Metro Action Commission

ChapterLogo_MACThe mission of the Metropolitan Action Commission is to change people’s lives, embody the spirit of hope, and improve the community.

The Metro Action Commission (“MAC”) admisters Davidson County’s Head Start program as well as programs that help Davidson County residents with utility assistance, rent, mortgage, deposits, prescriptions, property taxes and other household expenses.

The Metro Budget: A Very Public Debate

Last April, citizens of Nashville learned that amidst an economic boom, there was somehow a revenue shortfall. Last June it became clear the shortfall was caused by a 2017 decision to set the property tax rate at the lowest point in the history of Metro government. 19 Metro Council members voted to correct that mistake in last year’s budget, but failed to win the day.

Over the past 15 months, there have been dozens of news stories, council meetings, and community meetings related to the city’s budget, revenue, and funding. Metro employees, teachers, police officers, firefighters and bus operators have been working to inform the public of the resources needed to keep up with the city’s growth. We look forward to continuing this very healthy, and very public, debate. 

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4-17-18 MNPS promises changes after I-Team investigation exposes shortage of paraprofessionals
https://www.wsmv.com/news/mnps-promises-changes-after-i-team-investigation-exposes-shortage-of/article_374e6221-e410-570a-a6ee-99feaa34c13a.html

4-17-18 Nashville property tax shortfall: Large commercial owners took home 80% of reduction
https://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2018/04/17/nashville-property-tax-shortfall-large-commercial-owners-took-home-80-reduction/516303002/

4-18-18 Questioned By The Mayor, Metro Schools Defends Budget Cuts And Explains Shortfall
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/questioned-mayor-metro-schools-defends-budget-cuts-and-explains-shortfall#stream/0

4-8-18 Metro’s 911 operators face high turnover and growing vacancies
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/metros-911-operators-face-high-turnover-and-growing-vacancies

5-1-18 Briley budget falls $40M short of Nashville schools’ funding request
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/05/01/briley-budget-falls-40-m-short-nashville-schools-funding-request/569757002/

5-2-18 Mayor Briley’s proposed budget eliminates cost-of-living pay increases
https://www.wkrn.com/top-news/mayor-brileys-proposed-budget-eliminates-cost-of-living-pay-increases/1156369703

5-8-18 Schools will be spared cuts as MNPS leaders address $17M budget hole
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2018/05/08/nashville-schools-budget-cuts-funding-mnps/589593002/

5-9-18 Budget shortfall leaves Nashville teachers without raises
https://www.wsmv.com/news/budget-shortfall-leaves-nashville-teachers-without-raises/article_7e3bda59-c4d1-5836-a8db-efd59e5c9186.html

5-9-18 Nashville’s New Wall Street Crowd to Pocket 87% Savings on Property Taxes
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-05-09/nashville-s-wall-street-crowd-to-score-87-savings-on-home-taxes

5-14-18 Amid budget shortfall, are Nashville’s financial incentives still worth the cost?
https://www.tennessean.com/story/money/2018/05/14/nashville-budget-shortfall-business-incentives-start-raise-questions/595473002/

5-18-18 How to calculate Nashville property tax, with or without proposed 50-cent increase
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2018/05/18/tennessee-property-tax-nashville-davidson-county-calculator/623340002/

5-18-18 50-Cent Property Tax Increase Proposed By Metro Councilmembers
https://patch.com/tennessee/nashville/50-cent-property-tax-increase-proposed-metro-councilmembers

5-22-18 Nashville schools board calls on parents and teachers to lobby Metro Council for more funds
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2018/05/22/nashville-schools-budget-parents-lobby-metro-council/631999002/

5-23-18 Metro Council members express hope they can find money for public schools teacher raises
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2018/05/23/metro-council-members-express-hope-they-can-find-money-nashville-public-schools-teacher-raises/636979002/

5-24-18 Amid Talks Of School Budget Cuts, Paraprofessionals Contemplate The Future
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/amid-talks-of-school-budget-cuts-paraprofessionals-contemplate-the-future

6-1-18 ‘The perception is Metro left money on the table’
https://www.tnledger.com/editorial/Article.aspx?id=107064

6-5-18 Homes in Wealthy Neighborhoods Received Property Tax Decrease
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/on-the-rise/homes-in-wealthy-neighborhoods-received-property-tax-decrease

6-6-18 Groups Beg Metro Council To Raise Taxes To Fund Raises For Teachers And City Employees
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/groups-beg-metro-council-raise-taxes-fund-raises-teachers-and-city-employees#stream/0

6-6-18 Teachers, unions push property tax hike as Nashvillians sound off on budget woes
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/06/06/nashville-teachers-unions-push-property-tax-hike-they-sound-off-budget-woes/671278002/

6-12-18 Does Metro Need More Money?
https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/features/article/21008851/does-metro-need-more-money

6-13-18 Growing Debt Blamed For Budget Shortfall
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/growing-debt-blamed-for-budget-shortfall

6-14-18 Nashville budget proposal: $2 million in cuts — but not enough for fully-funded schools, pay hikes
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/06/14/metro-nashville-budget-cuts-mnps-funding/703783002/

6-19-18 Winners & losers: What’s at stake in Metro’s budget debate
https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2018/06/19/winners-losers-whats-at-stake-in-metros-budget.html

6-19-18 Here’s how much Nashville tax revenue goes to developers instead of schools
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/06/19/nashville-schools-budget-shortfall-how-much-tax-revenue-lost-development-incentives/714793002/

6-20-19 Nashville Council Rejects Property Tax Hike, Finalizing Budget That Pinches Schools And City Staff
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/nashville-council-rejects-property-tax-hike-finalizing-budget-pinches-schools-and-city-staff#stream/0

6-21-18 Nashville Already Anticipating An Even Tougher City Budget Next Year
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/nashville-already-anticipating-even-tougher-city-budget-next-year#stream/0

6-21-18 Frustrated With Mayor’s Power Over Budget, Metro Council To Hire Its Own Finance Guru
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/frustrated-mayors-power-over-budget-metro-council-hire-its-own-finance-guru#stream/0

6-26-18 Nashville’s Metro Council Reeling with Money Woes
https://www.memphisdailynews.com/news/2018/jul/26/nashvilles-metro-council-reeling-with-money-woes/

7-1-18 Musing City: What kind of place does Nashville want to be?
https://www.governing.com/topics/urban/gov-nashville.html

7-11-18 After Tumult, Nashville Mayor Wants Focus On ‘Fundamentals’ Of Education, Safety, Prosperity
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/after-tumult-nashville-mayor-wants-focus-fundamentals-education-safety-prosperity#stream/0

7-16-18 If Nashville has more taxpayers than ever before, why is it short on money?
https://fox17.com/news/local/if-nashville-has-more-taxpayers-than-ever-before-why-is-it-short-on-money

7-25-18 Metro departments asked to cut budgets amid shortfall
https://fox17.com/news/local/metro-departments-asked-to-cut-budgets-amid-shortfall

8-20-18 Budget Shortfall Forces ‘Change of Direction’ For Metro Fire Department
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/budget-shortfall-forces-change-of-direction-for-metro-fire-department

8-24-18 Report Sheds More Light On Metro Schools’ Shortfall, Spending Trends
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/report-sheds-more-light-metro-schools-shortfall-spendinhttps://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/metro-government/article/21022177/mayor-appoints-five-to-new-budget-study-groupg-trends#stream/0

8-30-18 Budget Shortfall Impacts Sheriff, Police Departments
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/budget-shortfall-impacts-sheriff-police-departments

9-13-18 Mayor appoints five to new budget study group
https://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/metro-government/article/21022177/mayor-appoints-five-to-new-budget-study-group

9-21-18 ‘No crisis,’ Mayor Briley says of Nashville’s finances, affordable housing. Others push back
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/09/21/nashville-mayor-david-briley-says-no-crisis-city-finances-housing/1356248002/

11-28-18 Council members tie Amazon incentives to raises
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/some-metro-council-members-call-for-metro-employee-pay-raise

11-29-18 Why Nashville seems broke even as the city grows
https://fox17.com/news/local/why-nashville-seems-broke-even-as-the-city-grows

11-29-18 Metro employees feel ‘left behind’ after no pay raise
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/metro-employees-feel-left-behind-after-no-pay-raise

11-29-18 Nashville schools needs to sell property or risk cuts. Seven sites that could help close the budget gap.
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/education/2018/11/29/nashville-schools-capital-list-and-cuts-fund-schools/2136609002/

12-4-18 Nashville council votes to prohibit selling Metro land for budget fixes
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2018/12/04/nashville-council-votes-prohibit-selling-metro-land-budget-fixes/2207303002/

12-28-18 Briley ‘Committed’ to Avoiding Tax Hike in 2019, Planning Listening Tour
https://www.nashvillescene.com/news/pith-in-the-wind/article/21038856/briley-committed-to-avoiding-tax-hike-in-2019-planning-listening-tour

1-15-19 News4 analyzes Nashville’s finances, debt
https://www.wsmv.com/news/news-analyzes-nashville-s-finances-debt/article_aded1050-18c9-11e9-9e73-d7dd3f3e5f15.html

1-16-19 Project Nashville: Sounding the alarm on fire station safety
https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/project-nashville-sounding-the-alarm-on-fire-station-safety

2-7-19 Project Nashville: Brain damaged firefighter wants Metro to hire more employees
https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/project-nashville-brain-damaged-firefighter-wants-metro-to-hire-more-employees

2-14-19 Project Nashville: Do Metro Government budget decisions impact your insurance premiums?
https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/project-nashville-do-metro-government-budget-decisions-impact-your-insurance-premiums

2-19-19 Metro Police officers leaving the department due to low morale
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/newschannel-5-investigates/metro-police-officers-leaving-the-department-due-to-low-morale

2-26-19 Project Nashville: Funding Firefighters
https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/project-nashville-funding-firefighters

3-5-19 Nashville teachers, employees would get 3 percent pay raise in proposed 2019-2020 budget. Some say it’s not enough.
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/03/05/mnps-pay-raise-2019-2020-budget/3066022002/

3-6-19 Briley turns to Music City Center for more help ahead of another tight budget
https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2019/03/06/briley-turns-to-music-city-center-for-more-help.html

3-14-19 Project Nashville: Teacher’s aide takes stand after Metro government’s broken promises
https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/project-nashville-broken-promises

4-11-19 Project Nashville: Why are teachers without books in the ‘IT city’?
https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/project-nashville-why-are-teachers-without-books-in-the-it-city

4-17-19 Teachers rally for full funding of Metro Schools at budget meeting
https://fox17.com/news/local/metro-schools-leaders-present-budget-to-mayor-briley

4-25-19 Nashville to get $300M in deal with private company to take over on-street parking
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/04/25/nashville-street-parking-laz-private-contract/3562335002/

4-11-19 Here’s how parking in Nashville will change if the Mayor’s plan to privatize it passes
https://www.wsmv.com/news/here-s-how-parking-in-nashville-will-change-if-the/article_164eb68a-5cb8-11e9-b5ab-5709b0b7e9cc.html

5-2-19 More than 350 teachers across Metro Nashville school district request substitutes Friday
https://fox17.com/news/local/more-than-350-teachers-across-metro-nashville-school-district-request-substitutes-friday

5-3-19 Metro’s Budget Sends Mixed Message: Some Pay Raises, But Cuts Elsewhere
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/metro-s-budget-sends-mixed-message-some-pay-raises-cuts-elsewhere

5-3-19 More than 1,000 teachers, staff don’t show up to Metro Schools on Friday
https://fox17.com/news/local/parents-say-mcgavock-high-has-turned-into-organized-recess-with-120-teacher-absences

5-5-19 Nearly 200 MNPS teachers, staff out Monday after sickout last week
https://fox17.com/news/local/teacher-sick-out-to-continue-monday-during-teacher-appreciation-week

5-15-19 Metro Council member believes lack in tax increase are behind budget problems
https://www.wkrn.com/news/local-news/metro-council-member-believes-lack-in-tax-increase-are-behind-budget-problems/2005247013

5-15-19 Nashville May Cut Bus Service And Raise Fares Because Of Budget Shortfall
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/nashville-may-cut-bus-service-and-raise-fares-because-budget-shortfall#stream/0

5-16-19 School board asks Metro to approve budget to fund 10% teacher raise
https://www.newschannel5.com/news/school-board-asks-metro-to-approve-budget-to-fund-10-teacher-raise

5-16-19 Teachers march for payraise, school board asks for $76 million at city budget hearing
https://www.wkrn.com/news/teachers-march-for-payraise-school-board-asks-for-76-million-at-city-budget-hearing/2007667429

5-16-19 Nashville teachers, protesters at City Hall to demand higher pay
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/16/nashville-teachers-absent-again-part-mnps-sick-out/3691484002/

5-22-19 Here Are The Two Dozen Nashville Bus Routes Facing Cuts Or Elimination
https://www.nashvillepublicradio.org/post/here-are-two-dozen-nashville-bus-routes-facing-cuts-or-elimination#stream/0

5-29-19 Council will again consider property tax increase
https://www.nashvillepost.com/politics/metro-government/article/21070700/council-will-again-consider-property-tax-increase

5-31-19 Mayor David Briley hits ‘pause button’ on Nashville private parking deal
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2019/05/31/nashville-mayor-david-briley-withdraws-public-parking-proposal/1297931001/

6-7-19 Controversial parking deal remains key piece of upcoming budget, despite Briley’s ‘pause’
https://www.bizjournals.com/nashville/news/2019/06/07/controversial-parking-deal-remains-key-piece-of.html

6-11-19 Council member Steve Glover proposes 3.6% property tax hike for increased Metro employee raises
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/06/11/nashville-budget-council-member-propose-3-6-percent-property-tax-hike/1418274001/

6-12-19 Project Nashville: Do Metro education dollars make it to the classroom?
https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/project-nashville-do-metro-education-dollars-make-it-to-the-classroom

6-14-19 Nashville Mayor David Briley criticizes tax increase proposals as a third budget plan is filed
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/06/14/nashville-mayor-david-briley-criticizes-tax-increase-proposals-third-budget-plan-filed/1461283001/

6-16-19 A cruel paradox: Despite thriving economy, Nashville struggles to fund schools, city services
https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/06/16/nashville-struggles-fund-schools-services-despite-thriving-economy/1263615001/

 

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Nashville: A Boomtown in Bu$t

FYI_banner_NOCOPE_print

Nashville’s budget is broken because we have the lowest property tax rate in the history of Davidson County at a time when the demand on public services couldn’t be higher. In 2017, city leaders irresponsibly cut the property tax rate. We need to restore the tax rate to an appropriate level.

We got a tax cut in 2017? Why didn’t I notice? How does all this work?

Every four years, the Assessor of Property calculates the value of every property in Nashville. State law says that following those calculations, the property tax rate must be changed to be “revenue neutral” so the city can’t make money from the process of appraising the property values. At the last assessment, the value of property went up because Nashville is booming. Therefore, the percentage tax on property – the tax rate — was lowered by $1.36 per $100 of assessed value, a 30% decrease in the rate.

The job of the mayor and council is to decide what property tax rate generates enough revenue to fund the city. In both 2009 and 2017, Mayor Dean and then Mayor Barry accepted the tax rate that kept revenues neutral without debating the impact on the city budget. Both times, the Metro Council agreed. Our elected officials collectively refused to make the politically difficult decisions we need them to make as leaders of our city. They made an irresponsible choice to lower the rate, which cost our city vital revenues and disproportionately benefited developers and commercial properties. This broke the budget. In 2010, the Dean administration restructured the city debt, pushing payments into the future. Much of our budget is paying for that debt now instead of our schools and other public institutions.

Another way to think about this is that Mayor Barry proposed a $394 million/year tax cut, and the Council accepted. Technically we did not “lose” revenues because the appraisal has to be revenue neutral, but we did lose out on $1.5 billion in potential revenue over 4 years.

Even though the rate dropped, people in gentrifying areas saw tax increases. In already-affluent areas (where property values are stable), taxes were cut. Taxes also went down dramatically for many big commercial properties and developers.

What About Appeals?

Appeals always happen and when property values go up as much as they did in 2017. The Barry administration’s decision to accept a revenue neutral rate became even more of a catastrophic error because it didn’t account for the appeals that were sure to come.

What about Tax Incentives (“TIF”), the Soccer Stadium and Amazon?

First, the Soccer Stadium and Amazon are future costs that have no impact whatsoever on the current budget, so they do not explain the problem. Second, if you total up all of the current Amazon-like incentives, they don’t even amount to half of the cost of a 1% raise for teachers and staff, let alone all Metro employees.

Tax Increment Financing (TIF) deals from the past take $30 million from the budget. Even though that is a great deal of money, TIF is not the core problem. Existing TIF deals can’t be undone, and eliminating them wouldn’t solve the problem anyway. The budget shortfall is over $100 million when you factor in the one-time asset sales, and TIF deals are 30-year contracts we can’t change. Metro Council has stopped new TIF deals for now and is re-evaluating how they can be used, so the city is making progress on preventing future problems. But even if we could undo every TIF deal (and we can’t, by the way), we would still need to find another $75 million every year.

Didn’t Metro Council try to raise the rate last year? How much would it cost me if that had passed?

If you own a home worth $150,000, it would have cost you about $187/year. If your home is worth $300,000, you would pay an additional $375/year. That’s about $1/day. A commercial property like Opry Mills would pay $600,000 more per year. This is what it will take to fund our schools. This tax is paid by homeowners and commercial property owners only.

How will this help fix the city budget?

Each penny of property tax rate generates about $3 million in revenues. So last year’s $.50 proposed increase would have given us an additional $150,000,000. The Board of Education’s current budget is asking for $76,000,000.

Is there waste at MNPS that can be cut in order to fund teacher raises?

MNPS is a chronically underfunded school system. While there may be disagreements about school budget priorities, you can’t cut an underfunded system into being fully funded. Our schools need more money, not less.

What about the state’s responsibility for funding the schools?

The state funding formula (called BEP) is based on many factors, including on potential property tax revenue from local districts, not actual revenue. So, because Nashville’s property values are high, the state formula calculates the potential revenue the city would have to fund the schools and adds in the rest. The problem is that our tax rate is so low, the state greatly overestimates the city’s contribution. A low tax rate ends up causing underfunding at both the local and state levels.

What can I do to help?

Email or call your Metro Council representative and ask them to support a property tax adjustment that gives our schools and other public institutions the funds they need to truly serve our city.

CLICK HERE to contact your Metro Council representative >>>

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Sources:

http://www.padctn.org/services/tax-rates-and-calculator/

https://fox17.com/news/project-nashville/how-did-we-get-here-nashvilles-budget-shortfall-during-historic-growth

http://www.mendesfornashville.com/the-myth-that-belt-tightening-could-fix-the-budget/

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/local/2018/05/18/tennessee-property-tax-nashville-davidson-county-calculator/623340002/

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/2019/05/16/nashville-teachers-absent-again-part-mnps-sick-out/3691484002/

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Thanks to Red4Ed for content.

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SEIU Statement on Mayor Briley’s “State of Metro” Address

SEIU Local 205 issued the following statement in response to Mayor David Briley’s “State of Metro” address and his proposed budget for Metro Government in Nashville for 2019-2020:

Mayor Briley’s State of Metro address outlined a budget that is an improvement from last year. We are thankful the Mayor has prioritized fulfilling the commitment of a cost-of-living adjustment for Metro employees and for extending that to Metro Schools employees. We are also encouraged that Mayor Briley is supporting a $15/hour minimum wage for Metro employees, something our union fights to achieve for all workers.

Despite these hopeful signs, there are a lot of details about this budget and the city’s revenue projections which are still unknown. We do know that our public schools will remain underfunded, as Mayor Briley acknowledged in his remarks today. The MNPS School Board requested much more than what Mayor Briley is proposing and our teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school support staff – many of whom work two or three jobs just to get by – literally can’t afford to wait for the “multi-year, long-term approach” that Mayor Briley recommended. We hope the Metro Council will fully fund the school board’s budget request.

We share many of the goals Mayor Briley laid out in his State of Metro address, but we do not believe his vision for Nashville can be accomplished without addressing the core revenue issue that our city faces. If the mayor is correct and Nashville continues to grow, so will the demand on our schools and public services. Metro will struggle to meet these challenges until we directly confront the structural revenue problem created by Mayor Barry and the Metro Council adopting the lowest property tax rate in the history of Metro Government. That decision in 2017 was effectively a large tax cut that disproportionately benefited developers and commercial property owners and is at the root of all of Nashville’s budget challenges.

Brad Rayson
President, SEIU Local 205

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SEIU & Allies to Metro Council: “Keep Your Promises & Pay Your Bills” to City Employees!

City employees and allies deliver a "past due invoice" for unpaid raises to the Metro Council.

City employees and allies deliver a “past due invoice” for unpaid raises to the Metro Council.

Members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF), and the Fraternal Order of Police (FOP), presented the Metro Council with an “invoice” of $38 million, which the public sector unions say would make city employees whole after the Council reneged on a pay plan which included cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) in 2018 and 2019.

The General Government employee pay plan, which was developed after two years of study, was approved by the Metro Civil Service Commission and passed the Council by a vote of 34-1 in June, 2017. But last May, the mayor’s budget did not include the cost of living raises that were included in that pay plan, forcing the Council to write new ordinances that undid their previous vote on the pay plan.

Check out the complete video of the event.

The following remarks were made during the public comment period by Richard Tippit, a Metro employee who helped present the invoice to Metro Council members:

Members of Metro Council,

We’re here tonight to deliver you an invoice for services performed by the employees of Nashville Metro Government. In July of 2017, this Council passed a three-year pay plan that included annual cost of living adjustments. This pay plan was largely seen as attempting to make up for sacrifices made by Metro employees throughout the Great Recession.

Last year, because of a self-inflicted funding problem, this Council decided it wasn’t going to pay all of its bills. You paid every other bill – you even took on new bills – but you forgot to pay one of the most important. The men and women who keep the parks clean, keep our water running, keep the libraries open, repair our roads, pick-up our trash, answer 911 calls, put out the fires and keep our communities safe are owed a 3% cost of living adjustment for last year and a 3% adjustment for this year.

The total balance due is approximately $38 million in total, $18 million of that is past due. As you begin to discuss this year’s budget, you should know this bill remains unpaid, and your budgeting should start there.  Thank you.

Here’s a news report that aired on NewsChannel 5 featuring SEIU president Brad Rayson. Nashville Public Radio ran a brief report this morning as well.

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Local 205 Vice-President Addresses Lawmakers @ First Metro Council “Public Comment” Session!

MetroCouncil_PublicComment-In the wake of a budget shortfall in Nashville and a bitter campaign by the city’s unions and community groups to get an amended budget passed, the Council began a new initiative – a “public comment” session – which permits members of the public to come before the government and speak about anything they want for two minutes.

It’s a new idea for the Metro Council, and one that SEIU took immediate advantage of. During the first night of “public comment”, Local 205’s executive vice-president, James Bradley, gave some prepared comments to the council. They touched on how he and other city employees felt about being betrayed by council members who had only a year earlier promised to fully fund a new pay plan. He also poked fun at how many council members refused to vote for a property tax adjustment (something that is a normal course of government operations in Metro) because there “wasn’t enough public input” by rattling off a list of questions that SEIU would like to have the council get input from us on over the next year while they run for re-election.

Here’s the full text of James’ comments (though he wasn’t able to complete them because time ran out):

“Good evening, members of the council. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you this evening. My name is James Bradley and I serve as the executive vice-president of SEIU Local 205. My organization represents the men and women who work for so many of our public agencies including General Government departments, the Hospital Authority, Metro Action Commission, and we represent the support employees in Metro Nashville Public Schools.

First of all, on behalf of the thousands of city employees SEIU represents, I want to thank the 19 members of the council who voted in favor of Councilman Mendes’ budget two weeks ago. We appreciate your integrity and courage and we will not forget your support for us.

Having said that, we will also not forget the 20 council members who voted against us.

You are the people I would like to direct my public comments to this evening.

Two weeks ago when you voted on the budget, we heard your speeches about how there wasn’t enough “public input” on correcting the property tax rate. Every member of this council knows full well that correcting the tax rate has never had “public input” but if we have to have more “public input” on something that you all know is necessary for the city to do, let’s start with a couple of questions to get that ball rolling:

First, how do we explain to city employees who already took cuts to their pay and raises for four years that they have to do it again while we’re in a boom? I was one of the people whose taxes went up and then didn’t get a cost of living raise. I don’t mind paying my fair share, but when do these private developers start paying theirs?

Second, how do we explain that we couldn’t find the political will to fully fund our schools but we can find it to keep giving more TIF and PILOT deals to developers and corporations? Or for a water park at Opryland that only Opryland guests can use?

How do you justify asking Metro department heads to begin preparing budget reductions for next year when you are literally getting ready to vote tonight on another tax increment financing deal?

There’s a whole host of other questions too. Like where is the accountability on these TIF and PILOT deals? Which Metro department or office is tracking whether these companies are creating all the jobs they say they are? Is privatization saving us money or costing us more while quality goes down?

Hopefully, addressing these questions over the next year while many of you are campaigning will help educate and enlighten our teachers, firefighters, police officers, bus drivers, and General Government employees who live and vote in Davidson County.

We will be watching and trust me… we will be giving you and your political opponents our “public input” in 2019. I appreciate your time and again… thanks to those of you who voted for what was right, not for what was easy.”

Who Voted FOR Us on the Mendes budget?

Bob Mendes
Sharon Hurt
Erica Gilmore
Decosta Hastings
Brenda Haywood
Brett Withers
Anthony Davis
Bill Pridemore
Doug Pardue
Colby Sledge
Burkley Allen
Ed Kindall
Mina Johnson
Kathleen Murphy
Karen Johnson
Jason Potts
Fabian Bedne
Jacobia Dowell
Antoinette Lee
Comments Off on Local 205 Vice-President Addresses Lawmakers @ First Metro Council “Public Comment” Session!

The Effort to Gut Metro Employee Benefits Fails!

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew's proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew’s proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

After a nearly two-year struggle, we are happy to report that the Metro Employee Benefit Board has rejected any cuts to the pension or retiree health benefits for Metro employees!

At their meeting on Oct. 6, the Benefit Board weighed the proposal from Mayor Dean’s Study and Formulating Committee as well as the input from SEIU and decided that it was unfair for firefighters and police to be allowed to keep their medical coverage upon reaching Medicare eligibility while the rest of the city’s employees would be cut off from health insurance when they retired. The Benefit Board voted against the Study Committee’s recommendation, despite a major P.R. push by the Mayor and his allies to convince the public of a “crisis” in unfunded liability for employee benefits which SEIU debunked.

Unless the new mayor or Metro Council decides to revisit this issue, major changes to employee benefits are now effectively dead. You’ll remember that SEIU was able to get any cuts to the employee pension stopped over the summer by an aggressive campaign against the Pew group and the Dean Administration. That victory was only possible because our members turned out and they were vocal about protecting the benefits they earned.

Meanwhile, the Benefit Board did vote in favor of a new lump-sum payout option that the union supports. There are pros and cons to this new option, but the important thing is that the final decision about whether to use it is up to the employee and it is not mandatory. We urge city employees to get more information about this benefit as details are rolled out – assuming it gets approved by the Metro Council.

Thank you to our members who turned out to meetings and talked to their elected officials about these issues and helped secure a major victory. Please tell your non-union co-workers that the reason their benefits are secure is because your Union fought hard to protect them!

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Fact Check: SEIU Responds to Pew Presentation on Pension & Retiree Medical Benefits

David Draine presents Pews findings to the Study & Formulating Committee in Nashville.

David Draine presents Pew’s findings to the Study & Formulating Committee in Nashville.

On a Friday afternoon, while city employees were still at work and unable to attend, the Study & Formulating Committee met to hear a presentation from Pew Charitable Trusts about the pension and health benefits of Metro employees. And as usual, the committee chair carefully chose questions that fits with the adminstration’s narrative which wrongfully suggests that there is some kind of funding or solvency crisis because of employee benefits that requires “reform”.

Tennessean columnist Frank Daniels, a Dean booster who fretted back in November that the committee might not get to finish its work (even though their work was technically completed back in late summer when they delivered their recommendations on a domestic partner benefit), was contacted by SEIU after the committee met with information that was not brought up or was misrepresented by administration and Pew officials. Here is the statement that SEIU’s Mark Naccarato sent to The Tennessean’s Frank Daniels, which as you can tell by the column Daniels wrote, was largely ignored:

With respect to the $2.4B unfunded liability from medical costs that Pew talked about and which The Tennessean reported on in September, here is some important context missing yesterday:

  • Virtually all cities and states have unfunded liabilities for retiree health care benefits. Unfunded liabilities of this type do not affect a municipality’s credit rating since they ordinarily operate on a “pay as you go” basis. By failing to place these liabilities in context, the committee and Pew are creating  a manufactured crisis over “the Big Scary Number” of unfunded medical liability costs (in this case, it’s $2.4 billion). The truth is that worrying over an unfunded liability for medical costs is no different than panicking because you have a mortgage on your house. If you pay your mortgage every month as you go and don’t miss payments, you are fine. You would only be in a financial crisis if suddenly the bank asked you to pay the entire balance of your mortgage at once with cash. That’s the same thing with unfunded medical liability costs – they are only a concern if for some reason, the entire city workforce retired or got a serious illness at the same time. This is a statistical impossibility, so again, the Big Scary Number is in fact, not so scary.
  • Mr. Riebeling did not address the fact that, in the last two years, Metro employee health insurance premiums have not gone up. This is due to several factors, including the Affordable Care Act, but it is worth asking Mr. Riebeling and Mr. Shmerling: If health care costs are so explosive and are such a large concern, then why have employee premiums decreased over the last two years? The fact that this important positive trend was ignored yesterday reinforces our belief that there is a political agenda, not a policy agenda, at work. Also indicative of a political agenda: this is the third “study” of employee benefits in five years, all during the Dean Administration.
  • It is also worth noting that retiree health care benefits don’t enjoy the same legal protections that say, pension benefits do, so future governments do have the ability to adjust them than they do accrued pension benefits. Having said that, we have to come back to the notion that the Big Scary Number – unfunded medical liability – is not expected to affect the long-term fiscal health or credit rating of the city in and of itself.

With regards to the pension, it seems that there is a concerted effort to try to persuade the public and legislators that any changes to the current Defined Benefit (“DB”) pension plan would only affect new employees. This is not the case and when Mr. Draine from Pew was asked about this yesterday, he dodged the question. If the city creates a separate system and puts its new employees into a Defined Contribution (“DC”) plan or a hybrid plan (similar to the State of Tennessee’s), several things will happen:

  • Paying benefits of current employees in the DB pension plan will become more expensive as a result of what pension actuaries call “transition costs.” Without new young members (and their contributions) coming into the existing pension fund, the pension plan would have only older and retired workers in it. Over time, the investment horizon of the plan managers would shrink and more assets would have to be in liquid form, ready to convert into pension checks. These shifts would lower investment returns and require more taxpayer contributions to meet pension obligations. This raises a serious concern in the future that employees who have retired or close to retirement would have their pension checks cut.
  • The switch to a DC plan would mean higher fees (charged by investment firms who manage DC savings plan options) than with a DB pension pool and lower investment returns. There is a large research literature (e.g., by Towers Watson) on the great cost effectiveness of DB plans. The National Institute on Retirement Security estimated in a  2014 study that DC plans cost nearly twice in contributions to achieve the same retirement benefit.
  • The city is about halfway through a comprehensive pay study and what they already know is that retirement and health benefits – especially the DB pension plan – are the primary attractor for (and retainer of) talent in Metro. If Metro stops offering a DB plan, what is it going to do to keep attracting talent? Especially now that the economy is improving and workers have more job options? Will the city have to increase pay to offset its cut to benefits? How do you explain to someone who’s been working for Metro for 30 years that the new employee who just got hired is making more money than they are? Despite the politically expedient comments offered up yesterday, cutting the DB plan or changing to a hybrid or a DC plan will absolutely affect recruiting and employee morale in a negative way. This has already happened in cities and states where they have closed DB plans for new employees and it will happen here as well.

All of the topics I just mentioned above about the pension plan were discussed at the last meeting of the Study & Formulating Committee in September which you were not at. I can assure you that everyone in the room – including Pew and the city’s actuaries at BPSM – all agreed that putting new hires into a new plan gives the city the same or increased costs and less security. At the last meeting, the tone of the committee and everyone else involved was basically that changing the DB plan (even for future employees) was a non-starter. Which is why all of us were shocked yesterday when Mr. Shmerling brought this up again and seemed to act as if all of that discussion never happened.

I’m not sure if Mr. Riebeling or Mr. Shmerling have made you aware of this, but Nashville’s pension fund is well-funded and in 2013 it had nearly 19% ROI which puts it in the top five pension plans in the U.S. of all cities and states. Some of that has to do with getting out from under the losses that everyone took during the Great Recession, some of it has to do with savvy investment decisions by Metro, and some of it has to do with the minor changes that the unions agreed to that were proposed by the last Study & Formulating Committee. The point is… why would you want to fix something that isn’t broken? Even Mr. Draine agreed (both yesterday and at the last committee meeting in September) that the city’s pension plan was not a major cause for concern from a cost or sustainability perspective. His charts and graphs showed as much yesterday. Again, we see a political motive here, not a case that can be justified from a financial or policy standpoint.

We are very concerned that the state of the city’s benefit system is being portrayed as being in some of kind of crisis situation when it is anything but. There are ideologues – including John Arnold, who is funding Pew’s work – who have an interest in seeing public employee benefits weakened. There are several motives for this, one of which is that it is in the interests of private employers to see benefits diluted so that businesses are not forced to keep up to attract talent. Metro is the county’s second largest employer and if their benefit package is less enticing, then there is no reason for say, HCA or Vanderbilt to keep theirs as competitive – that’s money in the bank for them.  And I think you know by now since SEIU has already talked to Tennessean reporters about this that this “review” by Pew isn’t specific to Nashville. Thanks to funding by Mr. Arnold, Pew has a whole division that is barnstorming the country giving reports to cities and states just like what we heard yesterday.

We believe that this is a campaign to scare taxpayers into thinking that public employee benefits are unsustainable and that there has to be a change. In Nashville, we see little to no justification for “fixing” employee benefits, though we do see a financial motive (access to new capital for risk-prone investors) a business motive (diluting the benefits of a large city workforce benefits private companies’ bottom line), and a political motive (weakening benefits weakens the bargaining position of the labor unions and employee associations who represents the workers) to “reform” the benefit package. Simply put, there is no objective reason to accept these proposals from Pew. Now, there is a whole other discussion to be had about Nashville’s fiscal health over the coming decades as a result of the fiscal policies of the Dean Administration, but we strongly believe – and I think most people would if they had all the facts – that working families should not have to pay for irresponsible spending decisions made by politicians. Especially when those decisions have resulted in nearly $1 billion in tax breaks and subsidies being handed out to corporations that are already located in Nashville and who are making big profits.

Keep in mind too that most of the “reforms” that were suggested yesterday would only affect General Government employees, not public safety employees. You should know if you don’t already that General Government workers don’t make as much money overall as public safety employees and they are made up of more minority workers as well. What kind of message does it send to the community that the city is considering cuts (and yes, we are talking about cuts here – not improvements) to the benefits of a workforce which is lower-paid and has a higher percentage of minorities?

Mr. Daniels, when we read your column about this topic back in November, it seemed as if you were only getting one side of the story on this discussion. I know you are on deadline to try and write a column, but at some point, we really would like to have a conversation to go deeper on these issues as the stakes are high for thousands of hard-working city employees and their families, not to mention the citizens who expect high-quality services.

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Nashville Public Employees Respond to Pew Report on Benefits

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew's proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

Close to 200 Metro employees and SEIU members packed the Howard School Building to hear Pew’s proposal for benefit changes for city employees.

Workers on Public Employee Pension and Health Systems: “It Ain’t Broke… Don’t Fix It”

Hundreds of Nashville firefighters, nurses, law enforcement officers, librarians, water technicians, school employees, and other public service workers and retirees spoke out against a proposal by Pew Charitable Trusts to cut public employee and retiree benefits at a meeting of the Study and Formulating Committee.

Pew issued an interim report that explored a proposal for Metro Nashville to close its existing defined-benefit pension plan and shift future employees into a state pension plan that is a combination – or “hybrid” – of a traditional pension and a 401(k)-type defined-contribution plan. A hybrid proposal would shift more of the costs onto employees, who make on average about $33,000/ year according to a recent compensation study. “A lot of us have to take second jobs to make ends meet and many of us are single moms,” said Vanessa Sanders, a labor and delivery nurse at General Hospital. “After taxes, transportation, health insurance, and all the other necessities, we just cannot afford to have more money come out of our paychecks for a retirement contribution.”

Many questioned the need for any changes after the city conducted a similar study of employee benefits in 2012 in which several key adjustments to the plan were already made. Recently, Metro’s actuaries revealed that the city’s defined benefit plan is 83% funded, putting it in the top tier of public pension funds. CNBC reported that in 2013, the Nashville plan’s investment returns were the fifth highest of all city and state plans in the U.S. In other cities and states that have shifted to a “hybrid” type like the one proposed by Pew, costs to taxpayers increased while benefits for beneficiaries decreased. “If changing the system is actually going to cost the city more money and deliver less of a benefit to workers, why the heck would we do it,” asked Rick Beasley, a 911 dispatcher. “It sounds to me like Pew is creating a “lose-lose” situation that leaves taxpayers and employees paying more and getting less.”

“It ain’t broke, and we don’t need Pew fixing it,” said Jack Byrd, a corrections officer. Pew’s work has been funded by a foundation organized by billionaire John Arnold, a former Enron executive and hedge fund manager. Some have criticized Arnold’s efforts, saying that hedge fund managers like Arnold collect generous sums in fees for managing the funds while workers are left with reduced pension benefits.

The Service Employees International Union, Local 205, which represents thousands of Metro employees across dozens of city departments, agencies, and in Metro schools, made it clear that it opposes any changes to employee benefits. “Pew and their allies are proposing a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist,” said Doug Collier, president of Local 205. “If there are any cuts that need to happen in Nashville, it should be to the tax breaks and corporate welfare being handed out to millionaires.”

Pew officials ultimately admitted in their interim report to the Study & Formulating Committee that Metro’s pension is in “solid financial shape,” but did find significant concerns with the unfunded liability the city has as a result of its retiree medical program. The Committee announced that Pew’s work in ongoing and another report is expected in the coming months to examine some remaining issues. The Committee’s next meeting date has not been announced yet.

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Pew/Arnold Study on Metro Benefits Causes Confusion and Controversy

(Nashville)  Representatives from Pew Charitable Trusts caused confusion and controversy at a meeting of the Study & Formulating Committee when they revealed data about the Metro employee pension fund that conflicted with data presented by the city’s actuaries.

On multiple occasions, members of the Study & Formulating Committee attempted to get a straight answer from Pew representatives on the amount that Metro’s pension plan is funded at – a number which is crucial in determining if any reforms to the retirement system are even necessary. In a memo to the Committee on July 22, Pew/Arnold stated that Metro was funded at 77%, a number that was debunked by representatives from Bryan, Pendleton, Swats & McAllister, the independent actuary that serves Metro Government. According to BPS&M, Nashville’s open pension plan was funded at a healthy 85% (13% higher than the average state-level pension plan) in 2013. “I want to make sure we aren’t sounding alarms that don’t need to be sounded,” said Glenn Farner, one of the members of the Study & Formulating Committee, to the crowd in attendance.

“It is very disappointing to see an organization like Pew risk its reputation with this kind of fuzzy math in order to push an ideological agenda that puts the retirements of thousands of Middle Tennessee working families at risk,” said Doug Collier, President of SEIU Local 205. SEIU represents public employees in Metro government departments as well as Metro schools support staff, nearly all of whom are covered under Metro’s benefits plan.

Despite its credible name, Pew is partnering with the John & Laura Arnold Foundation to push a particularly dangerous plan to cripple public pensions all across the country. The Wall Street Journal identified Texas billionaire and former Enron executive John Arnold as one of the major forces behind efforts to cut worker pensions at the city and state level. Arnold, who was the subject of a Department of Justice investigation related to his work at Enron (including accusations of insider training and his role in wiping out the retirements of thousands of Enron employees) has funneled massive amounts of money to pension-gutting politicians and their super PACs. His foundation has also directed $4.85 billion to Pew Charitable Trusts’ “Public Sector Retirement Systems” project, which has produced anti-pension research used by state lawmakers to justify cutting into public workers’ retirement benefits, often replacing them with more expensive, less reliable and widely-discredited 401(k) plans or their newer cousin, “hybrid pension plans,” which bring with them hefty bank fees and unnecessary risk for seniors.

The Pew/Arnold work has been called “deceptive” by a host of state legislators in Kentucky after the organizations convinced the state of Kentucky to adopt a new “cash balance plan” which the legislators said “will cost taxpayers millions of dollars, will not reduce our state’s unfunded liability, and will diminish retirement security.” Pew also recently dropped into Jacksonville, Florida to provide policy recommendations addressing the city’s retirement challenges. There, Pew provided a flawed actuarial analysis that wildly overstated the Jacksonville police and fire pension fund’s problems. The city ultimately rejected Pew’s advice.

“It seems like everywhere Pew/Arnold goes, their recommendations are the same – to weaken the retirement security of public employees,” Collier said. According to investment research firm Morningstar, Metro Nashville was the seventh-highest ranked public pension fund in the U.S., with an ROI of 18.3% in 2013. “It ain’t broke, so there is no need for Pew/Arnold to try and fix it,” said Collier.

Another controversy plaguing the Study & Formulating Committee is its agenda. The current committee was formed by Mayor Karl Dean at the request of Metro Council members who asked the mayor to appoint a committee “specifically to consider the provision of domestic partner benefits,” according to a letter signed by 26 city council members on Oct. 2, 2013. “It was never the intent of the Council for this committee to be debating and discussing other employee benefits,” said Collier. “The city spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on an exhaustive study like this only two years ago and the changes that needed to be made were made. It is time for this current committee to be dissolved since their work on domestic partner benefits is concluded.”

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The Service Employees International Union is one of the fastest-growing labor unions in the U.S. with over 2.1 million members in North America. In Tennessee, SEIU Local 205 is chartered to represent thousands of public and private sector workers.

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SEIU Local 205 Members Applaud Metro Council Resolution to Invest in Vital Services

Bill sponsor Erica Gilmore (left), with SEIU members Mary Miller and Joan Parmer.

Bill sponsor Erica Gilmore (left), with SEIU members Mary Miller and Joan Parmer.

SEIU Local 205 members stood together and applauded Nashville’s Metro Council action on RS2013-824, which calls on Congress to end the sequester and balance the federal budget in a way that will create jobs and strengthen our communities.

The resolution is another way citizens and elected officials are coming together to invest in vital services, like Head Start, which took a $400 million cut this year due to the sequester. The Chattanooga City Council approved a similar resolution a week earlier.

“Cuts to Head Start, Meals On Wheels, and job education programs are hurting our community,” said Linda Epps, an employee of Metro Action Commission working in the Head Start program. “These days, Congress doesn’t do anything unless we force them to. We thank the Nashville Metro Council for taking a stand for our children and seniors.”

In March of this year, $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts went into effect. These cuts, known as “The Sequester”…

  • Cut Head Start by $400 million in FY2013, which will result in 1,200 fewer Tennessee children served. Nationwide, tens of thousands of Head Start employees could either lose their jobs or rely on cash-strapped states and localities to pick up their salaries instead.
  • Cut employment services, which connect job seekers with employment opportunities and job training. With cuts totaling more than $37 million, some 830,000 fewer job seekers will receive employment assistance.
  • Threaten the loss of 750,000 American jobs according to the Congressional Budget Office, leaving many middle class Americans vulnerable.
  • Cuts 2 percent from Medicare, which would cost 212,000 jobs in the healthcare industry alone, according to the Congressional Research Service.

“Congress needs to do more to make sure the wealthy and big corporations pay their fair share of taxes,” said Doug Collier, president of SEIU Local 205. “A fair budget agreement should raise more revenue from wealthy Americans and big corporations. There are hundreds of billions in tax loopholes used by big business and the wealthy to allow them to avoid taxes that could give us more revenue and prevent cuts to the vital services our communities need.”

This story got media attention from NBC News and from The Nashville Scene.

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