Mayor John Cooper’s 2021 State of Metro Address


4/29/2021

58th State of Metro Remarks
John Cooper
Mayor, Metropolitan Government of Nashville and Davidson County.

Preamble

Vice Mayor Shulman, President Pro Temp Mendes, council members, my fellow Nashvillians … I’m honored to join you today at the Music City Center for the 58th annual State of Metro.

My text today is a city on the rise must rise to the occasion. We must be a city that works – and works for everyone and every neighborhood. That requires the investments that this budget will make in our people and neighborhoods.

Today, Nashville is on the rise. We have proved our resilience. In this past year, we have faced more challenges and helped more people than at any time in our history.

This time last year, I spoke before an empty Council chamber as we faced an uncertain future.

Even before confronting COVID, Metro faced budget problems built up over years. We nearly lost the ability to determine our own finances. Then, in early March, the sixth most damaging tornado in U.S. history leveled entire neighborhoods. Then COVID, a derecho, a bombing, and a flood.

At this moment, last year, we were planning to convert the Music City Center, on this very site, into a 1,600-bed overflow critical care hospital. Instead, this building became Nashville’s largest vaccination site. And today, the MCC is back to hosting conventions and not COVID patients.

Last year’s budget was a “crisis” budget. It had to be. This year, we have an “investment” budget.

Today, we are poised to make historic commitments toward education, transportation, affordable housing, community safety and our Metro workforce. At the heart of our budget, we’re putting people first, fixing problems, and investing in our neighborhoods. We will bring the opportunity of the city to all the people of the city.

As long as we make these investments, Nashville’s future is bright. And we’ll re-emerge as a city that works – and works for everyone.

COVID-19 Response

As I announced this week, all COVID capacity restrictions will lift on Friday, May 14th with mask requirements still in place. This change will take effect six weeks after the vaccine became widely available to all adults.

I’m grateful to our COVID-19 Task Force, especially Dr. Alex Jahangir and Dr. James Hildreth, for their steady leadership. And I want to thank every Metro department – particularly our public health department, which has been tested as never before.

As the science predicted, Nashville’s case fatality rate was half that of Tennessee counties without mask requirements.

This morning, we remember the 903 Nashvillians we’ve lost to COVID. May their memories be a blessing. But, the science predicted — and experience confirmed — that your work – masking, distancing, and getting tested – literally saved hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of lives here in Nashville. That is a great achievement in a year of disaster.

COVID Vaccine

As of this morning, over 40 percent of Nashvillians have been vaccinated.

One month ago, we held a 10,000-person mass vaccination event at Nissan Stadium. On the very same day, Lee Chapel AME hosted one of 110 community vaccination events held in minority and low-income neighborhoods.

Two of these vaccine events are happening today, at Greater St. John Missionary Baptist and the Salahadeen Center.

Using available data, we know the vaccination rate among Black Nashvillians has more than doubled since January. And for our Hispanic community, the rate has increased by two and a half times.

I want to thank Deputy Mayor Brenda Haywood, State Representative Harold Love, and Dr. Joanna Shaw-Kai Kai for all they’ve done to encourage vaccinations through our “Communities of Color” campaign. No work in our city has been more important.

This vaccine is lifesaving and economy-saving. We need everyone to go get their shot. And please make sure your family, friends, and co-workers do the same.

COVID Financial Relief

The COVID crisis led to a sharp and sudden recession. As a city that thrives on large, in-person events, Nashville was especially hard hit.

In responding, I’m grateful to the diverse group of business and community leaders, including Council Members Gamble, Johnston, and Sepulveda in our COVID-19 Financial Oversight Committee and our Hospitality Advisory Committee.

They helped us respond to the needs of all Nashvillians – from working families to small business owners.

Last year, Metro received and spent $121 million in federal CARES Act relief. And we spent it on COVID testing … PPE … shelter for 1,300 of our homeless neighbors … rent assistance for 4,800 households … and feeding more than 238,000 residents. We provided laptops and hotspots for our 80,000 students.

And aided our small businesses and live music venues.

Economic Growth

One year ago, Music City fell silent. Today, as we rebound from the pandemic, you can hear music playing all over town.

Once empty, our hotels are seeing up to two-thirds occupancy on the weekends. Last month, more than 491,000 people flew into BNA … 28 percent higher than the same time last year.

And, next Tuesday, the Council will meet here in-person to make one of the most important votes in the 21st century … a vote to enable Nashville’s prosperity beyond COVID and ensure our city succeeds in the new economy. This vote enables the greatest jobs creation in our city’s history.

The Oracle proposal is the largest private investment in Nashville history. It means thousands and thousands of high-paying, in-demand jobs for our children. It gives our kids a path for success in the digital economy. All with no expense in our budget. And no new debt.

With our partners at Oracle, we’re demonstrating how the right deals can be made for our city.

This is an opportunity to jumpstart our economic rebound and our post-pandemic decade of prosperity.

These are the quality jobs that the city has been looking for. These jobs will make Nashville a platform for 21st-century success. All with NO expense or borrowing to our budget.

Education

A city on the rise gives everyone the opportunity to rise with it. That opportunity starts with an excellent education.

Today, I’m proud to announce we are making Metro’s largest-ever investment in public education – both in operating and capital dollars.

My proposed budget includes an additional $81 million for Metro Schools. For the first time in a generation, we are fully funding the School Board’s budget request. And we’re investing $50 million to make our teachers the best paid in Tennessee.

Under our proposal, the average Metro teacher will see a salary jump of $6,924. A new salary structure will eliminate compensation plateaus. And it will allow us to recruit and retain the very best teachers.

Dr. Adrienne Battle and I are working together to develop a “Digital Future Initiative” so that all students can compete in the modern workplace. In the coming weeks, we’ll provide more details about this plan.

With the commitment to our teachers and schools made today, and with transformational federal funding on the way, our school system is entering a golden age.

After a trying year for our students, this budget invests $2.5 million in social-emotional learning on top of federal dollars for SEL.

We owe it to every child to make the investment in their future that unlocks their potential.

Our greater investment in public education is made more necessary by the chronic under-funding by the state for our CITY schools.

Over a third of Metro students are low-income and 17 percent are English Language Learners. Research shows these students need more funding, not less. Yet, we receive a third less than the average funding that the state gives to other school districts.

Because the state underfunds kids in CITIES with its BEP formula, Nashville has to make up in our budget for the state’s…



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