One size does not fit all when it comes to the sales tax referendum Nashville voters are being asked by Mayor Bill Purcell, school officials and others to back Sept. 13—and for which early voting is underway. Some constituencies stand to gain, while others do not, and voters should think long and hard about the consequences and the values it sets out. To help delineate the implications of the ballot question that would hike sales taxes in Nashville to a staggering 9.75 percent (up from the current 9.25 cents on the dollar), the Scene poses the following questions, which are sprinkled with our own ruminations and analysis.
Do you support tax relief for elderly citizens who hold assets, and do you believe that such age-based subsidies should be levied on the backs of others, including many who have few or no assets?
Sure, it’s a leading question. But it’s also an accurate one. The sales tax increase being offered would generate an estimated $45 million for Nashville’s public school system, and another $12 million would fund a tax relief program for qualified seniors aged 65 and older who own homes and whose property tax bills are climbing out of their reach. The inclusion of this latter benefit was a political decision Purcell made to get the hike passed, the theory being that Nashville’s most frequent and reliable voters—the elderly—would support more money for schools if they had something to gain too.
The problem, as we see it, is that a single mom or an elderly widow or even the homeless would be paying even more—our sales tax is among the highest in the country—for essential needs like food and clothing so that certain senior citizens with assets could get tax relief. “Your house is valuable? Oh, we’re so sorry. Here’s some cash from a low-wage custodian who rents an apartment in Antioch to help you pay your bill.” Would we rather be like center city Detroit, where land values are probably worth about what they are in Baghdad? That people are getting richer because land and home values in Middle Tennessee are climbing is not something that keeps us awake at night.
And so, the fundamental unfairness of this equation—the poor subsidizing the comparatively rich—sways us against the measure. But, depending on who you are, your value system and what you stand to gain, you might well disagree.
Are you a public school parent who wants to see more money for schools—period—no matter how the money is generated?
If you’re adamant that more money needs to flow into the public school system, which is currently being funded at roughly the same level it was the previous school year, then this is an easy decision. All the better if you also want the overall local tax burden of qualifying senior citizens capped at 5 percent of their income.
Are you troubled by the regressive nature of a sales tax hike? If so, how much?
Self-described “progressives” are simply beside themselves on this ballot question, as they tend to be active parents in public schools who also believe Tennessee’s tax system is imbalanced and unfair to those who earn the least. Just which instinct is stronger is what these voters must grapple with. If they’re in the mood to rationalize, they can consider the following argument from the let’s-make-ourselves-feel-better department: Purcell and others have defended this proposal for an even more obscene sales tax rate by saying that if Nashville doesn’t hike it locally, state officials will. If we do it, the theory goes, we can spend the money here. If the state does, they’ll just take it away. Never mind that there is very little political will among state legislators to do any tax-hiking any time soon.
Do you feel left out of this whole debate, wondering what’s in it for you?
“Vote FOR Children and Seniors,” the pro-sales-tax-hike campaign signs read. Where’s the buy-in for everybody else? Perhaps this narrowly focused message is meant to be tactical—to drum up support among those who stand to gain and to leave others feeling pretty agnostic about the whole thing. But—and this is where this campaign may ultimately falter—we think voters are smarter than that. Many have seized on the idea that this message is, at a minimum, inadequate. We happen to think that will be reflected at the polls.
Just as we’d ceased wondering how WSMV general manager Elden Hale manages to walk upright, what with the missing backbone that led him to cave to irrational ravings and pull The Book of Daniel in Nashville, NBC up and announced Tuesday that it was canning the controversial drama altogether, citing a ratings disaster.
Imagine the Nashville Symphony without its string section, the Titans without their offensive line, the city’s meat-and-threes without the meat. The visual arts landscape of Nashville is facing a parallel prospect.
There are 70,000 students in our public schools, and most of us have been talking about director Pedro Garcia’s poor bedside manner or his elected board’s proclivity for divisiveness and concern with style over substance.