Labor, business groups organize against tax referendum

A group of business and labor organizations are coming together to oppose a proposed change to the Metro Charter that charter experts say is illegal and city officials say would decimate city services.

The group, dubbed Nashville Stronger, includes representatives from Nashville Organized for Action and Hope, Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp., Nashville Business Alliance and the Central Labor Council of Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Civil rights groups including the American Muslim Advisory Council and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition are also part of Nashville Stronger.

“Like many cities in America, Nashville is struggling right now with unprecedented economic and public-health challenges,” Michael Carter, owner of a construction company and co-founder of the Nashville Business Alliance, said in a press release. “But the solution isn’t turning over the management of our community to political interests in Washington. Strong cities provide adequate public services that help employers create jobs and make communities desirable places to live and work. Nashville can, and will, get back on track if we commit to shared sacrifices and a positive vision for the future.”

Mayor John Cooper, who previously said that if the referendum passed “our progress as a great city will end,” applauded the formation of the group.

Nashville attorney Jim Roberts spearheaded the effort to get the referendum on the ballot, with the support of conservative group Americans for Prosperity. The charter revision, if approved by voters, would nullify the city’s budget passed earlier this year and restrict city government’s ability to raise taxes or issue bonds without a countywide vote. At issue in the referendum push is the 34-percent property tax increase included in the latest city budget, which Cooper and Metro Council leaders said was necessary to maintain city services, including emergency response and trash pickup.

Legal experts point out that the state constitution and other laws give city leaders sole authority over local taxation and question whether the retroactive nature of the referendum complies with a constitutional prohibition on retroactive laws. They also question how the proposed revision, with its informal language and lack of specific citations, would fit into the existing charter.

The Davidson County Election Commission considered those issues late last month when tasked with deciding whether to send the proposed revision to a countywide vote in December. Instead, the body punted, voting to ask a Nashville court whether they were required to put the referendum to a vote.

Cooper and his finance department staff have already started scaling back, including by freezing nonessential hiring, in preparation for a possible affirmative vote on the referendum. In addition to other provisions, the referendum would rescind the increase, which still leaves Nashville at the lower end of peer cities ranked by tax burden.

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