A Tea Party-inspired group of some 200 watched as speakers took turns blasting Mayor Karl Dean’s proposed property tax increase Thursday, imploring them to pack next week’s Metro Council meeting to deliver a message.
“The people are rising up!” Nashville Tea Party founder Ben Cunningham told onlookers spread among tables at an anti-tax hike rally at Limelight in East Nashville. “We’re going to show up at this council meeting on Tuesday and tell the council in no uncertain terms, ‘No tax hike.’ ”
Organizers held the event days before Dean’s proposed 53-cent increase to Davidson County’s property tax rate heads before the council next Tuesday for a key second of three votes. On the same night, citizens have the chance for their say during a public hearing.
Though Dean’s tax increase is expected to pass, critics hope the scene Thursday is a sign of things to come at the Metro courthouse next week.
“At some point, we’ve got to say to government, ‘I’m sorry, you can’t have any more money out of my family budget for Davidson County,” Cunningham said. “You’ve got to operate under the money you’ve got!’ ”
Dean has said, “No mayor wants to stand up talking about raising taxes.” But after years of declining revenue and a stagnant budget, the mayor has made the case the government can trim no more. The alternative to a tax hike is “draconian” cuts in education and public safety, he has said.
“I refuse to cut services to the point where our city’s future is compromised,” Dean has said. “I refuse to be the mayor who turns back the clock on public safety and education. I choose to continue our forward momentum.”
But Ken Marrero, a tax-hike critic and Tea Party supporter, said it’s time for Dean to behave as a “statesmen,” not a “statist.” He took exception with several of Dean’s budget plans, including his proposal to raise the salaries of Metro employees by 4 percent.
“I’m sure they deserve it just like we all do,” Marrero said. “But in order to give them $15 a month in raises, he’s got to take $15 a month from you, sir.”
Council members in attendance Thursday were Karen Bennett, Robert Duvall, Charlie Tygard, as well as Republican state Rep. Jim Gotto.
Duvall, who helped organize the event, took the stage and reminisced on the council’s most notable victory over the mayor — when it thwarted his plans to redevelop the Tennessee State Fairgrounds.
“The last time I saw this kind of gathering, we were trying to save the fairgrounds,” Duvall said. “They called us, ‘The Red Army.’ I’m not sure what we’re going to call this group.”