Photo: Nashville Davidson County Courthouse and City Hall building.
Photo Credit: Vivian Jones / The Center Square
Published June 24, 2021
By Jon Styf [The Center Square contributor] and The Tennessee Conservative Staff –
A Davidson County judge has ruled that a July 27 referendum election on six proposed changes to Nashville’s Metro Charter – including one that would reduce property taxes – will not happen.
The Tuesday ruling, which stated that four of the amendments are “defective in form,” is still subject to appeal.
The referendum, called the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act, is the second version of a similar referendum proposed by a group called 4 Good Government, led by attorney Jim Roberts.
“As I am attorney, I am limited as to what I can say about the Court’s opinion,” Roberts posted on Wednesday. “[I] sincerely hope it will be promptly appealed and reversed. No doubt the Mayor and his pro-tax allies are rejoicing today that 430,000 citizens were DENIED the right to vote. It saves him the effort of ordering police dogs and firehoses to the polls on Election Day to intimidate voters.
“We will not give up trying to save Nashville from this fiscally irresponsible government. … The fight is not over. Save Nashville While You Can…”
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Tori Venable, State Director of Americans for Prosperity Tennessee released this statement in response to the ruling, “This ruling once again silences Nashville voters and taxpayers who continue to be saddled with harmful tax increases. Nashvillians are tired of Mayor Cooper and Metro’s spending addiction that put the city in jeopardy of a state takeover.”
“The court’s decision only perpetuates the fiscal mismanagement we’ve seen and places an even greater need on the state legislature to strengthen our Truth in Taxation law that will insert some sense of fiscal responsibility into the city’s finances and allow voters to reject corporate welfare and massive tax hikes. We will continue to advocate for taxpayers throughout the state and work to bring structural reforms that reins in Nashville’s outrageous spending,” Venable stated.
The referendum proposed to cap property tax rates and increases, change the recall procedures for public officials, end lifetime benefits for public officials and make them subject to referendum, require Nashville to go to referendum to transfer public property and make professional sports teams forfeit property if they choose to leave the city.
After the group gathered more than 12,000 signatures to petition for the referendum, the Davidson County election commissioners voted 3-2 to put the referendum up for election in July. But that vote was immediately challenged in court by both Davidson County and Nashville.
The referendum was in response to a 34% property tax increase in 2020. Both referendums proposed to roll back that increase. The most recent version would prevent the city from increasing taxes more than 3% without a voter referendum.
The first 4 Good Government referendum attempt last fall was rejected by Chancellor Ellen Hobbs Lyle and ruled unconstitutional for promoting “an impermissible form of government in Tennessee.”
This referendum, a revised version of the 2020 attempt, now has been shut down by Chancellor Russel. T. Perkins.
“We are building a great city, and we’re grateful for a ruling that prevents a small group from hijacking Nashville’s future with an unconstitutional California-style referendum,” Nashville Mayor John Cooper said in response to the court’s ruling. “Our next budget makes historic investments in our students, our transportation infrastructure, and affordable housing as we maintain a tax rate 24 percent lower than our average rate over the past quarter century – the third lowest property tax rate in Metro history. We will continue to fix problems and find solutions to build a stronger, more equitable city for everyone.”
The Save Nashville Now coalition, created to oppose the referendum, announced Wednesday that it would be suspending its campaign on June 30 after Perkins’ ruling.
“If Chancellor Perkin’s ruling is appealed and there is a change in the status of the campaign, Save Nashville Now will be prepared to restart our efforts to explain to Nashville voters how this referendum will hurt Nashville’s future and severely cut Metro budgets, adversely affecting families, teachers, students, first responders and emergency responders citywide,” the group posted.