Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Council member Angie Henderson's Report on the Metro budget

Angie Henderson
From Council member Angie Henderson's newsletter, 6/16/2020 - The third and final reading of Metro's annual budget is on Tuesday, June 16, unless the Council defers the budget to another meeting for additional discussion. By Charter, we must pass a budget by June 30.

Monday evening I participated in the six-hour Budget & Finance Committee meeting to advocate for my amendments to the budget, one of which eliminates all economic incentives for corporations, and was narrowly recommended for approval by the committee. The other two packages of amendments were my best effort to comb the budget and get the rate as far under the proposed $1 and $1.06 rate increases that I could in a combination that the majority of the body will support.

My impression from the budget works sessions and response to my amendments in last nights meeting is the majority of the Council does not have the willingness to make significant cuts or introduce even the most modest of wheel taxes (I've proposed $12 more per car).

The Citizens' Guide to the Metro Budget provides key reference materials. You can see the various substitute budgets and amendments at the second link. My amendments are numbered 22, 23, & 24 in the analysis.

This budget season has been the most difficult of my service on Council, which is saying something after the David Briley budget of last year with a $40 million hole in it. Link to my blog from last year & another one here. Our budget process remains broken. Given the constraints placed upon the Council about discussing pending legislation, we all work in isolation to make proposed cuts around the margins when we should be working together towards certain core principles and targets so the public can see clearly the validity, or not, and impact of our various budgeting assumptions and assertions. 

The only mercy in these recent budget difficulties is that I still believe we have elected a mayor, who despite his proposed tax increase this year, truly wants and has laid the ground work in his administration to address the long-compouding structural and ethical issues, the gaming of revenues and the deferral of debt of past mayoral administrations that have converged with the reduced revenues of this Covid-19 moment.

 New yesterday, reported Metro sales tax revenue for March was only off 10% from 2019. The Safer at Home order went into effect late that month though, and we will not see April revenue till July 15 and May revenue till August 15. As such, Councilman Mendes has indicated via his substitute budget that with new reporting from Metro Finance on August 15, if the department's anticipated revenue estimate was too conservative, we will have an opportunity to amend the tax levy for a lower rate before property tax bills are mailed this fall.

Rod's comment: The above highlighting is mine.

In my view Angie Henderson is one of a handful of good council members.  She is thoughtful, smart, rational and works hard. I am pleased to see her address the difficulty caused by Sunshine legislation.  It is almost impossible to negotiate compromises and count votes if Council members can not speak to each other.  This puts at a disadvantage those who wish to develop an alternative budget that raises taxes less.  This has not often been addressed by anyone. I would not want to go back to the era of smoke-filled rooms when a handful of the most powerful met in secret and drew up a budget, which is what happened when I served in the Council in the 80's, but it appears we have gone overboard and the current rules make it hard for the Council to function.

I am very disappointed in Mayor Coopers performance as mayor.  I which he would have taken the position that now is not the time to raise taxes and would have taken the position that Metro employee lay-offs are necessary and would have called for cuts in services and suspension of some service until revenues improve.  However, I think Henderson has a point. in saying that Cooper is committed to structural changes to get our financial house in order.  I think he is also. I just wish he opposed raising taxes as much as I do.  

Angie is to be commended for offering amendments that would provide for a lesser tax increase.  I do not take much comfort in the point she makes that Councilman Mendes has indicated that if revenues are better than expected that the tax levy could be amended to lower the rate.  It is rare that government rolls back a tax increase. I'll only believe it if I see it.

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1 comment:

  1. I agree with your view of Angie Henderson. She is smart, open minded, and takes issues one at a time, not following a particular party line. I wish Nashville would fine a way to have the tourist trade (which the leadership wanted so badly and broke our budget to attract) pay for the majority of our budget problems.