Police Oversight Comes to Nashville

Nashville    Visiting with students and professors at Vanderbilt University was interesting and educational.  The questions and concerns about organizing and organization building, both here and abroad, were deeply considered and fascinating.  It was a good room, as they say.

Tennessee did not have a good midterm.  A former Democratic governor tried to right the ship by returning to the contest for the US Senate to block a wildly conservative US representative, Marsha Blackburn, who was looking for a promotion.  Remarkably, Taylor Swift got in the race with a smackdown of Blackburn, boosting voter registration in the state and nationally.  Nonetheless, the state stayed bright red.

Folks in Nashville were hardly dancing in the streets over the Amazon consolidation prize of 5000 operations jobs anymore than many progressives were celebrating New York and metro Washington’s billion-dollar tax giveaways to make the rich richer.  The price tag was lower by a pile of zeros, but money is money.  Both the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal and the more liberal page of the New York Times have roundly panned the tax giveaways to the richest man in the America and one of the richest companies, although the Nashville Tennessean seems silent on this issue thus far from what I could tell.

The bright spot in Nashville was the passage of police oversight board which had been successfully put on the ballot in reaction to a controversial killing by police of a black man in 2017.  A group called Community Oversight Now coordinated much of the drive and the campaign.  The vote was not close.  Voters applauded the oversight with a 18% margin:  59 percent to 41 percent — 134,135 votes to 94,055

The main opposition was the police association which spent $500,000 on the campaign, overwhelming Amendment 1’s supporters to no avail.  Despite being shellacked at the polls, they are still threatening lawsuits and appeals of the vote.  Typically, of these urban/rural splits that play out in state legislature around the country, there are threats by the solidly Republican legislature of void the democratic vote and try to overturn the election, although that seems preposterous.  The cow is out of the barn.   We have seen a number of state legislatures takeaway a city’s future rights, but this one will be harder to overturn.  The mayor, despite having opposed the amendment, has committed to enacting it by executive order if necessary.

Meanwhile, the board is already in the process of being formed with momentum on their side.  Application deadlines for members among citizens have already been set and publicized.   The police opposition was bizarre.  They tried to fabricate a claim of potential future tax increases based on unsubstantiated costs of the oversight.

This hardly a revolutionary move in Nashville.  One hundred cities around the country already have oversight boards of one type or another.  What’s important is that progressives were able to win and do so handily, making Nashville a city to watch.

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The Destructive Cycle of Tax Giveaways

New Orleans   Phil Mattera has written a quarterly column for Social Policy for the last several years specializing in corporate accountability or the lack thereof.  Phil files regular reports to his list, me included, of the Dirt Diggers Digest, to keep us up to date on corporate impunity and shenanigans, as part of the Corporate Research Project of Good Jobs First.  This isn’t a new thing for him, but a lifetime pursuit.  Many times, he no doubt feels like a voice in the wilderness.  Just maybe, that might change, thanks to Amazon of all things.

In what has to be a first, the editorial pages of both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal blasted the multi-billion-dollar tax giveaways that Amazon demanded and was given to locate in New York’s Queens and in the Washington, DC northern Virginia suburbs.  Somehow the notion of a trillion-dollar company, one of the richest in the world, run and largely owned by Jeff Bezos, one of the richest men in the world making by some estimates, almost $100 million per day, needing a tax break finally struck them as absurd.  Even Nashville coughed up a couple of million in breaks for 5000 support jobs in the show place in this horse race.

I’m betting that Phil has already been filing freedom-of-information requests to get the skinny on the giveaways public authorities in cities, counties, and states offered Amazon to be their second headquarters.   The report he’ll do on the gazillions that everyone threw at Amazon in this crazy competition will be a barnburner!

This competition is crazy, because there’s no proof that it pays except as a corporate donation that just keeps on giving.  Wisconsin had been the headliner with its more than four-billion-dollar tax dodge to FoxConn to locate there.  Meanwhile, FoxConn has steadily scaled back its promises of new jobs being developed.  Let’s see if Scott Walker, the recently defeated governor of that fine state, doesn’t end up as a consultant, representative or board member of the company soon.  He’s earned it!

Here’s what’s worse.  Monkey see, monkey do.  Give candy to one corporation, and they all want the same sugar high.  Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase had already announced that if Amazon came anywhere near where they operated, they would want the same deal.  That will not turn out to be an original idea unique to him.

Meanwhile, the real story seems clear that tax incentives to businesses often don’t work out.  Texas schools lost an estimated $4 billion to the state’s economic development program.  Cleveland schools lost $34 million in one year alone.  New Jersey is on the hook for a loss of $1 billion.  Michigan’s tax credit liability is $9.38 billion over 20 years.  Hollywood moves from state to state on this incentives-for-jobs scam.  Louisiana was big film country during the Republican Bobby Jindal’s time, and the state loss millions on the deal.  Now they are hanging out in Georgia playing the same game.  A suburban Louisiana school district just nixed a break for redevelopers of a shipyard, having recently won the power in the state to “just say no” explaining that they really needed the money to support educating students.

Between the Amazon and FoxConn farces and the dire need of every level of government for every penny of tax dollars for schools, infrastructure, and basic services, there is a full accounting that might finally be coming due.

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