic relief for businesses. This, Lee wrote, would match the state’s investment of $26 million for Nashville businesses through the Tennessee Small Business Relief Program.
Lee’s response letter to Cooper included a list of questions regarding the previous allocation of relief funds, and Lee said he expected dialogue with the mayor to continue.
“He and I will be talking further about what we can do together and how we can work together to make Nashville’s economy and all of Tennessee’s economy move more rapidly in the right direction,” Lee said.