Sunday, January 28, 2018

How members of the Council voted on the mayor's tax for tracks plan

On Tuesday night January 23rd the Council met and passed on Second Reading Bill BL2017-1031 adopting Mayor Barry's transit improvement program and requesting the Davidson County Election Commission to call a county-wide referendum election to be held on May 1, 2018 to approve the tax increases to support the program.  As expected the bill passed overwhelmingly.

The bill was amended to modify the wording of the referendum. The new language made the plan more attractive by distorting the facts. It required that the language of the referendum not say that the vote on the referendum is a vote increasing the sales tax to 10.25% but instead to say the vote is a vote to increase the local option sales tax to 3.25%.

Councilman Cooper proposed an amendment that would require that the public referendum language state that the project would cost $8.952 billion which is the cost of the project over 15 years. The referendum was to state that the project is a $5 billion project. The  $8.952 billion figure is a figure stated in the project plan and is the estimated cost of the plan over the 15-year construction period. The $5 billion dollar figure is only some of the cost expressed in current dollars.

His amendment would have also revealed the amount of the total sales tax if the referendum is approved instead of just the local share of the total which is 3.25%. His amendment would have had the referendum state the local option would increase to 3.2% for a total sales tax rate of 10.25%. Cooper's amendment was tabled by a vote of 21 in favor of tabling, 14 against, one abstention and three not voting.

A "yes" vote was a vote to kill Cooper's amendment.  A yes vote was a vote to not reveal the true cost or reveal the total new sales tax rate the public would be voting on. A vote for honesty and transparency was a "no" vote. Here is how the Council voted on the motion to table Cooper's amendment:

The vote on the amendment
Voting "Yes," to table Cooper's amendment.
Scott Davis, District 5                         Bret Withers, District  6           Anthony Davis, District 7
Nancy VanReece, District 8                Bill Pridemore, District 9        Doug Pardue, District 10    
Keven Rhoten, District 14                  Jeff Syracuse, District 15         Mike Freeman, District 16
Colby Sledge, District 17                   Burkeley Allen, District 18      Freddie O'Connell, District 19
Sheri Weiner, District  22                   Mina Johnson, District  23       Kathleen Murphy, District 24
Russ Pulley, District 25                     Jeremy Elrod, District 26          Davette Blalock, District 27   Jason Potts, District  30                     Fabian Bedne, District 31         Jacobia Dowell, District 32
Voting "No," not to table Cooper's amendment
John Cooper, At-large                   Erica Gilmore, At-large                Bob Mendes, At-large
Sharon Hurt, A-large                    Jim Shulman, At-large                   DeCosta Hastings, District 2
Robert Swope, District 4              Larry Hagar, District 11                 Steve Glover, District  12
Ed Kindall, District 21                 Tanaka Vercher, District 28            Karen Johnson, District  29 Antionette Lee, District  22          Angie Henderson, District 34                  
Voting to Abstain:  Dave Rosenberg, District 35

Not voting: 
Brenda Haywood, District 3      Holly Huezo, District 13               Mary Carolyn Roberts, District 20

The vote on the Bill
Following the vote on the above amendment, action was taken on the bill.  A "yes" vote was a vote to approve the bill which means approving the mayor's transit plan and putting the issues on a public referendum and a "no" vote was a no vote. Here is how they voted:

Voting Yes on the Bill
Bob Mendes, At-large               Jim Shulman, At-large                     DeCosta Hastings, District 2 Brenda Haywood, District 3      Scott Davis, District 5                     Bret Withers, District 6
Anthony Davis, District 7         Nancy VanReece, District 8             Bill Pridemore, District 9
Doug Pardue, District 10           Larry Hagar, District 11                  Kevin Rhoten, District 14 Jeff Syracuse, District 15                 Mike Freeman, District 16              Colby Sledge, District 17
Burkley Allen, District 18        Freddie O'Connell, District 19         Sheri Weiner, District 22
Mina Johnson, District 23        Kathleen Murphy, District 24          Russ Pulley, District 25
Jeremy Elrod, District 26         Davette Blalock, District 27            Tanaka Vercher, District 28
Karen Johnson, District 29      Jason Potts, District 30                     Fabian Bedne, District 31
Jacobia Dowell, District 32     Antionette Lee, District 33               Dave Rosenberg District 35

Voting NO on the Bill
John Cooper, at-large              Sharon Hurt, at-large                        Robert Swope, District 4
Steve Glover, District 12         Ed Kindall, District 21                     Angie Henderson, District 34

The minutes of the meeting do not list those who abstained or were not voting.  Why, I do not know. Those unaccounted for in the above tally are Holly Huezo, District 13 and Mary Carolyn Roberts, District 20 both of whom were absent.  District one is a vacant seat.

If you are unsure who your council member is, you can go to this page and use the look-up tool to find out. 

One observation about the result of this vote is that just because one is a Republican, you cannot always assume they will cast a vote that you agree with. I am disappointed in the vote cast by Davette Blalock and Sheri Weiner, both of whom identify as Republicans. Davette Blalock ran for a state legislative seat as a Republican.

Another observation is that African-American members of the Council, probably reflecting the views of their constituents, are not  sold on this project. In the final vote on the bill, two of the six "no" votes were Black council members and on the Cooper amendment of the 14 "no" votes six of them were by Black members of the Council and two of those six were the two at-large Black council members.  Blacks may realize that light rail will come at the expense of improved bus service and Black Nashvillians ride the bus at a greater rate than the average Nashvillian.  If mass transit ridership continues to decline, to cut operating cost bus service will be cut, not the fixed light rail service. Also, light rail will probably result in the spread of gentrification along the light rail route.

In addition to the merits of the issue, Black members of the community may be feeling that the mayor has betrayed them. She proposed closing General Hospital and she failed to support the effort to establish a civilian police oversight board, both issues the Black community care about. Opponents of the mayor's light rail proposal should take the message to the Black community and should court Black leaders.

While the vote last Tuesday when this bill was on second reading was almost a foregone conclusion, passage on third reading is less assured. I think the odds favor it passing but it is by no means a certainty.  On third reading this bill will require a two-thirds vote of the members of the body.  District one is an empty seat and if we assume again two members will be absent, then only four votes have to switch. And, they do not have two switch from "yes" to "no." All they have to do is abstain or sit on their hands or go to the bathroom. On third reading, an abstention or simply not voting is as good as a "no" vote. There were several of the 14 who voted against tabling the Cooper amendment who ended up voting for the bill.  They at least have reservation or disapprove of the way the referendum is worded to deceive.  There may be four votes that will switch from "yes" to some other status.

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