Nashville public officials and business leaders are condemning a plan to roll back the 34% property tax increase that councilmembers passed in June.
The Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act wants to limit the city’s ability to give public land to private entities and slow property tax increases, which officials say could create a $332 million deficit for this fiscal year alone.
That hole means class sizes in Metro Nashville Public Schools would increase, trash pickup would switch to twice a month, recycling would be eliminated and one-third of police officers would be laid off.
“This would cripple our city and gut essential city services. After two natural disasters this year, we don’t need a self-inflicted one,” Mayor John Cooper says. “This would severely weaken Nashville at a time when we need to build Nashville stronger.”
Americans for Prosperity Tennessee, a conservative political advocacy group backed by the anti-tax Koch brothers, is backing this referendum. The group says it will let Nashvillians have a say on the tax increase.
“If the government can’t restrain itself, we the people will act to restrain the government,” state director Tori Venable says. “Mayor Cooper’s unrealistic scare tactics won’t work; we look forward to voters proving it at the polls and making their voices heard in December.”
This week the city will learn if there will be a special election in December for voters to decide on the charter amendments.
Metro has been facing budget challenges for years. It’s made cuts, but it’s also sold Metro property prior to raising the property tax rate. The referendum would stop the city from doing those things without voter support.
In past years, the council has debated increasing the tax to add more services. But this year the debate was centered on avoiding serious cutbacks or layoffs.
That led the council to vote 32-8 to increase the rate. And even some opponents say they’re against the proposed referendum.
“Mandating a 2% cap is just as fiscally irresponsible as the rampant spending and poor fiscal policy that got us to this point in the first place,” says Councilmember Courtney Johnston, who represents Crieve Hall and Paragon Mills. “The city wouldn’t be able to provide basic services; essential services like public safety and schools would suffer. It would essentially cause a government shutdown which, believe me, no one wants.
“In the long term, a 2% cap wouldn’t even allow us to keep up with inflation. We absolutely need fiscal responsibility, but a 2% cap is just not practical or sustainable.”
Tomorrow night Nashville councilmembers will consider an alternative plan to keep the charter and property tax rate the same.
Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the amount of the planned property tax increase. It’s 34%, not 32%.