Tennessee Democratic Senators l-r; Sen. Raumesh Akbari (D-Memphis), Sen. Sara Kyle (D-Memphis), Sen. Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis), Sen. Brenda Gilmore (D-Nashville), and Sen. Jeff Yarbro (D-Nashville)

By Peter White

Elected Officials Get Back to Work

NASHVILLE, TN — After a 2½-month hiatus, Tennessee legislators are going back to work. Republicans have several dystopian bills they want to pass but with the economy in shambles, budget-cutting is now first on their agenda.

The Republican will have to wait until next year to pass a no-permit gun carry bill. Gov. Bill Lee likes the idea but most gun owners don’t. Lee also likes the idea of taking public school funds to pay tuition in private schools. Fortunately, Davidson County Chancellor Anne C. Martin ruled we still have separation of church and state in Tennessee so the Gov’s voucher plan is dead.

And there is an abortion bill so restrictive it makes having sex without a license pretty much illegal. Why not just put a tax on sex? That would raise plenty of money.

Tennessee’s nativist wingnuts are not just a lunatic fringe. They are out of step and out of their minds but they control what happens on Capitol Hill. To be more transparent, they should change their name to the Crackpot Party.  

Democratic senators have a no nonsense agenda they want to prioritize without delay. It includes containing the coronavirus, getting health coverage to essential and frontline workers by expanding Medicaid, no cuts to schools or mass layoffs, repeal tax breaks, and make online retailers pay higher taxes. Some of these ideas might fly with the Crackpots.

“We are presenting an alternative framework to extreme cuts; options that allow us to invest in the health of frontline every worker, provide a much-needed boost to Tennessee’s economy and protect investments in our public schools and services that are key to our recovery,” said Sen. Raumesh Akbari, (D-Memphis). Akbari is the Senate Democratic caucus chairwoman.

Although outnumbered 28-5 in the Senate, Democrats are hoping to find common cause with Republicans on a number of economic programs. A Made-in-Tennessee policy to buy Tennessee products and services would boost the economy and increase tax revenues.

Expanding apprenticeship programs in the building trades and passing a medical marijuana law are popular ideas on both sides of the aisle and passing Gov. Lee’s criminal justice reforms could save $175 million.

Akbari told the Tribune she thinks hard economic times dictate bipartisanship and she hopes the Republicans will go along with Democratic proposals.

Déjà vu All Over Again

NASHVILLE, TN — For the second time in a decade, Nashville residents are signing referendum petitions to stop City Hall from privatizing the Fairgrounds. In 2011, citizens made it clear by a 70% to 30% majority they didn’t want private development on the 105-year-old Fairgrounds. 

In 2014 a Metro Council bill signed by then Mayor Karl Dean seemed to place a moratorium on private development at the Fairgrounds. But Chancellor Ellen Hobbes Lyle interpreted the language of the 2011 Charter Amendment to give enough legal space for developers to wiggle through. Metro Council approved the stadium lease and Lyle ruled those 27 votes give Metro the right to build a stadium.

A series of crooked deals, strong-arm tactics, and Metro Council’s 27-votes–giving John Ingram 10 acres to develop–have cleared the way to build a MLS stadium at the Fairgrounds. The State Fair has been held there for more than a century. Metro says the city will still put on a fair and preserve the existing uses. Opponents say there is no way that will happen. There simply isn’t enough room. 

“You can’t take away a third of the available space and still conduct a state fair,” said Save Our Fairgrounds attorney Jim Roberts. 

A lawsuit brought by preservationists against Mayors Barry, Briley, and now Cooper is headed for trial in August. Lyle has been telegraphing her position through a series of rulings that support City Hall and she is expected to approve the stadium deal.

That doesn’t leave a lot of time for Fairgrounds supporters to mount a successful referendum campaign but they intend to file 10,000 signatures soon after the August election in order to have a special election in December. 

They can’t put the measure, Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, on the November 3 ballot because the Community Oversight Board referendum was passed on November 6, 2018. There has to be at least two years between citizen-led referendums. 

Former Councilman Duane Dominy said a local anti-tax group, 4GoodGovernment, is organizing the signature drive. He said several groups have formed a coalition to collect signatures including local businesses, some city employee unions, Fairgrounds supporters, and open space advocates. 

Roberts said the referendum will force a vote on the bond issue. Metro Council voted down holding a voter referendum on the soccer stadium deal in September 2018. 

“There is a reason they didn’t let it go to a referendum,” Dominy said. “They had polled and they saw the data. There are a number of people who want a soccer stadium somewhere. Most of them don’t care whether it’s at Fairgrounds, Metro Center or Titan stadium but by and large, people don’t want the stadium at the Fairgrounds,” he said.

Dominy said the contract gives full control of scheduling to MLS and gives them the right of first refusal.  “So any event that’s scheduled and they want to put a soccer game over it, the multi-day event goes away because the soccer game preempts it. So none of the existing uses can co-exist with that except what the MLS allows,” he said.

The petition is available here: https://4goodgovernment.com 

The text is just five paragraphs long but it would change how Metro does business. It prohibits property tax hikes greater than 2%, prohibits giving away any public land without 31 council votes and a voter referendum if the land value is greater than $5 million, requires a referendum for bond issues greater than $15 million, returns all stadiums and private development to the city if a professional team stops playing games for 24 months, and punishes any recipient of more than $250,000 of taxpayer funds if they do not provide free access to their records.