In her second State of Metro address Wednesday morning, Nashville Mayor Megan Barry presented a laundry list of big-spending plans that liberals will love and make conservatives reach for their Tums.
The Democratic mayor called for paid family leave for Metro employees and “income diversity within neighborhoods” that are “transit-oriented.” In addition, she wants environmental programs to make Nashville the “greenest city in the Southeast.”
She also used progressive buzzwords about promoting racial and ethnic diversity and welcoming immigrants.
“Nashville is a warm and welcoming place,” she said. “We build bridges, not walls, and we welcome and celebrate the diversity that makes us strong.”
Barry delivered her State of Metro address outside Bridgestone Arena, where a stage and seating were set up to accommodate the public. The speech featured details of her $2.2 billion budget proposal for fiscal year 2017-2018. The Metro Council will consider the proposal and hold public hearings.
She said that Metro Nashville is expected to have the lowest combined property tax rate in its 54-year history of combined city-county government at less than $3.16 per $100 of assessed value following the 2017 property reappraisal. But new taxes are needed for roads and transit, she said.
Barry praised passage of Gov. Haslam’s IMPROVE Act, which raises the gas tax to fund road improvements and allows municipalities to hold referendums on raising local taxes for transit. Barry said she plans to have a referendum on the ballot in Nashville in 2018 to raise taxes to support a tentative $6 billion regional transit plan to be phased in over 25 years.
But Barry said plans for light rail along the Gallatin Pike corridor couldn’t wait and announced work would begin immediately.
“The time to get started is now,” she said. “We are ready to start on Gallatin Pike today.”
Future plans call for light rail along Charlotte Pike, Nolensville Pike and Murfreesboro Pike and for light rail connecting Nashville and Clarksville. The mass transit plan also calls for rapid buses.
Barry said the voter referendum on raising taxes is necessary because there won’t be enough funding through the normal budget process.
“This will be the best thing Nashville has ever done,” she said.
Her proposal for the upcoming fiscal year also includes increased funding for mental health services and free bus passes for the homeless to connect them with agencies that provide help. Barry referred to the homeless as the “unhoused population.” She also has plans for efforts to monitor and prevent opioid abuse.
In addition, her proposal includes more funding for arts organizations, parks and historic preservation. It also calls for 70 new police officers and police body cameras and dashboard cameras.
While efforts to promote downtown will continue, Barry also wants to invest in improving the communities of East Nashville, Donelson, North Nashville, Bellevue and Antioch through public-private partnerships.
As for paid leave for Metro employees, it would allow them to take six weeks of paid leave to care for a new child, or a seriously ill spouse, child or close relative.
Barry only briefly referenced debt service, mentioning the need to be responsible and saying, “This budget includes money to cover our debt service obligations today and also into our future.”
Wednesday’s event featured performances by the Tennessee State University marching band and well-known gospel singer and Nashville native CeCe Winans.
Prayers were said by Charles Strobel, founding director of Room in the Inn, Pastor Frank Stevenson of Olive Branch Church, Rabbi Laurie Rice of Congregation Micah, Imam Ossama Bahloul of the Islamic Center of Nashville and Bishop José Rodriguez of Casa de Dios Apostolic Church. Rice, Bahloul and Rodriguez said their prayers in Hebrew, Arabic and Spanish respectively.