Thursday, June 13, 2019

Steve Glover proposes a 11.5 cent property tax hike.

Rod Williams, 6-12-19  - I have seldom seen a tax hike that I liked. I am predisposed to oppose a tax increase and I don't think Nashvillians are under-taxed. I don't think Nashville has a revenue problem but a spending and management problem.  However, I am ready to bite the bullet and support a modest tax increase. If we do not have a modest tax increase, then we might end up with a much larger increase. Also, I think that we have to face the facts that Nashville is in financial trouble. I talk to people who are informed and involved and they all say that things are really bad in Nashville. I know we have a problem with retention of teachers and policemen and we are understaffed in the fire department. Our public schools system keeps getting worse with an increasing number of failing schools.

Yesterday, I had lunch with a former police officer who still has a lot of friends on the force.  She said a lot of policemen are applying for and some getting hired by surrounding cities such as Clarksville where they make more money in a less stressful environment. This former officer said many policemen are simply getting out of law enforcement and others, when they near retirement eligibility, are taking their accumulated vacation and sick days and retiring at the earliest possible date. Normally policeman might work several years after the date at which they could retire.  We know morale is low among Metro employees who have not had a raise in several years.

Mayor Briley has not proposed a tax increase. He is a progressive and I assume he has no great desire to reform metro and cut nonessential services and institute fiscal reforms. He wants a more activist government, not a more restrained government. He wants to do more, to help the homeless, the housing cost-stressed, the LGBT community and immigrants. He is not called for cutting services.  I think he simply thinks it would be political suicide to raise taxes a month before the election.

Mayor Briley, however, is a weak mayor.  He became mayor by accident and he has not done much to inspire confidence.  He supported the proposed transit boondoggle which failed to pass public referendum and he opposed the referendum on the police oversight board, which did pass. He looks weak. He seems to flounder from one mishap to the next without a plan. The Cherry trees episode is an example  He does not appear in control and he does not appear to lead.

Much of the situation Briley faces is not his fault. Megan Barry left Nashville in this mess.  She did not raise taxes when she had a prime opportunity. The most opportune time to raise taxes is early in a term, so voters have time to get over it, and during a massive  reappraisal since most people will blame their tax increase on the reappraisal and not the mayor and council. I am pleased she did not raise taxes.  However, if you are not going to raise taxes, you need to cut non-essentials and increase efficiency.  Barry was not on a campaign to do that, but maybe she would have done some of that had she not gotten distracted. To her credit, she did propose closing Metro General Hospital which is not required, is wasteful, and is unnecessary. She proposed it but did not make the effort to make it happen. She didn't sell it. She did not expend political capital to make it happen.  So, Barry was not successful at cutting government and she did not raise taxes. At the time, Barry was pushing the transit referendum and maybe she thought raising property taxes would hurt the referendum. As it turns out, she was forced out of office before the transit campaign got underway and it failed.

While, I do not believe, the council has ever passed a tax increase not propose by a mayor, it could happen this year.  In fact I think it is likely to happen.  For the second year in a row, Councilman Robert Mendes has proposed to raise property taxes. This year he's submitted a substitute budget that would increase the  property tax rate 52.5 cents or 16.6%.  Under this proposal the Urban services tax rate would go from $3.155 per $100 of assessment to $3.68.

Councilman Steve Glover has proposed a budget that would raise the property tax rate by only 3.6%. It would increase the property tax rate by 11.5 cents.  The Urban Services District property tax rate would increase from $3.155 to $3.27 per $100 of assessed value and in the General Services District the rate would go from $2.755 to $2.87.  This would give would give all Metro employees, including teachers, a 6% raise. 

In putting forth his budget proposal, Glover is quoted as telling the Tennessean, "I'm not ready to gamble on a property tax increase for 16%."  While I would prefer cutting government to raising taxes, I think Glover is right. The choice before the Council is to follow Briley and not raise taxes, vote for Mendes's 16% increase or Glover's 3.6%.  I favor voting for Glover's 3.6%.

If I was convinced that the council would get serious about cutting unnecessary government and fiscal reform, then I would favor no tax increase, but I do not see that happening. It is ironic that Steve Glover who is one of the most conservative voices in the Council was one of the leading voices that helped kill Mayor Barry's plan to cut General Hospital. Glover's proposal will raise $35.65 million in revenue.  The Council subsidizes General Hospital $46 million.

I am only in favor of Glover's plan because I prefer a 3.6% increase rather than a 16% increase. It is a pragmatic consideration.  If the choice is only between the mayor's plan and the Medes plan, I fear the Mendes plan will pass.  Unfortunately, those calling for cutting waste and fiscal reform are a voice crying in the wilderness.

Rather than raise taxes, what I think should happen is we should take a top to bottom, line item by line item examination of the budget and cut out waste, corruption, mismanagement and unnecessary spending. I would close General Hospital which serves no purpose other than to boost the ego of the Black community.  I would ban police overtime except in a declared emergency and make sponsors of events pay for their own security, I would stop the outlandish over payment of fees to the managers of Metro's pension fund, I would tell the school board to slash overhead and to rapidly consolidate schools to reflect the reduced enrollment, and I would find out why it takes $6 million dollars to build 3 miles of sidewalk.  I would fire a bunch of department heads such as those who allow it to take $6 million to build three miles of sidewalks. I would discontinue corporate welfare. I would change Metro's pension system from a guaranteed benefit to a guaranteed contribution system.

Unfortunately, when even the conservatives on Council won't vote for smaller government and work to make it happen but instead work to stop cuts when they are proposed, then we are left with the choice of raising tax a little or raising taxes a lot.

References: here and here and here.

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