NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — There is a continued mismanagement of taxpayer dollars by Metro Nashville Council and state legislators, according to the latest Pork Report.
The report, a tongue-in-cheek summary issued each year by the Beacon Center Tennessee, outlines what the organization characterizes as wasteful spending by governmental agencies. This year’s report—the 17th annual report—was released Wednesday morning.
The biggest star of the report was “stadium madness,” specifically the Tennessee General Assembly’s decision to subsidize a new Tennessee Titans stadium, according to Mark Cunningham with the Beacon Center.
“They’re the ones who gave $500 million of our tax money, including people who will never see a Titans game—people who live in Johnson City or Memphis—but still have to pay for this NFL stadium,” Cunningham told News 2. “They already have a stadium; they just want a new one.”
In April of this year, the state legislature approved $500 million in bonds to be used for a new enclosed stadium for the Nashville NFL team. The stadium would cost an estimated $2 billion, according to Metro and Titans officials.
Nashville and the Titans came to an agreement on how the stadium will be paid for by the team, the state, tourists and revenue from around the stadium and campus, according to Mayor John Cooper.
“This new stadium proposal protects Metro taxpayers by not spending a single dollar that could be spent elsewhere on our core priorities like education and public safety,” Cooper said in a news release on the agreement.
According to the agreement, $840 million for the stadium and any construction overruns will come from the Titans, NFL and personal seat license (PSL) sales. The state also chipped in the $500 million via the bonds, while the remaining $760 million would come from revenue bonds issued by the Metro Sports Authority “to be repaid through the revenue streams described above, all of which, per state statute, can only be used for this project or other stadium-related costs.” There would also be a potential 1% hospitality tax, if the stadium is constructed.
The East Bank Stadium Committee, formed to lead the Metro Council’s efforts related to all East Bank development, including the potential new stadium, is scheduled to meet tonight, Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 5:30 to discuss the non-binding term sheet as well as the next steps. The meeting will be held in the Historic Metro Courthouse at 1 Public Square, in the David Scobey Council Chamber.
The issue with this, Cunningham said, was that the state and local governments should not be in the business of subsidizing sports arenas for billionaires.
“Why are taxpayers funding professional sports teams? Why are taxpayers giving money to billionaire owners of the Titans for them to build a stadium? They’re making tons of money,” he said. “They’ve already got a lot of special carve outs with a special tax district, and they’re going to keep a lot of the sales tax that’s generated in the area. You have to wonder why would the role of government be to give even more money to a billionaire at the expense of taxpayers.”
Any study conducted about the benefits of government-subsidized stadiums concludes they are not good for taxpayers, Cunningham said, citing studies done at both the center-left Brookings Institute and the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute.
“All of them showed the same thing: that this is a terrible, terrible investment for taxpayers,” Cunningham said.
“We believe that millionaires and billionaires should pay for their own damn stadiums,” he added. “We should not be subsidizing stadiums at any cost. It’s not the government’s job to pick winners and losers.”
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Further, he said, other cities besides Nashville are now asking for government funding for sports venues, including Memphis and Chattanooga. The Chattanooga Lookouts Minor League Baseball team is now asking for a new stadium, as is the city of Memphis for four different sports, Cunningham said.
“You set this precedent,” he added. “If you feel it’s the government’s job, then you have to fund all of these stadiums.”
Another item highlighted in the report was Metro Nashville’s purchase of emergency pallet pods for use among the unhoused populations of the city, which Cunningham said cost more than $1 million and have been largely unused since they were purchased.
“The biggest issue with the homeless pods is that we spent a lot of money on that from federal tax dollars and we didn’t use them,” he said.
Per the report, Metro Nashville received and used $1.2 million on the pods. The city then claimed the pods were limited for use during the COVID-19 emergency declaration but not authorized for other use, which Cunningham said was “typical” of Metro Council.
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According to Cunningham, a state spokesperson countered the claim and said only some of the pods had to be reserved for COVID usage, but the others could be used for whatever purpose Metro Nashville deemed appropriate.
“It’s just another example of the city of Nashville being out of touch with the taxpayers that live here,” he said.
But this issue had a simple solution, Cunningham added.
“When you ask for something and get money for it, actually use it for what it’s intended for,” he said. “It was intended to help homeless people, and you are just leaving these things in storage.”
The other underlying issue was general incompetence among city officials.
“It’s incompetence from the Nashville city government, which we’ve seen far too often,” he said. “It’s one of those things that you are doing something you feel is a good use of money.
He agreed that there was more the city could be doing to help the population of unhoused individuals and the council had good intentions, however.
“I think that most people would say that we need to take care of the homeless population here,” he said. “When you actually ask for the money and you ask for the pods, actually use them to help homeless people who are out in the cold.”
According to Joseph Pleasant, Public Information Officer with the Metro Nashville Office of Emergency Management, the pods were not purchased for use of addressing homelessness specifically, but rather purchased through a COVID-19 grant via the Metro Public Health Department.
“During that time OEM was working to mitigate COVID-19 within the homeless community in partnership with MPHD, MSS and Nashville Rescue Mission,” he told News 2. “That operation has since ended, and the pods removed from NRM campus.”
The pods are available for deployment during a public health emergency “as outlined by the grant,” Pleasant added. “However, that declaration would be issued from an outside agency other than OEM. Deployment of the pods for homelessness as theorized by the report is not a function of OEM.”
Now in its 17th year, the Pork Report is something Cunningham hopes help everyday Tennesseans see how their tax dollars are being spent.
“We want to put a little bit of the spotlight on [politicians] so that they’re less included to do this again,” he said of the report. “It’s important that taxpayers know what’s going on. Not everyone who’s working 60, 70 hours a week has time to look through Comptroller reports and watch the news or read the newspaper every day. This is trying to give them an easy-to-digest way to see how your money’s being spent.”
Those who read the report and are unhappy with how their tax dollars are spent by city and state leaders should then hold those politicians accountable, he added.
“We have a real partisan divide in our country, but the fact is this is the best show of bipartisanship I’ve seen, is both parties spending money egregiously and really wasting tax dollars in the state of Tennessee,” Cunningham said.
To view the full 2022 Pork Report, click HERE.