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TN’s 5 trendsetters for bigger government and taxpayer waste in 2013

By   /   December 27, 2013  /   Comments Off

By Chris Butler | Tennessee Watchdog

NASHVILLE — In the spirit of being a true Tennessee Watchdog, there are some government entities in this state that you really need to keep a sharp eye on in 2014.

Throughout 2013, we have reported countless stories of waste, fraud and abuse throughout Tennessee, in almost every corner of the state.

It’s not only certain politicians and government employees who should make you wary — it’s also some of their ideas.

The complete list is endless, but here’s the top five trendsetters for bigger government and taxpayer waste in 2013:

STEVE COHEN

You can’t accuse U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Memphis, of phoniness.

Unlike most politicians, Cohen speaks his point of view — regardless of how irresponsible it might be.

Steve Cohen

Steve Cohen

Tea partiers are the moral equivalent of arsonists, while Republicans hold the same level of contempt as hostage-takers, Cohen has publicly stated.

Do you oppose gun control?

Well, that’s only because you value your guns with the same reverence you do your Bibles, Cohen said on MSNBC this year.

Does Cohen ever examine the consequences of his words or actions?

One might say no.

Even as President Obama, of all people, admitted the Obamacare insurance marketplace website had major problems, Cohen contradicted the obvious and told constituents the problems were mostly resolved.

Cohen has had time to ponder the consequences of Obamacare’s Medical Device Tax, which has already killed several jobs in his hometown — yet he resists efforts to repeal that portion of the law.

Cohen’s priorities, it seems, are trashing his home state’s voter ID laws and calling on Eric Holder to investigate the struggling Delta Airlines for downsizing jobs in Memphis.

Cohen has a fire in his belly, albeit a highly misguided one.

HOTEL AND MOTEL TAXES

Certain Tennessee politicians have gone out of their way to encourage tourists to visit their towns and cities.

Those same politicians welcome the tax revenue tourists bring, even if they don’t respect the tourists’ status as legitimate taxpayers.

Memphis City Council member Myron Lowery is one such individual.

Myron Lowery

Myron Lowery

Lowery actually said the following to Tennessee Watchdog this month:

“Here in Memphis we call it taxpayer money only when it’s taken from the taxpayers who live in our local area.”

Lowery ardently supports the city’s plan to spend $30 million of tourism tax revenue to convert the long-troubled Memphis Pyramid into a Bass Prop Shops megastore/resort.

Meanwhile, when asked about the taxpayer money that paid for the new Music City Convention Center in Nashville, city officials were quick to point out that tax money from tourists — not residents — paid for it.

This phenomenon of tourists, and not local voters, paying taxes for pet political projects isn’t limited to large metropolitan areas.

Officials in Wilson County and the city of Columbia are considering raising taxes on tourists for similar reasons.

TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC AND COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT

The Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development didn’t do enough to make sure taxpayer dollars were properly re-invested in Tennessee after giving away millions to film and production crews, said State Comptroller Justin Wilson.

Wilson issued a very critical report of the department this year.

Wilson said state officials gave money to production crews that, among other things, never even had a formal Tennessee address. A lot of that money went back to California.

ECD officials promised better oversight, but they would continue to give out taxpayer money, including $302,000 to a Robin Williams film that shot on location in Nashville.

They then gave $12.5 million to ABC’s “Nashville” to keep the show filming on location for its second season.

Interested tourists, ECD officials reasoned, would only come to the city if the setting of the show were authentic, and not filmed on a Hollywood soundstage.

Tennessee Watchdog interviewed at least a dozen tourists in downtown Nashville this summer. Only one had seen the show. None of them said the series had any bearing whatsoever on their visit.

NASHVILLE MAYOR KARL DEAN

While state officials were busy giving away your hard-earned money to ABC’s “Nashville,” the real-life mayor of the city couldn’t resist dipping his own fingers in the pork barrel pie.

Long before he ever gave the Nashville Metro Council an opportunity to vote on the matter, Dean promised the show $500,000 in city taxpayer money, on top of what state officials offered.

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean

Nashville Mayor Karl Dean

Dean was overly confident council members would rubberstamp his wishes and, only a few  months later, as if on cue, they proved him right — with no debate whatsoever.

Council member Ronnie Steine, obviously star-struck, bragged before voting that he saw lead actress Connie Britton in person.

That, however, isn’t the only project Dean and the Nashville Metro Council forced upon taxpayers.

Later this year, the council rubberstamped yet another one of Dean’s plans, $65 million to build a new stadium for the Nashville Sounds minor league baseball team.

CHATTANOOGA MAYOR ANDY BERKE

New Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke said this year that government waste bothers him, and he promised to end it.

Berke has a funny way of showing it.

Berke bragged about eliminating four city departments — before announcing he created three new ones.

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke

In June, Berke and Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger traveled to Germany to meet with Volkswagen officials, reportedly to offer the company more taxpayer-subsidized benefits, in exchange for expanding their Chattanooga operations.

When Tennessee Watchdog tried to learn the details of this trip, Berke’s office outright refused to cooperate.

According to records later obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, Berke’s trip cost Chattanooga taxpayers $3,061.90.

Later this year, Berke had an opportunity to help taxpayers when Chattanooga Airport Authority board member Mike Mallen’s term was up.

Mallen’s opponents describe him as one of the most influential supporters of a project to spend $4 million of taxpayer money to compete against the privately run TAC Air fixed base of operations at that city’s airport. The project has lost more than $1 million of taxpayer money.

Instead, Berke re-appointed Mallen for a second term on the airport authority, disappointing many people who hoped he would make serious changes.

Contact Christopher Butler at chris@tennesseewatchdog.org. or follow him and submit story ideas on his official Facebook page.

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