I’ve been mixing my metaphors lately: houses, gambling, cleaning, stores, trains. “We’re off track.” “We need to clean house.” One day last week, I was thinking perhaps I should make an effort to dial down the use of metaphors in my remarks about Metro when a constituent said to me that it appeared to him that Metro had misplaced priorities and was putting a lot of energy into branding and marketing and less into fundamentals of governance.
“Indeed,” I said. “Recent mayors have put a lot of energy into highlighting programs & proclamations, but it would behoove the city if they would spend less time touting the admirable variety of merchandise in the display windows and more time paying attention to all the essential products being stolen out of the back of the store!” (A store metaphor, right off the top of my head–apparently, I’m a metaphor addict.)
My blog post about my budget vote was too loooong. I could already feel people falling asleep as I was typing it. One of the central points I was trying to make was that Metro needs to address several key, structural and policy issues before asking individual taxpayers to contribute more in property tax. I briefly listed several areas that need attention, and lest you think I did not expound upon them sufficiently in my other post, I decided to flesh them out a bit more here.
- Address the revenue capture in the tourism development zone (TDZ). Structured to provide dedicated tax revenue for operations and debt service on the new convention center, this zone is too large, extending well past downtown. It’s so large that the Convention Center Authority (CCA) is running a $100 million revenue surplus and using that surplus to fund parking garages in private development, like the recent $38 million contributed to the 5th & Broadway project. As negotiated by Metro, the CCA directed $10 million to the general fund this year. They may be able to provide more, but we also need to consider whether the boundaries of the TDZ need to be redrawn via legislation at the State. Learn more about the TDZ here: https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/07/01/nashville-music-city-center-tennessee-tourism-lower-broadway-tax-revenue/737803002/
- Advance a referendum ASAP within the next two years for a fundamentals-first transportation plan with dedicated funding for sidewalks, greenways, bikeways & a truly excellent bus system. This will open up at least $48 million in the annual operational budget. Mayor Barry’s gamble in 2017, when she didn’t adjust the tax rate (historically always a mayor-lead effort) so she could tout the “lowest tax rate ever” for the benefit of marketing her high-cost, low-return, debt-laden transit plan (which failed via referendum 2 to 1) is coming due. We cannot wait five years to advance a better more modest plan that will make a positive difference for more people.
- Be pro-active and intentional about implementing business improvement districts (BID) in our suburban centers to supplement funding for the specific operational and capital needs of those areas. In a sprawled city/county consolidated government like Nashville, BIDs allow these established business hubs, many with legacy chambers of commerce, to enhance infrastructure and services on their own, tailored terms. This is an important financial and community building tool that Nashville is so far only using in three areas. Learn more about BIDs here: https://www.pps.org/article/bid-2
- Elevate ethics in procurement. Nashville has had several messy, major procurements this term first for the potential redevelopment of the park land that was home to the former Greer Stadium and most recently for the purchase and management of our on-street parking system, a plan most on Council oppose. In response to the Collier Engineering scandal, Mayor Briley hired a 100K position in the Mayor’s Office to address ethics in procurement. Fine, but at the same time, we should probably stop doing business with the corrupt contractors that sparked this work, no? Why is our city still doing business with a firm that we have verifiable proof stole money from taxpayers? Tolerance of grifters only begets more grifters.
- Reform tax increment financing (TIF). TIF can be an important tool when used as intended to catalyze development in depressed and blighted areas, but TIF was still being doled out for prime downtown real estate projects in 2017. Nashville’s real estate market is burning hot, and fires don’t need gasoline poured on them. (Metaphor alert) This needs to stop, and I appreciate Councilman Cooper and Councilman Mendes’ work to address this. Learn more about TIF in Nashville here: https://www.nashville.gov/document/ID/2ee32fe9-1022-4eff-8462-1ae457b923fc/Final-Report-May-7-2019
- Address incentives and abatements for preferred developers and corporations. For per-job type incentives, we’re still paying half a million to Dell every year in our budget, apparently because no one in the Mayor’s Office or on the Council thought to put a reasonable time limit on that incentive when it passed in 1999. This year, I amended the Amazon per-job incentive bill, which I didn’t vote for, to cap them after 7 years. I opposed $15 million in infrastructure incentives for the Nashville Yards development, the $20 million un-itemized bucket in our capital spending plan for the River North development, and the 10-acre give away for a private, mixed-use development that was part of the soccer deal. Private development should pay for itself, full stop. Hopefully abatements are an incentive of the past, but the Omni Hotel is still abated to the tune of around $2 million per year, and the Bridgestone Americas downtown tower is receiving a 100 percent property tax abatement for 20 years, just to name a few. These decisions have accrued to the detriment of our general fund, basic services, and schools.
Metro Government needs to get our house in order, and I’m determined to help clean things up. If we address the issues listed above, we’ll be back on the right track. (I know, I know, cleaning house AND train tracks, but I told you at the start I was having a metaphor problem, so it was bound to show up in the conclusion.)
P.S. Please note that these blogs are far from research papers. Is there more to be said, more facts to be shared? Sure. But there’s only so much time in the day to serve my constituents, complete two major policy efforts (trees! sidewalks!), and campaign to continue to representing District 34. If you like what you read here, there’s also a contribution page on this website, and I’d be grateful for your support to continue serving on the city council. Next financial deadline is June 30th. Thanks very much!