A day after the Davidson County Election Commission voted to send an anti-tax referendum to the voters, Metro Nashville and a business group are suing to stop it.
Metro argues the referendum’s backers didn’t collect enough legitimate signatures and that the proposal itself is unconstitutional and misleading. The Tennessee Lookout reports the Nashville Business Coalition has also filed a separate suit, claiming the referendum is an attempt to “cause chaos and sow confusion” at the expense of Metro workers.
The referendum’s supporters have sold it as a way to roll back a 34% tax increase that went into effect last year, but it can’t do that directly. By the time it goes to a vote, Metro plans to have already cut its tax rate back because of a citywide property reassessment.
If the referendum were to pass, it would cut just $40 million from Metro’s $2.6 billion budget for the upcoming year.
What the referendum does do is cap future tax increases, make it easier to force recall elections and place other limits on the Metro Council’s powers. Lawyers for the city argue most of those provisions are unenforceable, and they include language meant to steer people’s votes, in violation of state law.
“Tennessee courts require referendum language to be sufficiently clear and understandable so as to avoid voter confusion and allow intelligent casting of votes,” the city says.
More: Read the Metro suit.
The city also says 550 of the signatures collected by the referendum’s backer, 4 Good Government, were actually placed on another version. If those signatures were discarded, the group would be short of the 12,142 needed.
In response to the filings, 4 Good Government attorney Jim Roberts called their arguments “dishonest” and “frivolous at best.” He also questions the standing of the Nashville Business Coalition to challenge the initiative.
Metro and the Nashville Business Coalition had shared their concerns through weeks of election commission debate. But, after a conservative legal scholar hired to give outside advice told commissioners it wasn’t their role to rule on the referendum’s merits, the commission approved it Monday night on a 3-2 vote split along party lines.
If the referendum isn’t blocked by the courts, voting would take place July 27. Metro estimates the special election would cost the government about $800,000. So, Metro lawyers are asking the Davidson County Chancery Court to rule quickly to spare the city the expense.