Wednesday, June 17, 2015

What did the Council do on June 16th? Passed the budget (& funded early voting), advanced rent control, gave pay raises, created a new bureaucracy. (update)

The big news of the night is the Council unanimously passed the 2015-16 budget of $1.968 billion, which was a substitute for the mayor's budget. About the only difference between the original and the substitute was that the substitute gave the Election Commission the money they need (or want, depending on who is explaining what is going on at the elections commission) in order to fund early voting. The budget is 4% greater than last years budget and did not require an increase in the tax rate. Included in the budget was a 2.5% pay raise for most employees and more for some. The mayor's pay was increased from $136,500 to $180,000 a year, the schools got $36 million more than last year, libraries that were closed on Friday will now be open, the MTA got more subsidy, the Barnes Fund to support affordable housing got $1million, and a whole new Department of government was crated called Office of Family Safety to deal with domestic violence.

Occasionally someone will tell me they are disappointed that no one voted against the budget.  The way the charter is written, one cannot vote against the budget. If one votes "no" on the substitute, the effect of that vote is to vote for the mayor's budget.  If there was no substitute and a majority  voted "no" on the budget, then the mayor's budget would become the city's budget without being approved by the Council.  I think that needs to be changed so a council member can actually vote against the budget, but until it is the effect of a "no" vote on the budget is a to vote for the mayor's budget.  

To follow the council with your own copy of an agenda, staff analysis and to see my commentary, follow this link

Other than the budget and related budget items, these are some interesting agenda items:

Mayor's salary increase: Some council members did not want to increase the mayor's salary to $180K.  This is another case in which the charter makes it difficult to vote the way one might want to vote. To vote against the pay increase for the mayor, the council would have had to reject the entire pay plan proposal and send it back to the civil service commission. That means the other pay raises in the budget would have been delayed also. The council's legal adviser explains this and you can see it at time stamp 19:16

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1498 by Charlie Tygard request the  Metropolitan Civil Service Commission to consider and recommend an amendment to the General Pay Plan to partially base the compensation of Members of the Metropolitan Council upon Council and committee meeting attendance.  This was deferred again, which because it had been deferred more than two times, made it an indefinite deferral. That does not kill it necessarily; the sponsor could have it  put back on the agenda, but it will not automatically appear on the agenda next meeting.

RESOLUTION NO. RS2015-1515 by Charlie Tygard requests the Davidson County Delegation to the Tennessee General Assembly to introduce and support the necessary legislation to require full-time Davidson County elected officials to submit an annual report to the Comptroller detailing the dates they worked. It was deferred one meeting.  

Bills on Second Reading:
BILL NO. BL2015-1129  which would establish a Codes Offender School, much like we have a traffic violations school or a "John's School" for those arrested for solicitation of a prostitute. It is deferred one meeting.

BILL NO. BL2015-1143 is a bill which authorizes The Industrial Development Board  to negotiate and accept payments in lieu of ad valorem taxes with respect to CHS Realty Holdings III, LLC. What this means is that the city, though this board, funds the construction of the building and actually owns it for a certain number of years and as a tax exempt entity they do not have to pay taxes. However the company for which they build the building pays something in lieu of taxes but not anywhere near what they would pay if they were paying taxes. This is one of the means by which the city entices companies to locate in Nashville. It provides that the company for whom this building is being build pays nothing during the period of construction and continues to pay nothing until 2019 and then pays only 40% of what they would otherwise pay until 2028, then they pays 75% through 2027, at which time they would began paying 100% of their tax bill. There is more to it than that. The company must hire a certain number of people to keep this deal. There are benchmarks of employment for different periods.

I did not see this council revolt of the tax giveaway coming but am pleased but disappointed the revolt did not succeed. See time stamp 33:53  for the action on this bill. It passed by a vote of 27 to 6 with no abstentions and 7 members not voting. The "not voting" may have been absent or they may have been out of the room or just sit on their hands. The six "no's" were Paudue, Stites, Stanley, Tennpenny, and Duval.

BILL NO. BL2015-1146  is a bill which would allow "free-floating car-sharing vehicles to be exempt from the limitations imposed on vehicles lacking a residential parking permit when parking in a residential parking permit area."  There is a new service that allows members of a car sharing enterprise to get a car and drive it where they need to go, which may be on the street near there home where cars that park there are supposed to have a sticker saying they are allowed to park on that street. A member of this car sharing program may, for instance, take the bus to work but find an available car on their smart phone app and drive it home. This is a good innovation which helps make it possible for more people to survive without owning a car. I am pleased to see the city accommodate this innovation. This passes.

BILL NO. BL2015-1147 is one of the bills to advance rent control and home price fixing called "inclusionary zoning." The planning commission would have six months to come up with a specific proposal to implement this form of housing price control. That proposal would then have to come back to the council for approval.  See time stamp 40:53 for some discussion. The sponsor says the bill will be deferred on Third Reading. There is another bill, BL 1139, which is working it's way through the process which would even be more onerous than this bill. In the discussion the difference between the two bills are explained. In my view this and the other bill also should have been defeated. "Inclusionary zoning" will increase the cost of building housing and where it has been adopted it has produced very few units of affordable housing. For more on this topic, follow this link. The bill passes on a voice vote with no audible "no" votes. I am disgusted that the few "good" councilmen did not take a principled stand against this bill. They could have asked to be recorded as voting "no" and if there were as many as five opposed to it they could have required a roll call vote. Some members I spoke to reasoned that this did not actually do anything except tell the planning commission to study the issue and that by the time the planning commission reports back, a new council will have taken office. Still, this advances the notion of housing price control, which I do not think should even be entertained.

Bills on Third Reading:

BILL NO. BL2015-1124 is the Tax Relief Program for low-income elderly. As always, this passes. This is a good program which I support.

BILL NO. BL2015-1126 is a new tax, initially to be at $2, imposed on all parties in a civil litigation case to help fund the salary of General Sessions Judges. I assume this is legal, but just as once upon a time one had to pay a poll tax to exercise the right to vote and now we think that was not proper, we are now going to make one pay a tax to have the right to have access the courts. This is shameful. It passes with a machine vote with only Megan Barry voted against it, for what reason I do not know. Duane Dominy abstained and  nine members were not voting.

BILL NO. BL2015-1127  is another tax give away similar to 1143 above. It is deferred one meeting.

BILL NO. BL2015-1128  is the Asurion tax give-away similar to 1143. On a machine vote the vote is 25 for, 4 against, 2 abstentions and 9 not voting. The "no" votes were Pardue, Stites, Hagar, and Standley.

To read The Tennessean's report on the Council meeting, follow this link.

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