Knoxville Mayor Madeline Rogero could have easily produced a budget without a proposed property tax increase. She likely could have gotten through her re-election next year before having to propose one.
The city's fund balance is just under $70 million and may top that when computed at the end of the fiscal year. The fund balance is sometimes called the rainy day fund. For comparison's sake, the fund balance during the Victor Ashe administration was usually under $30 million. Under Bill Haslam it rose to $60 million. Rogero seems to follow Haslam's lead in expecting a lot of rain some day.
You don't spend one-time money on ongoing expenses, but if the fund is growing every year it isn't one-time money is it?
I asked her about the timing of her tax proposal and she simply said "we have some things we want to do." And she wants to do them now.
In other words, she is not content to ease along with the status quo. That was evident when she extended employee benefits to domestic partners, including same-sex couples. The issue has been very divisive in other cities; Chattanooga had people in the streets protesting and soliciting petitions. It hardly stirred a ripple in Knoxville—to the city's everlasting credit.
While Gov. Haslam pulled raises for teachers and state employees and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett seems determined to do the same for county employees and teachers, the city will give 2.5 percent raises to its employees. Rogero says she isn't responsible for how others treat their employees, she is just responsible for city employees.
Rogero has provided a laundry list of issues for a potential opponent. A tax increase, pension reform, employee benefits. Not to mention her serving on a task force for President Obama—a polarizing figure among Knoxville Republicans. But there doesn't appear to be anyone credible on the horizon that will run against her. She remains a popular mayor and seems determined to pursue her agenda, regardless of political considerations.
She will run for re-election from a position of strength.
When she ran, the Knoxville business community was nervous. They tried to find someone who could beat her. Since her election, they seem to get along better with her than with the county's Burchett, who gave them a stiff arm when they urged him to raise taxes for a huge increase in the school budget. The business community has no reason not to support Rogero.
There is also the imposition of term limits. If recent history is any guide, City Council seats and the mayor's office have become eight-year terms. Why try and knock off an incumbent when you can wait for the seat to come open?
It's likely that Councilmen Nick Pavlis, George Wallace, and Marshall Stair can see themselves as mayor one day. Pavlis has become one of Rogero's strongest allies. He and the mayor, both from South Knoxville, have worked on Legacy Parks, waterfront development, and the upcoming remodel of the Cumberland Avenue Strip. In four years Pavlis can present himself as the logical heir to the Rogero administration as Rogero was to Haslam. At this point, all three councilmen appear to be content to wait and fight each other down the road rather than challenge the incumbent mayor.
Unless there is a hue and cry on Council, the property tax increase will likely slip through without a ripple.
(I also notice that Rogero's proposal is one penny shy of Haslam's property tax increase during his first term. That leaves Haslam with the distinction of proposing the largest property tax increase in city history.)
Rogero has a large fan base, is a veteran campaigner, and has done a good job of explaining what she plans to do with additional revenue. There is a little something for everybody and each Council district.
If someone does plan to run against her, they need to get up early and get to it.