Sunday, December 28, 2008

The year ahead for Nashville will be a tragic one

Nashville, the Athens of the South, faces the kind of future in 2009 that should result in the change of its nickname to the Rome of the South -- as in Rome is burning.

Here is a list of the problems faced:

SCHOOLS: After already cutting $1 million from the budget of a school district about to be under state control for failing to meet No Child Left Behind Act standards, Metro Nashville/Davidson County Schools now must cut an additional $4 million from the budget. The first round of cuts avoided eliminating jobs. This next one will take away the jobs of the working poor -- from janitors to support staff. Teachers should not be affected because of the No Child problem. The General Assembly returns to session in January and must cut $1 billion from the current budget. That will mean less local aid from the states for schools. So Metro will have to cut more and/or raise property taxes. Then, teachers could be in danger. I sure hope I am wrong about this prediction.

The NHL Predators have not been able to attract an average game crowd of 14,000 people its owners say they need to make a go of it in Music City. So they can move the team if they want after this season. They may be forced to, because a large share of the team is in a federal bankruptcy court available to the highest bidder to pay off debtors. A man from Canada with a lot of money -- who originally failed to move the team last year -- is in on the bidding. A bad economy locally and the cool and peristent Canadian may well spell doom for the team staying here and will increase the already $6 million annual cost of operating the Sommet Center. By the way, then Mayor Bredesen said the arena would be making a profit after the first year of operation. That was more than 10 years and many millions of dollars ago.

The Titans take about $5 million off the top of the annual budget before anything else is funded, including schools and police. And owner Bud Adams has contractural authority to demand $170 million in improvements to aging LP Field, which is a decade old. You can be sure Adams will ask for the money soon because his team just finished with the best record in the AFC. Afterall, they can't be expected to play in a dump and fans will need a better place to watch the team next year, particularly after ticket prices are hiked.

A NEW CONVENTION CENTER: If the city were not facing enough new expenses, the mayor wants to build a convention center costing more than $600 million. He'll have to use some bonds to fund at least part of the construction. And with the MUNI bond market about to collapse, Metro would have to pay an exorbitant interest rate on its notes to investors. We're talking about north of 6 percent. And who knows how tough the rating houses will be on any municipals bonds after the collapse. Metro may be hard pressed to get any rating grade close to an A. And that will raise the interest rate needed to sell the bonds. Taxpayers are required annually to pay that interest rate out of the budget. LP Field bonds require $4 million annually.

ENGLISH ONLY: Nashville faces the inheritance of a very negative national image if voters approve an English Only referendum for all government operations on Jan. 22. With the economy declining, and bigotry against Hispanics at an all-time high in the South, passage of the referendum looks frighteningly good. I'll be voting against it as a Nashville voter and will be speaking to African-American congregations to ask that they work to defeat the referendum. But it probably won't be enough, even with a promised media blitz by anti-English Only forces. I sure hope I am wrong in my prediction. But ignorance is hard to fight over only three weeks.

There are more items I could add to the list. But these are enough to frighten anyone about the kind of future Nashville faces in the new year.

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