Tennessee GOP lawmakers who’ve in the past taken steps to thwart locally enacted economic regulations that exceed state and federal requirements say they’re undeniably rubbed the wrong way by Metro Nashville voters approving a “local hire” measure earlier this month.
And that may very well result in the General Assembly taking a vote of its own on Amendment 3 after the Legislature convenes for its 2016 session.
Jack Johnson, chairman of the state Senate Commerce and Labor Committee, told TNReport last week he basically loathes the ballot measure local voters approved by a large margin on Aug. 6.
“It’s awful. It’s awful,” the Williamson County lawmaker said of Amendment 3.
“It is a very, very bad and dangerous precedent for a political subdivision in the state of Tennessee like Metro Nashville to be enacting these types of policies that are hostile toward business, hostile toward economic growth,” said Johnson. “And so I do expect the General Assembly to take a good look at it when we reconvene.”
Metro Nashville’s charter now requires that 40 percent of the labor performed on new building projects involving $100,000 or more of Metro financing be carried out by workers who reside in Davidson County.
Amendment 3 also tacked on new charter language requiring “that a significant effort be made to ensure that no less than Ten Percent (10%) of the Total Construction Worker Hours are performed by low income residents of Davidson County.”
Amendment 3’s supporters argued that it will help fight local poverty and alleviate joblessness. Opponents say it will expand government bureaucracy and balloon construction costs.
Gov. Bill Haslam indicated after the election that he, like outgoing Nashville Mayor Karl Dean, considers himself in the latter camp. Haslam told TNReport last week that he regards the measure as “problematic.”
“I just don’t think that there is any doubt that it will make projects more expensive and take them longer to get done,” said the governor, although he added that he is uncertain at this time what, if anything, the state will do in response.
Johnson noted that the Legislature under Republican leadership over the past several years has shown a willingness to thwart local regulatory efforts deemed damaging to the state’s pro-business reputation.
“I understand that the voters of Nashville approved it, but still, we have to look at the state in totality in terms of our economic progress, and we can’t have these bad policies being implemented, especially in our state capital,” said Johnson.
In 2013, Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown and Rep. Glen Casada of Franklin co-sponsored legislation — which ultimately became law — prohibiting local governments from mandating more stringent employee-benefit packages or higher minimum-wage requirements than already required by state or federal law.
Kelsey, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, told TNReport after the Amendment 3 vote that he regards it as an attempt to “unfairly discriminate against citizens from other counties” in Middle Tennessee.
“There is a serious equal-protection constitutional question that needs to be investigated and I look forward to researching that question,” Kelsey said.
Casada, too, doubts the legality of Amendment 3. And like local opponents of the measure who spoke out against it during the campaign, he predicts the requirement “will drive up the costs of projects.”
“I don’t think it is prudent,” said Casada, who chairs the House Republican Caucus, which controls 73 of the lower chamber’s 99 seats.
The state’s attorney general hasn’t yet weighed in on the legality of Amendment 3, but could if asked to do so by the governor or a state lawmaker.
John Finch, a local building company executive who heads a business coalition opposed to Amendment 3, said the future now holds uncertainty for construction projects in Davidson County. Unless it is struck down by the courts or nullified by the Legislature, Middle Tennessee’s economy will suffer, he said.
“Nashville is part of the regional economy,” Finch told TNReport. “Nashville needs for General Motors to come and have a giant plant in Spring Hill. Nashville needs for manufacturing plants and other important developments to be in the surrounding counties. And we need the workers who live in the surrounding communities to be able to work on Nashville projects.”
Nashville’s two finalists for mayor — Metro Councilwoman Megan Barry and former Metro School Board Chairman David Fox — were on opposite sides of the Amendment 3 debate.
Barry told Nashville Public Radio that she supported Amendment 3, but won’t in fact be surprised if the state ultimately overturns it. Fox said he believes Amendment 3 was “well-intended,” but that Davidson County currently has “a huge labor shortage,” and the local-hire mandate will “kill projects.”