13 05 2018

th+graph+1I recently wrote about Nashville’s plans for a better transit system, calling it “another big-ticket neoliberal scheme to make the rich richer,”  and now the voters have spoken. By a nearly 2–1 margin, with nearly twice the expected turnout, the transit plan was voted down. The analyses of the issue that I have read treat it as a failure of strategy and tactics, and largely ignore the fact that the funding mechanism was pure neoliberal flim-flam: they were going to do this wonderful thing for the low-income people of Nashville, that the lower-income people were going to have to pay for themselves. According to the Tennessean, nearly 90% of the revenue for the project would come from an increase in the sales tax. If you are reading this, I probably don’t have to remind you that sales taxes are highly regressive in nature, paid disproportionately by low-income taxpayers. The other sticking point was the widespread perception that the plan did not do nearly enough to address the already rampant issue of gentrification in Nashville, which even proponents of the plan admitted would likely come to neighborhoods with better public transportation. Indeed, Metro sees increased property values as one of the benefits of infrastructure projects, whether they’re sewers or light rail lines. Liberals in the city can make all kinds of cluck-clucks of sympathy about the plight of low-income Nashvillians, but their actions, which promote gentrification, belie those words, and lower-income Nashvillians were rightly wary of the latest set of promises and the likelihood of increased exploitation.

Let me spell that out: people earn low wages in large part because their labor is being exploited. By “exploited,” I mean that their labor produces considerably more value than they are paid for, with their employer skimming off the difference. Nashville’s largely Democratic/neoliberal power brokers blithely assumed that they could successfully exploit the exploited still further, rather than ask the businesses who exploit those workers, and who are disproportionately wealthy as a result, to pay a fair share of the cost. As with Brexit and Trump’s upset victory, the exploited took advantage of the ballot box to do what they could to indicate that they did not want to be exploited any further.

Like Brexit and the Trump Presidency, this is a three-sided issue, not a bipolar one, although every attempt is being made to portray it as such. I hated to see the GOP screw-the-poor crowd get to chalk this up as a victory about as much as I would have disliked seeing the plan win, since, to say it again a little differently, it screwed low-income people by making them pay for the plan and not doing enough to address the rampant gentrification that was all too likely to follow the tracks. The big-ticket construction plan, and the gentrification, would further enrich the wealthy at the expense of the poor, in the name of “doing something for the poor.” Excuse me for repeating myself, but I think this is an important point to make. That’s how the Democrats roll.

The third position is the one taken by The People’s Alliance for Transit, Housing & Employment, which, in its recent “People’s State of Metro” called for the following:

  • $775 million in general obligation bonds and other leveraged funds to build and preserve 31,000 affordable homes by 2025. PATHE has joined dozens of organizations in the Welcome Home! Movement to advocate for local legislation that addresses this urgent need.
  • Use of General Obligation Bonds for city-owned land and housing.
  • Creation of municipal land bank and community land trust, utilizing public land to invest in affordable housing now.
  • Expansion of public bus service into transit deserts, increased frequency to every 10-15 minutes, and 24-hour service to accommodate thousands of hospitality workers. This requires the city to immediately develop a proposed transit expansion plan centered on equity.
  • Free bus service for all residents below Nashville’s median household income (most Nashvillians living below median income are cost-burdened).
  • Community Benefits Agreements ensuring living wage construction jobs and workforce development tied to tax incentivized projects, including Tax Increment Financing and PILOT. (Payments In Lieu Of Taxes, which landowners who are technically exempt from property tax frequently make)
  • Funding for Community Oversight Board of the Metro Nashville Police Department.

These are proposals that actually do something for the people the transit plan purported to help, without sending hundreds of millions of dollars of profits into the pockets of large-scale contractors and developers. Throw in a municipal bank to house Davidson County tax revenues and use them to create loans for local development, tax breaks for farmers growing food for local consumption, and seed money and guidance for co-operative retail and manufacturing enterprises, and you’ve got The Green New Deal, whether PATHE was aware of that or not. Even without all my suggestions, they’re off to a great start. The mass transit plan that failed was just another neoliberal false promise to the working class. Yes, we need to get more cars off the road, but not on the backs of the working class.

James McMurtry: We Can’t Make It Here Any More 





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