Sep 30, 2022 - Politics

Supreme Court won't hear appeal over Metro referendum

Illustration of Nashville City Hall with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

The two-year legal battle over a proposal to roll back the city's 2020 property tax increase and make other drastic changes to the Metro charter came to an end Thursday.

  • The Supreme Court rejected the Davidson County Election Commission's request to appeal earlier rulings, which blocked the proposal.

Why it matters: The legal fight was a spectacle unto itself, pitting the Republican-led election commission against the city and powerful pro-business groups.

Driving the news: The dispute began in 2020 when the anti-tax group 4 Good Government sought to undo Mayor John Cooper and the Metro Council's 34% property tax increase. 4 Good Government also wanted voters to have the power to approve future tax increases and certain land deals by the city.

  • The group gathered signatures to force a referendum on its proposals but met resistance from Metro, the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and other pro-business groups.
  • Election commissioners pressed to put the measure on the ballot and rung up a massive legal bill in their efforts.

Flashback: At every level of the litigation, judges refuted the election commission.

  • Chancellor Russell Perkins threw the measure out, but the Republican commissioners voted to appeal. An Appeals Court sided with Metro, but the commissioners voted to take the matter to the state Supreme Court.
  • The legal fight boiled down to whether the anti-tax effort followed the law in choosing a date for the referendum. Perkins also ruled the proposal was illegal for other reasons.

What he's saying: "This ill-fated effort to prop up a transparently defective and non-compliant referendum petition using private counsel — who billed taxpayers through the nose in the least transparent way possible — ranks among the most brazen heists of public money in recent Nashville history," attorney Daniel Horwitz, who represented the business groups, said in a press release.

  • Election Commission administrator Jeff Roberts tells Axios the legal bill for the lawsuit so far is $891,586.88.

The other side: "The rights of the voters to have a voice in their government is important. Metro Government and anti-voter groups sued the Commission six times to defeat those rights. The Commission defended those rights all the way up to the Tennessee Supreme Court," commission chairperson Jim DeLanis tells Axios. "As chairman, I respect the Supreme Court's decision, but I am disappointed that, unfortunately, the voters will not have the opportunity to vote on these important issues."


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