Republican leadership in the Tennessee House has asked the state comptroller to conduct a “thorough review” of Nashville’s management of $131 million in state and federal COVID-19 relief funding.
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In response to Nashville’s lagging economic recovery and anticipating additional requests for state aid from the state’s budget next year, House Speaker Cameron Sexton, R-Crossville, Majority Leader William Lamberth, R-Portland, and 10 other House Republicans sent Comptroller Justin Wilson a letter Friday, asking him to review the city’s use of federal relief funds.
“In Tennessee, we do let locals do what they need to do, but we’re not here to write a blank check and go into a partnership blind,” Sexton said in an interview with The Center Square. “So we are asking the comptroller to give us some thorough review of where their spending has been.”
Sexton called out Nashville Mayor John Cooper’s restrictive economic policies that have prevented many businesses from fully reopening after mandatory pandemic-related shutdowns.
“When he’s saying that business is what keeps this economy thriving and growing, and they need businesses to be open, it calls into question why he shut down Nashville for as long as he has, and why it’s the worst performing city in America right now, and why it’s the worst performing county in our state right now,” Sexton said.
The letter noted that of the more than 19,000 local governments in the country, only 36 municipalities were provided direct federal COVID-19 relief. Sexton said Cooper’s request for additional funding from the state earlier this month raised questions about how the city used the significant funding it already received.
“They had $121 million coming from the federal government, we gave them 10 additional million – so that’s $130 million. They said they needed another $82 million from the state. And then on top of that, they’re raising taxes about 34%, potentially,” Sexton said.
Gov. Bill Lee denied the city’s request for an additional $82 million in state funding last week.
In response to House leadership’s request, Cooper’s office said Nashville is ready for the comptroller’s review.
“We welcome the comptroller’s audit,” Chris Song, a spokesperson from Cooper’s office told The Center Square, praising the work of Metro’s COVID-19 Financial Oversight Committee.
“Nashville’s direct CARES Act allocation has been spent directly on our COVID-19 emergency response and responsibly allocated to address the greatest need in our community, helping struggling Nashvillians keep food on their tables and roofs over their families’ heads, providing our residents with job placement assistance, and supporting our small businesses during the sharpest and most sudden recession in our lifetimes,” Song said.
Cooper outlined how the city has spent the federal funds in his letter requesting additional funds from the state earlier this month. According to Cooper, the city has spent $51.3 million on mass COVID-19 testing operations in the city, labor costs and hazard pay for more than 3,000 critical infrastructure employees and personal protective equipment.
Additionally, the city spent $24