The Beacon Center has released its annual Tennessee Pork Report.
(NEWS RELEASE) – Today, the Beacon Center released its annual Tennessee Pork Report, revealing millions of dollars in government waste, fraud, and abuse. Examples in this year’s report range from Graceland’s veiled threats to move out of Memphis which landed the property $75 million in tax dollars, to the nearly-bankrupt city of Nashville giving millions of dollars to Amazon and the NFL draft. This year, the Beacon Center limited the report to the top 25 examples of government waste.
The Pork Report highlights a combination of government mismanagement, incompetence, and outright fraud. The Beacon Center allowed Tennesseans to vote on their choice for the Pork of the Year award. This year’s “winner” was the $14.5 million taxpayer-funded upgrade to the Richard Siegel Soccer Complex in Murfreesboro at the same time city officials raised property taxes by 36%. The city is already losing $150,000 a year on the complex and even by the city’s almost certainly inflated projections, it will take 127 years to pay off the debt.
Other Finalists for Pork of the Year included:
- $700,000 in federal and state taxpayer money was spent to build a visitor center at Reelfoot Lake, only to ultimately be torn down because it didn’t meet earthquake requirements.
- $1.5 million the city of Nashville was forced to withdraw directly from the school district’s budget – without warning – to cover the cost of the TIF program, which gives tax dollars to developers in the city.
- Graceland, one of the most notable landmarks in the city of Memphis, threatened to “move” if Memphis didn’t give it $100 million in tax incentives.
“From Memphis to Chattanooga and everywhere in between, there continues to be a massive amount of waste, fraud, and abuse throughout the state,” said Beacon Vice President of Communications Mark Cunningham. “The cities of Memphis and Nashville continue to ‘lead’ the state when it comes to wasteful spending. Hopefully, the Pork Report will show taxpayers how inefficiently their money is being spent.”
Fox17 News reporter Adrian MojicaWednesday on November 6th 2019 reports that the Murfressboro SoccorComplex is drawing criticism from the public policy watchdog Beacon Center of Tennessee as well.
In April, the Murfreesboro City Council voted to pass a 20 year cooperative agreement between the city and the Tennessee State Soccer Association (TSSA). Cost of the project estimated to be $14.5 million, adding 9 turf fields, an indoor soccer facility, increased seating a a current field, and office and classroom space.
Along with the additions, the TSSA will relocate their headquarters to the facility. Based on their projections, the city set a goal of 20,000 hotel room nights to be used as part of the tournaments which would come to Murfreesboro. The council anticipates the $14.5 million debt would be “accommodated” through hotel tax revenues.
However, Ron Shultis -Director of Policy and Research with the Beacon Center, points to potential issues in the wake of the agreement. The agreement with the TSSA and the city passed in April and two months later, property taxes were raised on residents by 35.8% Shultis says.
“This is a clear example of government going outside its role. When you raise taxes by almost 36%, you are affecting people on fixed incomes,” Shultis says. “Its something that can be funded through the private sector. We want our government to focus on roads, schools, police, and infrastructure.”
The Beacon Center puts out an annual report on what they consider local and state government waste in Tennessee dubbed the “Pork Report.” The Richard Siegel Soccer Complex is one of the examples Beacon Center is putting up for “Pork of the Year.” Beacon Center says the $14.5 million renovation comes “at the expense of taxpayers in hopes of making it profitable. Even by the government’s inflated and likely incorrect projections, the complex won’t break even on this project for over 100 years.”
Shultis says projections from the city will take it from losing $142,000 on the complex each year to earning $150,000. At that rate, it would take the city 96 1/2 years to break even. As for the expense being compensated by hotel room taxes, Shultis and Beacon Center chose to only go with the hard projections. “We have to see it first,” Shultis says. “My understanding is some of those rooms still have to be built.”
FOX 17 News also reached out to the Murfreesboro Mayor’s Office which provided a statement on the complex and Beacon Center’s description of the use of funds.
Michael Browning, spokesperson for the City of Murfreesboro, says the projections were a “worst case scenario” and the economic benefits will offset the cost.
Below is a full statement from the city:
“The organization pushing out this information evidently thinks governments should not do parks. Parks are for the benefit of the community. The information regarding Seigel Soccer Complex is inaccurate. The Complex has been run as a park facility and not as a profit-making venture, the case with nearly all City parks. As created, it should not be considered in the context of other economic development projects.
That said, enhancing the Complex, as the City is doing, to host additional regional tournaments is an economic development project. The process of reviewing those enhancements used the standard models and factors that the State uses in reviewing projects and, for purposes of Council consideration, the projected benefits were further reduced to provide a worst-case scenario. The City believes that the Complex will produce economic benefits to offset the costs of enhancements. More importantly, the Complex will continue to serve primarily the citizens of Murfreesboro as an important and highly popular recreational amenity.”
The standard economic development model showed that the project will produce tax revenue. This is the standard economic development model, which includes room nights, meals, and additional spending, plus indirect economic benefits. It excludes, however, fee revenue from the facility (rental fees and player fees). It also does not recognize the collateral benefits of the additional employment associated with TSSA moving its headquarters to Murfreesboro or the potential of ancillary employment or retail development in the area of a premier regional athletic facility.”
The 2019 Pork Report comes from state and local budgets, media reports, state audits, and independent research conducted by Beacon Center staff and scholars.