Earlier this year, Nashville’s Metro Council took a big step toward ensuring that local development benefited public interest, not just wealthy interests. The recently passed Do Better Bill (Ordinance #BL2017-983) brings a new level transparency and accountability to the practice of awarding publicly funded tax breaks and cash grants to private businesses.
What the Do Better Bill Does
- Creates transparency in the approval process for cash grants and property tax breaks for large businesses.
- Addresses the lack of accountability that currently exists for companies who’ve accepted grants and tax breaks
- Prevents deals from being fast-tracked, a situation that usually goes hand-in-hand with lax scrutiny
How It Works
Project proposals from companies seeking tax breaks or cash grants from Nashville or Davidson County must now include the following information:
- Type and number of jobs that will be created
- Whether the jobs will be permanent or temporary
- How many of the jobs will be filled by Davidson County residents
- Whether the company intends to use temporary or staffing agencies, the Nashville Career Advancement Center, subcontractors, or other third parties on the project, and how much those jobs will compensate in wages and benefits.
- The wages and benefits offered for these jobs, and a comparison of those wages to the average wage levels in Davidson County for comparable positions
- Whether the company will use apprentices from Department of Labor certified training programs
- Whether the company, or any contractor or subcontractor of the company, has had any wage and hour or health and safety violations or legal actions filed against them in the past ten years
The Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development would then present this information to the Metro Council prior to any vote.
If an incentive is awarded, the proposal itself becomes part of the agreement, and the company receiving the breaks or grants would be required to submit quarterly certificates of compliance and annual reports relying compliance data.
If those reports show the company failed to comply, the Metro Council may vote to suspend or terminate the agreement.
We Need Something Like This HERE
Here are some questions for you: Do you know what other companies are operating under PILOT agreements in Washington County and Johnson City right now? Do you know on what information the city and county commissions based their decisions to provide these deals? What do the agreements stipulate? Are the companies meeting the agreements? What’s the procedure if they don’t?
How about also: Do you know what companies our local economic development boards, councils, and partnerships are currently negotiating deals with right now? Do you know what questions they’re asking prospective companies? Do you know what research they’re doing into the companies’ backgrounds? Do you know where our local economic develop boards/councils/partnerships priorities lie?
The average Washington County resident doesn’t have any of these answers. The residents of Davidson County have a much clearer idea, thanks to the tireless work in Nashville on the part of the Central Labor Council, Stand Up Nashville, and all the citizens who felt that transparency and accountability important enough to codify into law.
Economic development in Nashville and Davidson County is now on its way to being more equitable, inclusive, and transparent.
We can do the same here. We need to do the same here.
In fact, with Nashville’s ordinance as an example, we have an opportunity to do Better Do Better Bill.
Better than “Do Better”
The Nashville ordinance has a key flaw: It fails to set out procedures, timeframes, or requirements for making the proposals and reports available to the public. It contents itself only with the sharing of proposal information between the Mayor’s Office of Economic and Community Development and the Metro Council.
So, the ordinance as written only provides transparency to those with the know-how, energy, and time to pursue the documents.
That is not how a government serves the public interest.
A better Do Better Bill would ensure full transparency and accountability to the public by stipulating that an area on the government’s website be created to keep the public informed of proposals and agreements.
It would set out timeframe requirements for the uploading of documents—timeframes that give the public adequate time to read and consider the documents, and contact their commissioners, before any votes would be taken.
A better Do Better Bill would also require that key dates be published on the web page, such as when the proposal will be presented to the commission, when the commission will hold votes on the proposal, and when, for companies whose agreements are approved, compliance reports will be posted to the website.
That’s the kind of bill would create a government that’s truly accountable to its public.
And that’s the sort of measure I would hope to propose as a Washington County Commissioner. I couldn’t do it alone, though—just like I can’t get elected alone. I need everyone who values an open and accountable government to help me generate the mandate for such a proposal.
You can start by helping me get elected—and by helping me use the election to bring awareness to the fact that our government can be held to greater transparency and accountability, especially with regard to economic development.
All we need is the will of the people.
‘Do better’ bill makes Nashville more equitable by Odessa Kelly, Tennessean, December 18, 2017
Nashville chamber moves to derail business incentive transparency bill by Mike Reicher, Tennessean, December 18, 2017
Nashville Gets More Transparent About Corporate Tax Breaks by Rachel Dovey, Next City, January 3, 2018