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Say No to Sales Tax Hike—and Age-Based Subsidies


While we have to congratulate Mayor Bill Purcell for his masterful political feat this week—managing to propose a sales tax hike without actually endorsing the idea himself—we hope the ultimate referendum tanks like Michael Jackson's career.

Already, Tennessee's 7 percent sales tax and the 2.25 percent Nashville tacks onto that is among the highest combined state/local sales tax rates in the country, which is a very real burden for many Tennesseans. (Actually, our state portion is the highest, though other states allow higher local rates). Now, in his State of Metro speech this week, the mayor has proposed that the Metro Council endorse a half-cent on top of that and send the question to Nashville voters. If passed, the resulting 9.75 percent would match the cap that the Tennessee General Assembly has set for combined sales taxes in this state.

So as to minimize criticism, Purcell, as always, parsed his words when speaking to his audience of Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce members and other Nashville yoo-hoos. It was a fine job of political gaming. You see, while most of the proposed sales tax increase would be funneled to schools, part of it would also bankroll property tax relief for qualifying senior citizens. And who could possibly be against old people?

Well, for starters, we are.

Strike that. It's not that we don't respect and treasure our elder Nashvillians; we're just opposed to subsidizing a tax on wealth for people who've had their entire lives to build wealth—and for people who've used public services all their lives and long since put their kids through public schools. Who funded schools and other public services when our now-elderly fellow citizens were young parents? Everybody—even old folks.

Beyond that, property ownership, by its very nature, is a measure of means. Having it at all is a sign of some good fortune, and so, if we were considering tax relief, these property-owning citizens wouldn't be among the first on our list.

As for the larger portion of this proposed sales tax hike, we're skeptical that it's even necessary. Should the Metro Council pass Purcell's proposed 84-cent property tax increase—yes, there's that whole separate issue—the Metro public school system will receive $30 million more than it did last year. That's a significant bump, any way you slice it. And the mayor said himself during the speech: "I sat with the school board in budget hearings for three-and-a half hours and, based on that hearing, it is clear to me that there are some things we need to do this year, some things that can wait until next year and some things that we do not need to do at all."

It was just one of several admonitions of the schools leadership and the school system that Purcell uttered throughout his speech. (For more, read "For(get) the Children" on page 12.) Which raises the question: if Purcell himself lacks confidence in our education leadership and isn't willing to include that potential revenue stream into his proposed property tax hike—or even advocate for the sales tax increase at all, beyond putting it on the table—why should anyone else support it?

"This will require a vote of the people of Nashville, which I think will be a very good thing for our city and for our schools," the mayor said. "It will give our schools an opportunity to share more broadly what they have accomplished with the investments we have made, and it will allow our school system to explain what they can accomplish with future investments."

In other words, sell it yourself, schools. If that recent budget hearing Purcell mentioned is any indication of the persuasion power of the schools stewards, Nashville can (thankfully) expect its sales tax to hold steady.

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