Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Another Victory for the Shrill and the Honkers Among Us

At a past Metro Council meeting, Buck Dozier compared the current ponderous Metro Charter budget to the relatively short originally adopted one. He spoke of the need to streamline so that we can have a Charter budget that is as unencumbered as the original. It sounds romantic, but in reality, Charters budgets get more complex over time to address changing conditions and new problems. It is the same kind of romance to wish that we could so uncomplicate our automobiles that we could once again simply pop the hood and fix them when we need to rather than taking them in for "21-point" inspections by skilled technicians from the Auto Diesel College (who would never be confused with the quaint old grease monkeys of yore).

But we cannot do that now; average drivers have neither the high-tech training nor the time to maintain these computers with wheels in which we ride. Nor do we want to do that. Our cars have to conform to certain safety and environmental standards; and we demand those computers to keep the cars running, not to mention our GPS, satellite radios, and climate-controlled lumbar supports. It's the same thing with the Metro Charter; Nashvillians do not demand simplicity. They demand what they want and that creates more not less complexity.

And now a group of horn-honking Nashvillians intends to add even more bulk to the Charter budget by having voters approve an amendment that would subject property taxes to popular vote. My first response is, "Well why don't Ben Cunningham and his 6,000-some-odd petition signers just have us vote to vote on every single line item in every single year that they come up and effectively just dissolve Metro governance?" We like our complexity and all, but we don't need that much complexity. We elect people and we pay them to take the time that we do not have and to become the experts on governing that we cannot. And we also ask leaders, because they are leaders, to make difficult and sometimes unpopular decisions because we know that mobs may rule when cooler headed leaders do not prevail. A majority of Americans was opposed to desegregation when Brown v. Board of Education was passed down; thank God for the cooler and smarter heads on the Supreme Court.

Is the Tennessee Tax Revolt (TTR) really committed to putting the power on property taxes in the hands of voters or is this special interest group just more interested in having more power to influence mobs whenever the issue of raising taxes comes up in the future? We saw their mob-like MO a few years back during the Gen-Ass's consideration of an income tax. They generally created public disturbances rather than being civil. Stuff even got broken. Order did not seem to be the order of the day. And they habitually confuse mobilizing the shrillest voices among us with "democracy," as if simple majoritarian vote (which is a misnomer, since only a small percentage of potential voters actually vote in these elections) constitutes a democratic republic such as ours (did TTR-wingman, Bill Hobbs threaten more disorder in Nashville at the end of a post today if Metro challenges the constitutionality of this referendum?).

Whether or not their amendment to the Charter passes, this is no vision of democracy. It is an appeal to the lowest common denominator: our misgivings about paying any money to anybody at all. Make no mistake about that. Ben Cunningham's best ideas about tax reform have nothing to do with making our system fairer or more efficient while still generating revenue for in-demand and worthwhile programs. His best ideas are to whip up popular ambivalence about taxes into full-blown antisocial abhorrence in order to cut as many revenues as possible, regardless of the prospect of losing services. So, his best ideas are no help at all. In fact, I would argue that they will insure that our tax system stays regressive. Might he just be guaranteeing that our most vulnerable populations never get free of high sales taxes? I think he just might be.


  1. I wasn't threatening anything, I was predicting. Imagine, if you will, a Metro Council trying to pass a property tax increase and then going to court to deny the voters the referendum on it even though the voters gave themselves that referendum power. Imagine the political firestorm that would create - expressly denying the will of the people in order to raise their taxes. That's all I was saying. Cunningham's charter change will most likely pass and, if it does, the ramifications of that, whether it survives a court challenge or not, are going to be immense and statewide. If voters in Nashville give themselves the power to vote on property tax increases, voters in every other county will want the same right. They'll demand it. Political pressure on the legislature to give them that right, via a constitutional amendment, will rise. And it will become a new issue by which people vet candidates.

  2. Don't they understand that this is why the State of California is bankrupt?