Dean pollster tests mood on property tax hike, other second-term issues

Tuesday, January 10, 2012 at 1:12am

A future property tax increase is the underlying topic a pollster, working for Mayor Karl Dean, tested in a recent phone survey that weighed the mood of Nashvillians on a range of Metro issues.

The survey covered a number of topics — a property tax increase, mass transit expansion, financing a new Nashville Sounds stadium and subsidizing the Nashville Predators — that are on Dean’s radar in the early months of his second mayoral term.

Dean’s campaign committee funded the survey, the mayor’s former campaign manager confirmed. The poll’s line of questions offers insight into several of Dean’s looming policy decisions — perhaps answering how to politically frame and defend a tax hike.

A woman conducting the survey stated she was calling on behalf of Peter D. Hart Research Associates, according to a Davidson County resident who on Friday, Jan. 6, participated in the poll. Audio obtained by The City Paper confirmed the exchange.

Hart Research Associates — a Washington, D.C., survey research firm — has a client base that consists of several high-ranking Democratic congress members, governors and mayors. Frederick Yang, a partner of the firm’s Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group, worked as Dean’s pollster during the mayor’s 2011 re-election campaign.

Courtney Wheeler, who worked as Dean’s re-election campaign manager in 2011, confirmed the survey came from Dean’s campaign committee. She said the poll was conducted last week. Wheeler recently began a new job with President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign.

Karl Dean for Mayor, the name of Dean’s campaign committee, isn’t required to disclose its most recent round of spending to the Davidson County Election Commission until Jan. 25.

Dean’s press secretary Bonna Johnson said the mayor’s office is not connected to the survey.

The City Paper obtained audio of a phone survey that began with broad questions on the performance of Dean and the Metro Council, the quality of public schools and mass transit, the state of Nashville’s economy and possible local government cuts. The pollster asked for the voting frequency of the respondent and whether he or she is a member of the media.

Fifteen minutes into the survey, questions took a sharper focus, particularly on the possibility of a property tax increase. Metro’s last property tax increase came in 2005. Many observers believe Dean’s administration will have to increase Metro’s current $4.13 property tax rate to keep the city financially afloat.

“Would you favor or oppose raising the current property tax rate of $4.13 by 50 cents in order to raise revenue to maintain core programs and services?” the pollster asked.

This particular respondent did not offer support. (Raising Metro’s property tax rate by 50 cents would not be a large enough spike to trigger a public referendum on the matter.)

The pollster then tested the mood of raising the local option sales tax by one-half percent in addition to a 25-cent property tax hike. Again, the participant didn’t offer support.

“If it turns out that the revenue from these tax increases would be used to fund new capital improvement projects such as repairs and maintenance of roads, streets and bridges, would you be much more likely, somewhat more likely or less likely to support it, or would it not make a difference?” the pollster asked.

Questions then turned to other uses for additional property tax revenue, including the relocation of PSC Metals, the metals scrap yard on the east bank of the Cumberland River, long perceived as an eyesore. The site is one of three locations recommended for a new Nashville Sounds stadium.

“If it [a property tax increase] turned out to be used to provide funding to support regional economic development initiatives such as relocating the metals scrap yard on the east bank of the river next to LP Field,” the pollster asked, “would you be more likely to support it, less likely or would it not make a difference?”

The survey pivoted toward Dean’s goal of doubling the number of Nashville’s college graduates within five years and whether the respondent would support a property tax hike to fund a college graduation program. 

“What if it were used to fund a five-year program to double the number of Metro Nashville students who complete college?” the pollster asked.

Still on the issue of a property tax hike, the pollster asked about using additional revenue to “fully fund” Metro Nashville Public Schools: “Would you be much more, somewhat more or [would it] make no difference?”

The survey asked the respondent to rate the following statements as “strong, medium or weak reasons” to raise property taxes:

• “Despite budgetary problems caused by the severe economic recession, Nashville has fully funded the budget for Metro schools for the past four years while other departments have received cuts. Due to the continuing economic downturn, Metro government still faces revenue shortfalls, despite strong fiscal management. And the bottom line is that without any new revenues from a tax increase, funding for Metro schools will need to be severely cut, which will lead to fewer teachers and larger class sizes.

• “Nashville needs new revenue to invest in public schools, police, fire and infrastructure such as roads and mass transit. Raising taxes may not be popular, but after years of cuts that have threatened Nashville’s continued progress, raising new tax revenue now would be an investment in the future and keep Nashville on track for continued growth and success.

• “For the past four years, Metro government has been able to avoid drastic budget cuts to schools, police, fire and other core services without raising taxes by cutting other parts of the government and restructuring the city’s debt. But with virtually no growth in revenue due to the national recession, Metro government cannot avoid making significant cuts to core services unless in can find new revenue.”

The pollster asked the respondent to rate whether he or she values the following persons’ or organization’s views “a lot, somewhat, a little or not at all.”

In order, she named: Dean, the Tea Party, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce, the individual’s Metro Council representative, and police officers and firefighters.

The pollster asked the participant whether the Nashville Sounds minor league baseball team “contributes to Nashville’s economy” before asking, “Would you favor or oppose using tax revenue to help pay for some of the costs of building a new Sounds stadium?”

The survey then turned to the Nashville Predators, inquiring to what degree the respondent felt the hockey team contributes to Nashville’s economy. Metro provides an annual $7.8 million subsidy to the Predators franchise.

“Would you favor or oppose continuing to use city funds to help subsidize the operating costs of the Nashville Predators?”

The pollster changed the topic to government employee pensions and benefits, calling them “a major factor in Nashville’s projected budget shortfall.”

“Would you favor or oppose a reform proposal that would require all new Metro government employees to contribute more to their health care costs and receive lower pensions and benefits?” the pollster asked.

Capping off the survey was a question regarding bus rapid transit, which Dean has proposed for a corridor stretching from West End to Broadway and across the river to East Nashville.

“Would you favor or oppose a proposal to expand transportation options in Nashville by instituting bus rapid transit?”

The survey references possible funding mechanisms for mass transit expansion, asking whether the participant would favor revenue from a gas tax, a wheel tax, sales tax, emission fees or property tax to support mass transit.

46 Comments on this post:

By: bfra on 1/10/12 at 5:03

Dean’s press secretary Bonna Johnson said the mayor’s office is not connected to the survey.
Please explain how the mayor's office is NOT connected to the survey.

By: howelln on 1/10/12 at 6:47

I also was called for that poll. I knew it had to be from Dean from the way the questions were stated. Hey Mayor Dean, take the money you have already have and use it more wisely. Quit trying to frighten people into a tax hike by using the threat of fewer teachers, firemen, policemen, and paved roads.

By: JayBee56 on 1/10/12 at 7:12

No No No No No No. Taking public money and foolishly spending it on "wants" versus "needs", shafting the taxpayers, then saying we need more money for the essentials that they should have been doing from the beginnning. Don't fall for the bait and switch. Just do the job - Metro already has enough money if they spend it right.

By: Radix on 1/10/12 at 7:32

No thank you. Stay within your budget like everyone else.

By: Rocket99 on 1/10/12 at 7:34

Considering the economy is still not in full recovery mode, not sure now is the time to ask for a property tax increase. Besides, if they do this, will it be based on current market value or what was appraised a few years ago? If current market value, they could end up bringing in less than before.

By: frodo on 1/10/12 at 8:23

I wasn't alone in predicting on these pages that the Mayor had a tax hike in mind since before the election. He should be thankful the city has the current revenue with most home values now well below tax value assessments. We are already paying far too much on that basis.

By: shinestx on 1/10/12 at 8:27

Why didn't Deanie-weenie send out his pollsters before his re-election bid? Mmm-hmmm! It's what Dem-wits do, and for all you Dem-wit sympathizers who think that the Dem-wit elites are protective of the little guy... the middle class, this is exactly what they do when there is no political recourse. You can look at their actions/beliefs in one of two ways: they always (yes, always) reneg on their promise to keep taxes low for the middle class. Just look at taxes under Obama and Reid/Pelosi for everyone... and they have gone up by an average of 20% for all Americans. The other way to look at their actions is that they belief anyone who works for a living is the upper class. You will see higher taxes... and don't be fooled.

By: shinestx on 1/10/12 at 8:29

Stated like a true supply-sider Rocket99. Supply siders have proved that raising taxes in a weal economy will retard growth... and if it's true in a recession-prone period, isn't it true also in a healthy economy?

By: shinestx on 1/10/12 at 8:30

Radix... just curious to know if who you're calling "everyone else" includes the White House and Congress.

By: Radix on 1/10/12 at 8:32

“Would you favor or oppose a reform proposal that would require all new Metro government employees to contribute more to their health care costs and receive lower pensions and benefits?” the pollster asked.

Depends on if they're comparable to the private sector. We can't afford full paid benefits for city workers. They should contribute some like everyone else.

By: howelln on 1/10/12 at 9:16

City employees do pay part of their health care costs, at least teachers do. If Mayor Dean is so buddy-buddy with HCA, maybe he can bring down health care costs.

By: BigPapa on 1/10/12 at 9:21

I don't know why dean would do a survey. He's in his 2nd term, he can do whatever he wants w/o worrying about re-election.

By: howelln on 1/10/12 at 9:31

I suspect he has other aspirations.

By: JeffF on 1/10/12 at 9:52

The plan was pretty obvious. Front load all the special projects into the first term (mayors always win second terms since the council is impotent due to term limits). That way all the special revenue streams are spoken for and cannot be allocated to needs in the second term. After winning the second term, have friends start floating trial balloons over some of the drastic needs of Metro government in providing actual government needs.

Curiously no one points out that Dean not once took focus off his push for the convention center and the hotel in his first term to realize the Metro schools were failing and could really have used the same pot of money. He also did not acknowledge the huge stormwater/sewer obligation that everyone in every city government knew about. The first acknowledgement of that came two days after the election.

We have been triangulated into a taxation "need" by someone who would preferred that revenue streams be earmarked so that we peons not catch a break. Further, simply expressing frustration with this manipulation will get you a stern piece of hate from some people on this site and have you branded as a 1%er (for what that is worth).

The Dean administration signed away a billion plus dollars in revenue for a new convention center and another quarter billion for a hotel. Now, we are told there isn't enough property and sales taxes to do all the things government is supposed to be doing? The only reason the special revenue funds were earmarked was they wanted them to be earmarked. The state could just have easily left the earmarks out or removed it. Think of how much good Metro could have done with 1.5 billion dollars in additional revenue. It is mind boggling that it was committed to the wish list of private interests instead of the public good.

Time to end term limits on the Metro Council before it costs us some real money.

By: JeffF on 1/10/12 at 9:55

I would love to know what Dean other aspirations are. He stands as much chance of winning statewide office in Tennessee as Obama. I think we all know that Chip would be the last chairman capable of getting someone like Dean elected in Tennessee. The only place he could possibly advance is to Congress representing a liberal district but there are only two of those in the state and they are occupied.

By: danica7 on 1/10/12 at 9:56

Dean SHOULD worry! If he increases property taxes now, there will not only be empty homes because of foreclosures...Many are barely getting mortgages paid and are deliquent on property taxes.

Take that "POLL" and shove it!

By: ds on 1/10/12 at 10:56

Thank you Karl Dean for trying to make this city a better place and giving the citizens of Nashville a better opportunity to pursue happiness.
You understand that a city is like a business and provides services that people depend on every day. Understanding your responsibility to the highest and best needs of the people allows for you to provide REVENUE that is generated by many things whick COULD be provided by the fairgrounds.
It is so funny that the same people who complain about the fairgrounds being developed complain about tax increases. Well, if you live in a stagnate society that lets land sit empty without providing benefits for the people then paying higher taxes is what citizens DESERVE.
Thank you for trying Mr. Dean and hopefully when people get hit where it hurts, (their pocketbook), then they will do what is the highest and best needs for their society.

By: JeffF on 1/10/12 at 11:15

Now we have apparently heard the opinion from our friends at McNeely Piggot & Fox. ds, where was your concern about opportunity costs during the Mayor's bulldozing of open debate on the convention center? That was a lot of revenue forever being handed to non-government, private interests that could have progressed Nashville out of this hole.

By: bfra on 1/10/12 at 11:17

ds - The Fairgrounds would have a lot more activity if it wasn't for Dean & his money grubbing cohorts! Why does Dean always go out of State to pay for his reports on local projects? BTW you should check out some of the events at the Fairgrounds, you might learn something.

By: slzy on 1/10/12 at 11:28

Who are you ds?

Deans wife or someone he uses in a sexual fashion?

By: sharko20 on 1/10/12 at 11:42

Read my lips, uh I mean post, no new taxes!!! Stop spending!!! Manage your current revenues more effectively. Typical politician. It's never enough.

Also, I am opposed to Dean's BRT plan. No way, no how.

By: JayBee56 on 1/10/12 at 12:34

JeffF, good post. Metro government needs a change in structure. Ending term limits for council members would be a good start. Too much power is concentrated in the mayor's office and that needs to change.

By: bfra on 1/10/12 at 12:53

Another would be ending family insurance (for life) just because you served as a council person, another would be cutting a pension (more than $5,000) for public officials that abuse their office, such as Torrence.

By: 1kenthomas on 1/10/12 at 12:57

Lord Jesus, you reactionary antis are aware that even Ronald Reagan raised taxes in the midst of a mild recession?

Dean is no Ronald Reagan, but you've already got some of the lowest taxes in the nation-- and I get the impression that most of you commenting, aren't located in Metro. Revenue has to come from somewhere.

As far as all your criticisms of Dean, which well might be true-- well, if you don't like the pansy Counsil, term limits, etc., you can either sit on the sidelines and 'coach' or you can get in the game and do something.

Sounds like we have a lot of sideline coaches here-- Tennessee's proudest product, if we only could turn it into "wind power."

By: NewYorker1 on 1/10/12 at 2:09

Has Metro ever considered cutting some of its expenses?

I think the people that use these services should pay more taxes. I don't use public transportation. I own a car and pay insurance. I don't have any kids that go to public schools, so why should I have to pay for other people's bad a_ _ kids? I don't go the the Sounds games or the other so-called professional sport teams here, so why should I pay for these things? I don't go to the public library, I buy the books I want to read or download them on my Kindle. I don't use the public parks, I pay for private parks and recreational activities.

By: BigPapa on 1/10/12 at 2:40

I dont think people get upset about paying taxes IF they trust that the government is being a good steward of their money.
I compare Nashville to a family that goes on lavish vacations, wears the best clothes, and drives the nicest cars yet don't have money for rent, food, and always pays the light bill late.

We have hockey, we have a $600M convention center, and we're looking at funding minor league baseball, but our schools are terrible and we can barely afford to provide the citizenry basic services like police, fire, etc..

I'm sure it's more fun for politicians to fund sports because they can show up and make a big scene, probably not as fun as keeping schools up to par, but it just shows that our priorities are plain upside down.

By: govskeptic on 1/10/12 at 2:41

"Mayor's office not connected to survey"? Just how big a fools do these people
think the citizens of this town are? Without the Mayor's or his top Lieutenant
assistance the polling firm wouldn't have a correct list of who's advice is
important with the survey results. They aren't crazy enough to make it a totally
random survey. This I'm sure was a list involving top supporters,. donors,
and politically influential folks they wanted input from, maybe an odd ball
or two was thrown in for good measure!

By: JeffF on 1/10/12 at 2:50

"Mayor's office not connected to survey"

uh....MPF Public Relations maybe?

By: NewYorker1 on 1/10/12 at 2:52

In addition, I don't get police protection, I get police harassment and profiling because I'm black. So why should I help pay for police harassment?

By: howelln on 1/10/12 at 3:03

You pay for public education so that the people who do your serves, e.g., car repair, filling perscriptions, handle your food, are an educated lot. and you can download books for free from the public library. You may not like police protection, but most of the rest of us do. And I am betting you like to drive your car on maintained roads. BTW most of us were opposed to the convention center.

By: bfra on 1/10/12 at 3:27

howelln - You need to take maintained roads out of that equation. Why don't we see any reports on how the money situation is going on Dean's White Elephant, the MCC?

By: MusicCity615 on 1/10/12 at 3:31

By: ds on 1/10/12 at 10:56
Thank you Karl Dean for trying to make this city a better place and giving the citizens of Nashville a better opportunity to pursue happiness.
You understand that a city is like a business and provides services that people depend on every day. Understanding your responsibility to the highest and best needs of the people allows for you to provide REVENUE that is generated by many things whick COULD be provided by the fairgrounds.
It is so funny that the same people who complain about the fairgrounds being developed complain about tax increases. Well, if you live in a stagnate society that lets land sit empty without providing benefits for the people then paying higher taxes is what citizens DESERVE.
Thank you for trying Mr. Dean and hopefully when people get hit where it hurts, (their pocketbook), then they will do what is the highest and best needs for their society.

Excellent post DS. I couldn't agree more. And how dare you show support for your mayor! On this website, if you support your mayor, you must be related or work for him! LOL!!!

By: MusicCity615 on 1/10/12 at 3:32

here go you barf-

Looks pretty good to me.

By: bfra on 1/10/12 at 4:22

MusicCity615 - How many pigs-in-a-poke do you own? Your reference site doesn't offer any info about the money situation! Wonder why?

By: MusicCity615 on 1/10/12 at 4:45

the Convention Center is under budget.

By: bfra on 1/10/12 at 5:19

Last report I saw, it was over budget, after Tower won their case and all the property needed, still had not been acquired. Guess you just see the reports you want to see!

By: MusicCity615 on 1/10/12 at 5:39

That report said the MCC is around $3million under budget. Only one way to see it

By: bfra on 1/10/12 at 5:53

What is a site for that report?

By: JeffF on 1/11/12 at 10:41

Only in the media will a project that has not spent ALL of its emergency contingency be deemed as "under budget". I will imagine that there are some project codes that are about to be shrunk after Tower justifiably kicked our asses.

By: Harleyfxrs01 on 1/11/12 at 11:42

I am opposed to raising taxes. My home value has gone down but my property taxes have stayed the same. I dont understand the rational to all this. I also do not believe is subsidizing sports arenas. If a owner wants to promote a sports team and play that team in this city then let them build their own stadium and maintain it with the proceeds.
If I wanted to start a business I don't think the city is going to give a building to house my practice to make it happen so why should we build stadiums for the rich owners, let them take out the mortagages and incurr all the other additonal expenses and then pass it on to us through ticket sales. Let the people who really want to go to those functions pay for them. That is what I call fair.

By: MusicCity615 on 1/12/12 at 9:45


Nashville voted for and approved raising property taxes to build Bridgestone Arena BEFORE the Predators were set to come to Nashville. With the Predators and the Predators management, we have improved to being the 6th most busy arena in America. This was not the case before the Predators came.

If you do not want the arena, fine. However, the majority of Nashvillians did, which is why the referendum passed. The last thing Nashville needs is to pay off the debt of the arena without the arena having a major tenant, i.e. the Predators.

With Mr. Harley as an example, I find it extremely hard to believe, or "justify", that Tower's property DOUBLED in value during the worse economic crisis in 70 years. Has anyone else's property doubled in value the past few years? There is still an option to appeal this appraisal, which I believe METRO should and will do.

By: Loner on 1/12/12 at 1:22

Music City is not Jockstrap City...sounds like Mayor Dean is in the wrong city...or this city has the wrong mayor. I did not see where music-related items were even on the Mayor's Dean trying to change the basic character and nature of Nashville?

What Nashville truly needs is a guy like Willie Nelson as mayor....not some jock-loving politician.

By: Loner on 1/12/12 at 1:35

Looks to me like they are going to stuff that Sounds Stadium down your throats and the Preds are now in line for corporate welfare...bread & circus, Karl Dean style.

Dean has to go. He needs to be replaced with a person who knows and understands the heart and soul of Nashville...Dean would spend millions, perhaps billions to satisfy the demands of professional sports franchises based in Nashville....but where is the money for promoting music in "Music City"?

So, is this a machismo deal or what? Does the mayor feel that being renowned for franchised pro-sports teams is more manly than being famous for a unique musical heritage? It appears so.

Dean has to go.

By: Loner on 1/12/12 at 1:42

It's no secret, Karl Dean wants to change the city's image, from a musical mecca to a taxpayer-financed pro-sports ghetto..... Git a rope!

By: Shadow63 on 3/19/12 at 7:30

Nashville government can do anything they want and get away with it Voters here are asleep at the wheel. If itisn't festooned with NASCAR or BassTracker decals it doesn't get a second look.
The Sounds stadium is a foregone conclusiion, as is the Fairground redevelopement. People who really run this city gives the orders and Dean or whoever is in office jumps to the task.
Who do you vote for? Whoever is offered up by the political brokers.
Nobody outside of Nashville even knows who the Sound are, and who even goes to see them play. Build it and they will come - B/S

By: Shadow63 on 3/19/12 at 7:35

MusicCity615 - Went to the site - Room sellouts, restaurants and bars awash in liquor and food sales. Sounds like success abounds. Why are my property taxes going up? Where's my slice of the pie that my taxes paid for?????????