By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog
NASHVILLE — ABC’s “Nashville” is returning to the city for filming after producers agreed again to tax Tennessee residents, although that agreement relies on an unfulfilled promise.
State taxes will help pay for the show’s second season. This time, Nashville taxpayers were asked to join, but the Nashville Metro Council has yet to vote on the city’s portion of the agreement, nor is a vote scheduled.
State officials have approved a grant of $12.5 million for the show’s second season. As part of the agreement with ABC, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean promised, in a news release, an additional $500,000 from taxpayers.
The Tennessee General Assembly recently voted for a decrease in state incentives. To offset that, the city needs to kick in $500,000.
Two of the city’s 40 Metro Council members told Tennessee Watchdog they aren’t sure whether they’ll agree to approve the money.
Lonnell Matthews Jr., who chairs the city’s Budget and Finance Committee, will play an important role in scrutinizing the proposed agreement.
“So far, there have been no discussions on this at all. The first time I heard about this was by reading about what the mayor said in the local newspaper just last week,” Matthews said.
He wants more information before committing to a vote.
“It’s too vague of an issue for me at this point. I understand the notion that this may be an economic driver for the city — however, I don’t know if that’s based on data. Without hearing an explanation for why this is being introduced, I hate to try to form an opinion. If it is going to contribute to economic growth, I want to see how. Where is this money even coming from? That will be one of my main questions.”
Even if approved, Council Member Robert Duvall told Tennessee Watchdog the city can’t afford it.
“The question I want answered is where is Metro going to come up with $500,000?
“We don’t have it. It’s not in the budget as far as I can tell, and I don’t know where we are going to come up with the money. As for the mayor, he is probably putting a positive spin on the matter and assumes that just because it’s something he supports that it will pass,” Duvall said.
Having said that, Duvall believes Dean has reason to be confident. The majority of the Metro Council members, Duvall said, will vote to approve Dean’s proposal — and they will offer few, if any, dissenting views.
“The city has given a verbal commitment, and, on top of that, they went out and did a press release. They are not going to be embarrassed by this.”
Bonna Johnson, Dean’s spokeswoman, did not address Tennessee Watchdog’s questions as to why the mayor promised the money without formal approval. She also did not say if the money would come from a specific city fund.
Johnson said it was the first time the Metro government would provide taxpayer-funded incentives for film and television production.
“We will have more details about the proposal once we file legislation with the Metro Council, which should be shortly,” Johnson said.
“We believe that is a prudent use of Metro funds, but it will be up to the members of the Metro Council to make that determination.”
Carter Todd, a Metro Council member, said he supports Dean’s proposal, provided it doesn’t exceed $500,000.
Dean won’t have to go too far to persuade the council, Todd said.
“Mayor Dean has built up so much goodwill with the council. I don’t want to say it’s a slam dunk, but it would be shocking if the council didn’t support him on something that is this reasonable.”
“Nashville” reportedly generates $40 million in local spending, although Tennessee Watchdog has not confirmed that.
Tennessee Watchdog is awaiting comment from the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development officials on how they arrived at that figure.
Contact Christopher Butler at email@example.com.
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