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This will be the first and hopefully the last time I speak out against a government plan to privatize anything. But as much as I like a blanket approach to taking control away from government in the vast majority of situations, the plan to privatize public parking in Nashville is so loaded with problems, it shouldn’t move forward.
I first heard the details of the plan when I read about the rare occurrence of a Democratic mayor wanting to privatize an element of city government. Generally, Democrats push for more control over their territories, not less, which is why I was hoping to find an instance where the realities of limited-government federalism and capitalistic privatization was seeping into the psyche of a Democratic leader. What I found was appalling: a desperate mayor, David Briley, throwing anything he could against the fiscal walls in hopes of making it stick. His city faces a woeful budget shortfall, something that should not be happening in a city as vibrant and growing as Nashville.
But, they need money immediately to make up the shortfall before the end of the fiscal year and this seems to be their last resort following an atrocious set of attempts to sell off public land to make up the cash difference. The attempt was so botched, the city council passed a resolution preventing such an attempt from being used in the future to cover operating expenses. But now, they’re ready to push the parking privatization scheme through with a rubber stamp and hopes nobody will look closely at the details.
The latter is unlikely, as many are already speaking out. Mayoral candidate Carol M. Swain urged the city to halt the plans, clearly pointing out it’s a very bad deal:
Nashville must oppose Mayor David Briley’s public parking privatization plan
We the People of Davidson County and surrounding areas will be adversely impacted if Mayor Briley, who is up for re-election, can push through this deal that would entail a 30-year commitment.
No agreement of this magnitude should be for more than any one term of the mayor’s office.
Once they have the contract, there is nothing to prevent the bid-winning private company from also raising rates until they match rates common to larger cities such as Chicago and New York City.
As Swain noted, this is a 30-year deal that essentially turns a public revenue source into a for-profit scheme that will sacrifice the people’s control for decades in exchange for saving a single year’s budget. The loss of future revenues and control aren’t the only things at stake, though. The deal will include increases across the board for citizens of Nashville, including:
- A rise in the number of parking spots designated as paid that will essentially double them over four years
- Increased cost per hour by 25 cents
- More than doubling fines from $11 to $25
- Decreasing free parking times by four hours per weekday
- Removing free parking on weekends
- Removing free parking for green vehicles
The mayor is pushing the deal as a way to innovate and catch up with the rest of the nation, citing technological improvements. But any such improvements could be made by the city, as could the changes to the times, costs, and fines, so his points are moot. The reality is this: They need cash now and they don’t have any other schemes that can work this quickly.
There’s a solution to all this: cut budgets. Fiscal responsibility should not be obfuscated by get-cash-quick schemes that will harm Nashville’s citizens. Make cuts. Increase revenues long term. Make Nashville as business-friendly as possible. These are the ways that work in America. Corrupt land deals and desperate privatization schemes always hurt in the long run. This time, they’re hurting Nashville in the short term as well.
Nashville’s parking plan is the equivalent of taking an important part of many citizens’ daily lives and pawning it off to pay the city’s bills. They’re giving up 30 years of control to save a single year’s budget.
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