Thursday, August 29, 2013

Let's just admit that the buck for a budget crisis stops in one place

Tennessean columnist Bruce Dobie launched a provocative salvo at Metro Nashville Public Schools today. In the middle of his barrage, the charter school booster made an irresponsible judgment about our public schools:

We are on an unsustainable spending path at MNPS. Soon, the schools budget will comprise more than half of Metro’s budget.

What makes his comment irresponsible is that Dobie basically passes the buck for MNPS spending by leaving Mayor Karl Dean's accountability for unsustainbility out of the equation. I am always amazed at how the Mayor's supporters shift the blame for our budget problems, as if our charter was not set up to make the county executive the determinant force when push comes to shove on the Metro budget.

But put the charter aside. Look at the way Karl Dean has actually governed.

For 6 years, Mayor Karl Dean has made 3 priorities the defining loci of his terms in office: education, cops, and economic development. He hammered away at it his at his first community meeting with neighborhoods at the Nashville Public Library and his lackeys and shills continue to pitch those priorities right up to today whenever someone questions the budget. Regardless of the sirens of budget crisis and our fluid, ever-changing conditions, the Mayor has strapped himself to any 1 of those 3 masts like some kind of dogged mariner.

The problem is that we have run out of time. Karl Dean has not run out of time. He is term-limited, which only means he is moving up to a challenge for his next political office, maybe Governor, maybe U.S. Senator. His minions in the echo chamber will realign with him. But the rest of us are stuck with the budget mess that is starting to spill out around us.

Symbolic of Dean: a neighborhood of children
and a closed, padlocked community center
Perhaps the school budget has grown large and unwieldy because Karl Dean strapped himself to funding it at the expense of other programs. Karl Dean's budgets are shell games where money is taken from programs (like parks and libraries) to prop up the big 3 priorities. Community centers are closed and locked on summer weekends. Major drag is caused by the economic development pole in the Mayor's holy trinity. Mayor Dean hands out corporate welfare and perqs like tax-increment financing indiscriminately to relocating companies (even ill-fated, costly failures). While he collects revenue from us all and has even raised taxes, he gives tax breaks to big companies and rationalizes it by saying they will hire people, which in theory is supposed to make up for the revenue lost in attracting the companies.

Consequently, the school budget is naturally bound to outpace other Metro services with the Mayor's agenda in place. How easy it is to blame public education and ignore the Mayor's other pets. How easy it is to ignore his costly economic policies in particular.

Double standards and special favors for businesses (code-named "economic development"), shunt revenues out of the Metro budget, while the Mayor has to keep up the appearance of "fully funding" the other 2 immovable legs of his administrative stool: police and Metro schools. That is the formula that has won the Mayor enough votes to win two elections while compromising Metro services for citizens. Far be it from the columnist to ever take an unflinching look at Deanastic economics.

Despite Bruce Dobie's claim, MNPS funding is not the primary offender in unsustainable spending on Metro's spreadsheets. To lay all the blame on Metro Schools is dishonest. I read Bruce Dobie and I wonder whether he is running interference for the Mayor's Office so that they will not have to take the fall for the budget mess and so that Hizzoner can continue the transfer of public wealth to private companies, inside and outside education.


  1. I have no problem with cops or schools--that's what govt is supposed to do.
    Welfare for rich corporations? No way. These avowed "capitalists" can pay for their own business.
    Case in point is the welfare the Sounds are now begging for, meanwhile e.g the Nature Center at Beaman is open a few hours a week because there is no money to staff it.

  2. 99.9% of Nashvillians don't have a clue who Bruce Dobie is. 0.09% don't care what he thinks. The .01% at 1100 who give him the space to opine give most of their space to a man who's family sold their paper in NC for MILLIONS. In other words, they're desperate for content.