Reading list for Nov. 13 Comptroller presentation

The Comptroller for the State of Tennessee will make a presentation to the Metro Council on November 13, 2019, about Metro’s finances. In advance of that, I went back and read some of my blog posts about the city’s finances:

Pre-Budget Process Thoughts (May 1, 2016): This was my first budget-related post. I questioned why the portion of the budget being spent on debt was increasing during boom times. I said, “You would like to think that if you absolutely kill it on the revenue side, the percentage of your budget that goes toward debt might go down?  If one were a cynic, one would observe that record-breaking revenue increases can’t go on forever, and ask whether we will be able to anticipate when our revenue increases inevitably recede well enough to also pull back on large increases in new long-term debt.”

Math is Hard (April 27, 2017): I noted that from year to year, Metro kept using different numbers to describe what portion of the budget was going to pay debt. I am still not sure why this was happening. But by 2017, there was no consistent way to measure how much of the budget was going toward paying long-term debt.

Unfunded OPEB liability to cross $3B mark this year (October 9, 2017): This is one of several posts over the year making the point that Metro’s completely unfunded obligation for retiree health benefits has consistently grown more rapidly than the city’s budget. That’s a problem.

Storm has been brewing for a while… (May 5, 2018): After the transition to Mayor Briley, the Council was presented with a bad budget. This was the budget that reneged on employee raises and was called “belt-tightening” by the Mayor. This post talks about how it took multiple years to build up to this bad budget.

um…about the budget… (May 11, 2018): I started this post by saying, “The proposed FY19 Metro budget has been out for ten days now…and it’s not good…and this is just the first year of a multi-year problem.” In response, the administration doubled down on its “there’s no problem” campaign. I and the other Council members who tried to address the problems were painted as alarmists.

No Free Lunch (August 19, 2018): After having lost the 2018 budget battle by one vote, this post tried to show the city’s increasing debt problem along side the city’s increasing unfunded retiree benefit obligations.

Metro Debt Dashboard (September 15, 2018): Like the last post, this one tried to collect data to show how out of bounds Metro’s finances had gotten. This post created some back-and-forth between the mayor and me. Briley told the Tennessean, “And I’m even more surprised that Bob Mendes would put out these numbers about our debt and debt service that are just so fundamentally wrong.” This exchange is relevant only to understand how powerful it is when the mayor’s office with its full-time professional finance and communications staff dismiss facts. In large measure, as recently as one year ago, everything that is now considered “fact” about Metro’s finances was dismissed by the Metropolitan Government as “fundamentally wrong.” That aggressive denial is part of why the city’s finances are where they are now.

Metro’s Audited Financials as of 6/30/2018 (December 15, 2018): This one is long…maybe skip it. But if you want to see the latest about the retiree benefit obligations, read it.

Maybe hold back on the high fives for now?? (March 19, 2019): I wrote this post after the administration announced pay raises for employees and was attempting to portray that like the budget was back on track.

The myth that “belt tightening” could fix the budget (May 4, 2019): The title is self-explanatory.

FAQs – FY20 Better Budget (June 6, 2019): This post collects all of my several posts about the budget Nashville is currently operating under.

Met with Comptroller and Mayor today… (October 3, 2019): This one is my last post related to the budget and what the I expect the Comptroller to discuss on November 13.

As a final note, I want to remind everyone that, while it is easy to focus on Metro’s budget problems, these issues are mostly about growing pains. Nashville has an awesome economy. To fix the city government’s budget, it will take discipline, honesty, and effort. We can do this.

Bob Mendes

Bob Mendes represents all of Nashville as a Council-At-Large member of Nashville’s Metro Council. He is Chair of the Council’s Charter Revision Committee, a member of the Metropolitan Audit Committee, and a member of the Council’s Budget & Finance Committee, Rules & Confirmations Committee, and Ad Hoc Affordable Housing Committee. Bob also practices business law at Waypoint Law PLLC. Bob’s complete bio is here. You can follow Bob @mendesbob.