Local governments must learn to live within their budgets

Published 8:13 am Monday, June 24, 2019

As summer heats up, so too are local government budgets. Many local governments pass new budgets this time of year, and several are making a cash grab as part of their budget proposals. In the past few weeks alone, at least four local governments have proposed massive property tax increases totaling more than $200 million a year.
Earlier this week, the Nashville city council narrowly defeated a $154 million property tax increase by a single vote. Hamilton County officials are pushing for $34 million in new property taxes. In Murfreesboro, the city has voted on a 34-cent tax increase, while Rutherford County officials are piling on with a 9.5% tax hike proposal on top of that.
Could it be that all these local governments are starving for revenue? Uniformly, these cities and counties don’t have a revenue problem, they have a spending addiction. Just a cursory glance at their budgets proves the point:
• Nashville has shelled out corporate welfare like no other city could imagine. From buying the nation’s largest hospital company $4,000 conference tables and $6,500 sofas to giving Opryland $14 million for a water park that Nashville residents can’t use, there is plenty of fat on the bone in Music City’s budget. This is all after the city sank tens of millions of dollars into the now-canceled TV show “Nashville” that supposedly put the city on the map. Too bad that “investment” didn’t translate into more tax revenue.
• For years, Hamilton County commissioners operated their own slush fund, doling out nearly $1 million annually to their political pet projects.
• Murfreesboro is so starved for cash it can afford to drop $700,000 operating its own local TV channel in three foreign languages, including Laotian, and is proposing nearly $4.7 million in upgrading soccer fields.
Now those are some essential government services right there. Is it possible for any government to live within its means? Despite these islands of fiscal mismanagement, Tennessee as a whole is leading by example. Tennessee has the lowest per capita debt in the nation and is among the lowest in overall taxation. And over the past seven years, the state has cumulatively cut more than $3 billion in taxes, fully repealing the state’s death tax and Hall Income Tax and chipping away at the sales tax on food.
If our state can learn to prioritize and live within its means, so too can local governments throughout it. Tennesseans across the state should rise up and demand that their local governments stop squandering their hard-earned money on pork, then coming hat in hand to fix potholes, fund education, and pay first responders. As long as examples like those above exist, there is no excuse to raise taxes on the backs of middle-class homeowners.
(Justin Owen is the CEO of the Beacon Center of Tennessee.)

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