Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Stringing North Nashville along

Last week Mayor Karl Dean decided it was time again to grace North Nashville with his presence. So, he joined Sharon Kay on Jazzy 88 WFSK (Fisk University) for an interview about the job he has been doing.

He framed his customary economic development pitch with the statement that he considers his administration's spending on upgrades to the water and sewer system an important part of what creates economic development. That seemed to be a departure from his standard stump about economic development as providing more opportunities and subsidies for business. He even broached the subject of the increase in water service fees to pay for the upgrades.

As usual, what Karl Dean did not say about his spending on upgrades was more significant than what he did say.

First, just like in his recent speech on his new budget, Karl Dean discussed the Metro Water upgrades as if they were his own initiative, which they they are not. Metro Nashville has been mandated from above to comply with state and federal clean water regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency required the Mayor to commit $1.5 billion to comply:

federal and state officials approached Metro about the need for additional sewer investments. Shortly after, the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation filed a consent decree in federal court requiring Metro to comply with a list of environmental regulations. By March 2009, the consent decree was approved, setting aside a schedule whereby Metro must submit a long-term plan to address the issue.

So, the Mayor can talk as if he has ownership of the clean water issue, but what are the chances the Dean administration would have "spent far more on water mains, sewer lines and storm water projects than it cost to build the Music City Center" if a government mandate had not been imposed? It was not too many years ago that Mayor Dean attacked the idea of government regulations. It seems disingenuous to embrace spending that he has been forced to accept now.

The other thing omitted from his comments to Ms. Kay had to do with his reference to raises in water fees. Mayor Dean failed to acknowledge that his water fee increases are regressive: Metro charges big businesses less for higher volumes of stormwater they shed than Metro charges smaller operations like, well, Fisk University. Those who can afford to pay more actually pay less in Karl Dean's world.

Hizzoner came off dubiously at other spots like where he said that the wealth he has helped business generate in Nashville trickled down to ordinary people during the construction phase of the Music City Center. Explain that one to me.

However, his touting of the money spent on water and sewer is dishonest if not looney. After the 2010 floods he told us that what saved Nashville from the catastrophe was not the federal government but local volunteers helping people. His mantra is voluntarism even when it warps the truth.

In this case, it was not local volunteers who created the stormwater upgrades. And it was not even the Dean administration's own initiative to start forking over revenues for water despite the credit he expects us to give. Water and sewer improvements are the result of mandates from the federal government that actually caused Nashville to break with a past of soiling its own run-off in order to protect the environment.

If he wants credit for ponderous capital projects like Music City Center then let him claim it, even if it does not sell in places he visits outside of Downtown. But the real record on water infrastructure should not go without saying anywhere.

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