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The Road Ahead

January 29, 2010

Yesterday word came down from Rich Riebling that all departments need to plan on submitting budgets with a 7.5% decrease from last year’s budget. This is on top of a 10% decrease from the prior year.

Imagine for a moment decreasing your income by 17.5% over a two year period. For a dual income family like ours making around $70,000 a year, that would be a $12,000 cut, something that would be tough to accommodate give current responsibilities, and made even harder by inflation, which even though low, still rises from year to year.

That’s what is facing city department heads.

If I felt that we were overloaded in services, with a high responsiveness and lots of waste, the specter of these cuts wouldn’t bother me. But it seems like the call for cuts has been the norm for several years now, and Nashville isn’t exactly known for being on the cutting edge of city services, especially in regards to funding for social services priorities and education.

The fact is that we have to increase income, and the only way to do that is to raises taxes and fees. And, given the recent battle over funding for the convention center, there is no political will to raise taxes.

The good news is that some sectors of the business community are recognizing that dedicated funding streams are needed to support city services. The decision of the hotel industry to support a tax to fund the convention center is one sign of this. Another is a conversation beginning in the hospital community to promote a per bed fee in all hospitals which would then be used to subsidize indigent care. These businesses seem to recognize that there are certain services a city should provide, and are willing to take a bit of a hit to ensure those services remain.

What is less certain is the political will of the people to pay for needed services. Many are struggling financially, and no one wants their taxes raised. And yet, until there is intelligent and realistic conversation from the top acknowledging the reality we face and encouraging sacrifice to ensure that our city is doing what it needs to do, there will be resistance and anger. It takes a willingness to engage the citizenry as equals, and to speak honestly about the challenges we face.

What scares me (and what was my primary objection in the MCC debate) is that so far very few of our elected officials has been willing to take the risk to challenge Nashvillian’s to sacrifice for the public good. After all, the talking points on the construction of the convention center was not based as much in need as in the fact that someone else was going to pay for it (our guests). What will it take for us to come together and willingly admit that citizenship involves shared responsibility and shared sacrifice?

How are we, the citizens of Nashville, being asked to step up to ensure that our city cares for all?

We’re not.

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