Thursday, August 29, 2019

Briley and Cooper debate the city's finances.

by Rod Williams - On Tuesday night, Mayor David Briley and Councilman at-large John Cooper faced off in a debate at Belmont University.  As it very well should, the debate centered on city finances.  To watch the debate follow this link.

In one exchange during the debate, David Briley said of Cooper, "If he is a Democrat, he ought to act like it."  I guess what Briley meant by that statement, is that Cooper should not be concerned that the budget doesn't balance and we are deeply in debt. Highlights of the debate are that John Cooper said he would not raise taxes and Briley said raising taxes were not off the table.  In fairness, Cooper also said one should not take any option off the table, but Cooper took a stronger stand against raising taxes than Briley.

Moderator Jessica Bliss asked a question about the debt of the city (see timestamp -53.49). She said the State had expressed concern about Metro's debt load.  Metro has debt of more than $4 and half  billion dollars and the State of Tennessee has, by comparison, only $2 billion. What, she asked, would you do to  address the State's concern.

Cooper points out that the letter also questions our low fund balances and the fact that Metro's budget does not balance.  Cooper says he would "rebalance" our priorities.  He also said lack of transparency has allowed much of the public to be confused about where our finances really are. He says the Comptroller's letter is "a big wake-up call."

Briley says the comptroller's letter is essentially "a political document."  He said we have a good bond rating and the letter was issued as a result of actions initiated by Cooper and his "conservative friends" on the Metro Council.  This is astonishing. The Comptroller has a serious responsibility and does not issue letters of this nature lightly.  That Briley does not take this issue serious should disqualify him. If the city does not address the issues raised by the city, there are serious consequences. Unless we address the serious issues raised by the Comptroller, Metro will not be permitted to sell Tax Anticipation Notes.  Since tax collection occurs in spurts and expenses are relatively constant, the city has to engage in short term borrowing in anticipation of the tax revenue that will be received. If prohibited from doing so, there would be serious disruption in metro paying its bills.  Metro employees may not get paid on time. For Bailey to so cavalierly dismiss the serious of the findings of the Comptroller's office should make one question his fitness for office.

Part of the debate boils down to who is the most "progressive."  I am wholeheartedly supporting Cooper in this race but I wish he did not take such delight in denouncing "privatization" and "trickle-down economics."  He is right on substance in the instances of which he speak, but I support, in general, both privatization and supply-side economics.  Another term for "privatizations" is "contracting out." I don't think many people think it was a mistake when we "privatized" our garbage collection. 

"Trickle-down" economics has become a liberal term for "supply-side" economics but it is also used to describe corporate welfare. What Cooper is denouncing is corporate welfare, not supply side economics.  I wish the same term was not used to define two different things but it is. When Cooper talks about "trickle-down" economics, he is speaking about corporate welfare or incentives we give to businesses to entice them to relocate to Nashville, expand in Nashville or to not leave Nashville.  Denouncing "trickle-down" economics appeals to progressives more than denouncing "welfare." Despite using the loaded term "trickle-down" economics, I agree with Cooper in that we too often offer companies incentives. Cooper would be much more judicious about offering incentives to businesses than has been Briley.

This is a serious debate where the candidates really disagree. In addition to the important issue of Metro's finances, the candidates discuss transportation, affordable housing, education and juvenile crime. At about timestamp -10:15, Briley makes the strong argument that he is the real progressive in the race on issues such as LBGT advocacy and advocacy of illegal immigration. He is hoping that people will vote for him because he is the most progressive while we sink in debt and his administration cannot balance a budget. Cooper makes the argument that he too is progressive. Maybe they are both equally progressive but Cooper sees our finances as a major issues facing the city, and Briley downplays the importance of our financial mess. Briley says vote for me because I am the true progressive. Cooper says vote for me because I will bring about sound fiscal responsibility to the management of Metro.  If you are not sure how the candidates differ, I encourage you to watch this debate. If you do, I think you will agree with me, that Cooper is by far the better candidate.

To view The Tennessean's report on the debate, follow this link

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