This article was previously published in the Tennessean as “Why Nashville should not be like Stockton, California,” (June 8, 2018)
Stockton, California and Nashville, Tennessee are mid-sized cities run by liberal Democrats. Local leaders in each city have championed high-dollar projects that ultimately work against the public interest. As a result of this extravagant spending, both cities have found themselves in fragile financial positions. Music City would be wise not to follow in the footsteps of Stockton, which declared bankruptcy in 2012.
Nashville has a capitalist bent that favors big businesses and developers while showing little heart when it comes to the perceived need of regular people and its poor. Last year, Nashville’s Metro Council gave an estimated 13.6 million in city incentives to Ryman Hospitality to build a waterpark at Opryland Hotel. Nashville’s government has also approved the issuance of $225 million in revenue bonds to pay for a soccer stadium for an MLS team owned by billionaires.
Nashville, like Stockton, stands to be a prime example of what happens when the public is not paying enough attention to hold their elected officials accountable for extravagant spending, corporate greed, and cronyism. In Nashville, the mayor and city council seem at ease with a status quo that has left many of our citizens behind and our balance sheet on tenuous footing, at a time when the city has seen its greatest growth in revenue. Nashville leaders must take heed of this in deciding how to spend and invest money in Music City without making the same mistakes that Stockton has made.
Stockton’s penchant for overspending, similar to that of Nashville’s current government, led to bankruptcy in 2012. The California city found itself stymied by underfunded pension liabilities, a housing crisis, and skyrocketing municipal borrowing costs. Six years after its bankruptcy filing, Stockton remains stuck with an ailing economy and roughly 26 percent of the population living below the poverty level.
Stockton now intends to experiment with radical wealth redistribution; obviously, the city has failed to learn from its previous financial mistakes. Stockton, which has a population of about 320,000, has announced that it will test an (ill-advised) “universal” income program for about 100 participating families. Each family will be given $500 a month with no strings attached, and city administrators will study how those families spend the “free” money.
Ultimately, the money being distributed isn’t free. The California-based Economic Security Group (ESG) is providing the first round of funding for this program. ESG is a basic income advocacy group co-chaired by liberal activists from Silicon Valley. Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs sees the city continuing the program as a public-private partnership.
Disaster looms with this questionable decision as taxpayers will have to foot the bill for a project that addresses only the symptoms of poverty. It does nothing to address the structural and cultural problems contributing to the poverty. While Stockton’s intentions are virtuous, the city is not in a financial position to provide funding for a universal income now, nor will it likely be in the near future.
The idea of redistributing wealth is nothing new. It is the mantra embraced by Liberal America, our so-called “progressives.” The term “universal basic income” is political doublespeak for the basic tenants of socialism. Progressive liberals in the United States should take a lesson from the numerous failed states that have fully embraced the tax-and-spend policies of socialism, including Venezuela, North Korea, Libya, Afghanistan, and Greece. Governments would be better off restructuring the currently failing public education system and working with non-profit organizations to provide trade schooling and job-training to the less fortunate.
Carol M. Swain, Ph.D., is a former Nashville Mayoral Candidate and former professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University. Twitter: @carolmswain Facebook: Profcarolmswain