In popular media, Superman fights for “truth, justice and the American way.” The superhero who is “faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive” is vulnerable to a substance known as Kryptonite.
Those who back Nashville’s $9 billion transit system are facing their own version of Kryptonite: Trust. Even one prominent supporter now says he has some doubts.
The uncertainty comes nearly a week following news that Metro Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, the face of the Let’s Move Nashville Transit Improvement Plan, had an adulterous, years-long affair with veteran police Sgt. Rob Forrest who was in charge of her security. Barry dodged her responsibilities as an elected official having an affair with an employee who resigned, while she kept her job, and it was revealed her affair violated her office’s mission statement of transparency and her own executive order that employees should be ethical and avoid conflicts of interest.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation has been asked to investigate any potential breaking of the law, including “misappropriation of public funds and official misconduct,” District Attorney Glenn Funk spokesman Steve Hayslip told The Tennessean.
The Metro Council voted Jan. 23 on a second reading of the plan to hide the true cost of Barry’s light rail transit system to voters on the May 1 referendum. Metro council members John Cooper and Tanaka Vercher had asked that the May ballot language include the full $9-billion-dollar costs. The council voted 21-14 not to accept the amendment. The third and final reading is planned for Tuesday’s council meeting.
If the Metro Council does not change the referendum’s language, they will be proclaiming to voters that the plan’s cost is just over $5.3 billion. Pages 50 and 55 of the plan, however, shows the nearly $9 billion price tag.
NoTax4Tracks, a citizen PAC that questions the transit plan’s feasibility, on Friday issued a communication questioning Metro Council’s commitment to transparency.
“Will the city be transparent and let the debate be about the $9-billion cost? Or will they hide the ball and go with $5.4-billion? We believe they should do the right thing and give voters a full and complete picture of what the light rail plan will cost.”
“That’s what voters will pay if it passes. That’s what voters should vote on May 1,” the PAC says.
Even The Tennessean, last Wednesday, ran an editorial calling on the council to tell the truth: “That ballot should tell voters the full truth about what the transit plan will cost, between now and the end of construction in 2032.” The piece was written by council members Angie Henderson and John Cooper.
One of the plan’s staunchest supporters on the council, member Bob Mendes, shared his angst on his political blog last Thursday. Mendes voted to put forth the $5.3 billion price tag on the referendum.
“I have my doubts about whether it can pass in May – I just don’t know,” Mendes wrote.
Mendes acknowledges Barry has been the public face of the transit plan. A delay on placing the plan on the May 1 referendum means the earliest rescheduled referendum dates would be the August or November elections. Mendes bemoans the possibility of the media focusing on the mayor’s indiscretions while the transit backers try to make their pitch to the public.
And the council member says he may be having second thoughts on the plan’s feasibility.
“On top of this, I have been revisiting my thoughts about the transit plan itself. My earlier posts are here and here. For those of you that have read them, you know that some parts of the transit financial plan have given me pause. For example, it still has not been well discussed in the media that the transit plan assumes paying interest only until 2032 on $3B in revenue bonds. After that, principal gets added to the payments in increments each year through 2039. From 2040 to 2060, the plan calls for level principal payments of $226 million each. The reason the principal payments increase over time before leveling off for the last 20 years is because projected revenue from the new tax surcharges won’t support full principal and interest payments until 2040. In turn, if there isn’t enough revenue generated to make full principal and interest payments until 2040, this begs questions about how we might pay for a next phase if we were to decide in the 2020s that we would like to extend a rail line to the county line.”
NoTax4Tracks said in its press release, council members Cooper and Henderson eloquently make the case with this on succinct paragraph: ‘By the time we complete construction in 2032, we will need to spend and to raise $8.95 billion. That’s why both numbers should be in the referendum on the ballot. Both numbers, together, disclose this project’s scope and challenge.’
“Better yet, they conclude with this: ‘Transparency can go a long way to alleviate cynicism about government. Nashville’s voting public can handle the truth,’” the PAC says.
NoTax4Tracks urges residents to contact their council members.