Nashville Attorney Jim Roberts: ‘This Is a Fight Between the Power of the People and the Power of the Government’


Live from Music Row Friday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. –  host Leahy welcomed Nashville attorney Jim Roberts to the newsmakers line.

During the third hour, Roberts explained the Taxpayer Protection Act and why it was needed to stop irresponsible spending and borrowing by the Metro government. He added that this act will help keep Metro government spending restrained and in check by the taxpayers in of Davidson County.

Leahy: We are with our special guest Jim Roberts a fantastic attorney here in Nashville. And he’s the man behind the Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act that is likely to be on the ballot as a referendum December 5 where registered Davidson County residents can vote to repeal the reckless 34 percent property tax passed by Mayor John Cooper and the Metro Council.

Jim, let’s kind of assume that the election commission plays it straight. And that the Metro legal efforts to engage potential efforts of skulduggery come up to not. And then the third week of September the election commission meets. We’ll cover that by the way at The Tennessee Star. They will determine whether or not you have enough signatures which you had more than enough and you are on the ballot December 5.

What is that campaign going to be like? The side that says repeal the property tax increase of 34 percent and those that want it. How much money is going to be spent against this charter amendment to stop the property tax increase?

Roberts: Remember there are always out there that want the government to spend spend spent spend. There are always people with their hands in the pot. I would expect that downtown business councils will probably spend two or three hundred thousand dollars against it. I would say a minimum. I promise you the folks in government do not want this to pass. Governments never want their powers restrained at all.

Leahy: Never. You know I wrote a book about that. The concept of power back in 2012. The Covenant of Liberty: The Ideological Origins of the Tea Party Movement. And basically I argued what you are arguing right now. Once the government has power in any governmental institution the natural tendency is to expand that power as much as possible.

Roberts: Almost worse than that but to expand it in a sort of an arrogant and uncaring way. Look at what’s going on downtown and the shutdown of all these businesses. You look around us. We are the only city in the entire state that is still shut down like this. A gentleman called me the other day that had a wedding venue in Nashville and he met with Mayor Cooper and said that Mayor Cooper, every wedding venue in the entire state is open except Nashville.

Every wedding in Nashville is going to Williamson County or Sumner or Rutherford County. And he asked why are you destroying Nashville businesses? And Mayor Cooper basically said I can. I have the votes. I can do whatever I want. He does. He’s destroying businesses because he can. In a downturn, Mayor Cooper decides he wants to spend an extra $100 million. Well, he did it. And why. Because he can. And the council is too disorganized.

Leahy: Well, a lot of the council leans left-wing and they want to spend more money.

Roberts: It wasn’t like any of them were totally against him. So we spent an extra $100 million when we are in an economic downtown. Why? Because he can. The Nashville Taxpayer Protection Act says no you can’t.  It’s going to bind the hands of the government and intentionally do that. Not forever.

Just to be really clear, it doesn’t say that they can’t raise taxes more than two percent. It says that if they want to raise taxes more than two percent they have to put it to the people. Mayor Cooper will have to go and campaign and explain to the people why he needs a tax increase of more than two percent.

I think he could have done it. He could have gone to the people of Nashville. He was a popular mayor. He could have gone to the people in Nashville and said, look the COVID thing has wiped us out. We need a temporary tax increase to make up the difference. And I think he might have been able to convince people to do it. Instead, he just hit us with a brick with 34 percent written on the side.

That’s not even fair.  It’s 37 percent in the urban services district. It’s just 34 percent. I’m giving him the benefit of the 34 percent but it’s really 37. And he did it because he could. So you know what, the people in this town got together and said we are going to take that power away from you.

Under Tennessee law, when we formed the metropolitan government back in the 60s, the legislature gave the people of Davidson County the power to create the metropolitan government but it also gave the people the power to abolish the metropolitan government.

Think about it. What an amazing power that you as a citizen have a right to get together with other citizens and say let’s abolish the metropolitan government. Let’s go collect signatures. Then the people could vote on that. I’m not saying we should do that. We are too far down the path on that. But we have the power.

And if we have the power to abolish it, then we should have the power to restrain it. This is a fight. This is a fight between the power of the people and the power of the government. I’m not expecting the power of the government to roll over and let us scratch his belly. They are going to fight and fight hard.

Leahy: They are going to fight hard.

Roberts: And dirty.

Leahy: Here’s the thing. Mayor Cooper in his statement yesterday has already highlighted how he’s going to frame this very common sense charter amendment to repeal the ridiculous 34 percent property tax. We talked about his quote. He’s going to call it a stealth election.

Roberts: I love that one.

Leahy: A very expensive stealth election. And he’s going to say its a poison pill. He doesn’t say why it’s a poison pill. He doesn’t explain why all businesses are losing revenue. The way to fix the city is to increase taxes and increase spending which is what he did.

Roberts: How is that strategy going to help Nashville? We have to grow ourselves out of this problem. We cannot fund ourselves through taxes. That’s just going to drive people out of the city. We have to grow organically. People working. People paying taxes. People buying things equals more taxes. That’s how you get out of an economic downturn.

It’s not like when you raise property taxes, it’s not like it goes on somebody else. I own a home. My taxes go up. I own a piece of rental property. My tenants’ rent goes up. Everyone pays. Nobody gets away from this. So why are we all doing this? I’ve seen the mayor’s budget. He throws a few dollars out here to a few groups. In the end its just more of the same, crazy unbridled spending. And we need to stop that.

The other day I sat down and looked at the cities that were comparable to Nashville. above us and below us in population. Just to sort of get an eye. Where are we in this nation. And looked at the budget for Nashville. Our budget is two or three times cities of comparable size.

Leahy: Really?

Roberts: I don’t have the numbers in front of me. We are so out of whack.

Leahy: Really? Now that is a compelling argument right there.

Roberts: Somebody had told me this. So I started looking it up myself. And I just couldn’t believe how much we’ve spent. It’s because we are just wasting money. If you’ve been in Nashville any length of time. I’ve been here for 25 years but I grew up in Middle Tennessee and talked about coming here when I was a kid. We all know that Nashville is not the same town it was 25 years ago. But is it better? It’s better in some ways. But it’s also not better.

Leahy: There are a lot more venues downtown and construction. When tourists came here there was a lot of happening. Tourists aren’t coming now since the pandemic. If you look at the measures of the success of a city let’s take a look at the school system.

Roberts: I don’t think they want you to do that. (Laughs) 

Leahy: But if the Tennessee Higher Education Commission looked at the performance of kids that have graduated from Metro Nashville High Schools. And they looked at every school system in the state and they said of graduates of high school here in Nashville in 2017 that went on to Tennessee state community colleges or universities, what percentage of them needed remedial mathematics?

What percentage needed remedial reading? The second-highest county in the state. The only other one that was worse was Shelby County. Sixty some odd percent of those who went on to college needed remedial math from Metro schools. K-12 public schools. And then 47 percent needed remedial reading. Almost the worst in the state. That’s a bad performance record.

Roberts: And that’s typical of government in general. The Taxpayer Protection Act is not geared toward fixing the school system. It may be in two years or four years from now and we do some other versions of this. But right now it’s about reigning in the unbridled spending.

And one thing the Taxpayer Protection Act does is not just repeal the 34 percent tax. It does that. But it also limits the ability to use bonds for funding pet projects. Again, we are $3.6 billion in debt. How did we get there? Irresponsible spending and borrowing.

Listen to the third hour here:

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Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to the Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio









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