Thursday, May 14, 2020

How Nashville Mayor John Cooper's budget proposal could play out as it heads before Metro Council

by Rod Williams - This article in the Tennessean offers insight into how the Metro budget battle may play out. If is for Tennessean subscribers only and I know many people don't subscribe, so I am going to summarize and excerpt.

If you have been paying attention, you already know the mayor's budget calls for a 32% increase. The proposed budget is $2.4 billion. Not stated in this article, but that is a 3% larger budget than the current budget.

"The city is projected to lose $470 million in revenue over the next 16 months, including more than $200 million in the next fiscal year, which starts July 1."

"Cooper's proposal calls for a $1 property tax increase, which would bring the rate to $4.155 per $100 of assessed value in the city's more urban areas. Those with a home appraised at $250,000 would pay about $625 more per year under Cooper's proposal."

The article gives some history recalling that property taxes have not been raised in a while and that last year while Mayor Briley did not propose a tax increase, the Council came within one vote of passing a tax increase and that effort was led by Council member at-large Bob Mendes  Over half of the Council is composed of new members and the new member will look to council members like Budget Chair Bob Mendes and former Budget Chair Tanaka Vercher for leadership.

Mendes makes a valid point saying that we have no idea what kind of revenue position we will be in, in six months and that we should pass a budget but pledge to reconsider it prior to tax bills going out in October.  Mendes is saying he is working on a substitute budget and while he doesn't say so directly, it looks like he will ask for a bigger tax increase than what the mayor wants.

Council member Steve Glover is putting together another budget proposal that raises taxes but considerably less than what the mayor proposes.

Emily Benedict is working on another budget proposal along with the LGBTQ caucus.  Why homosexuals would have different budget priorities than other members and why their sexual orientation would cause them to agree on budget priorities is beyond me. She wants to see the cuts to the Barnes Fund for affordable housing restored and says we should consider cutting all business incentives for corporation for this one year. "Cooper's budget proposal calls for a reduction by 50% in economic incentive grants, including for six companies, to save $1.2 million," says the article.

Since this speaks of cutting the incentives to six specific companies, I am assuming this is incentives included in previous negotiated incentive packages. While I oppose most incentive packages, if we previously promised the money and a company relocated here based on that understanding I do not see how we can now just not make those payments.  I would have to have more information in order to have an informed opinion of this.

The Minority Caucus is also working on a budget and looking at it through an "equity lens."

Council member Zulfat Suara says she wants a lower tax increase than proposed by the mayor, wants no layoffs but understands Metro employees may have to go without a raise and is looking at putting less money in reserves. She floats the idea of borrowing money.  The opportunity to borrow from something called the Municipal Liquidity Fund is available.  This was a resource only available to larger cities but the day before the mayor released his budget, the threshold was lowered.  We could borrow money at 0% interest that would have to be paid back in three years.  Some are skeptical of this approach.

A source of funding that the city is not yet sure what it could be used to fund, is the $121 million federal Covid-19 aid package. It comes with strings attached and is supposed to cover Covid-19 expenses but it sounds like it can just not be used to make up for lost revene.

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