Fee hike unfair for many customers

May 27, 2011 9:50AM

Tennessee Center for Policy Research president Justin Owen and Ben Cunningham, spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt, pen a column in Friday’s Tennessean about a plan to raise Nashville Comcast customers’ taxes by 1,200 percent. Among other things, the additional revenue would go to convert all Metro government programming to high-definition. Visit the Tennessean‘s website for the original article, the unedited version of which is printed below.   by Ben Cunningham & Justin Owen In the run-up to his reelection campaign, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean promised voters that he would not raise their property taxes. Nashvillians could breathe a collective sigh of relief for avoiding a tax increase during an economic recession…or so they thought. Enter the “Bat Poet,” an apparently beloved yet likely trademark infringing knock-off of Batman, whose show airs on Nashville public access television in grainy off-color. In many airings, scantily clad burlesque models make cameos on the show. If only such quality programming were in HD. Mayor Dean to the rescue, casting Metro taxpayers as the villains. Mayor Dean has quietly laid the groundwork for a whopping 1,200 percent increase in a tax Comcast customers pay to provide this public access television throughout Nashville. In exchange for a nickel tacked onto their Comcast bills, Nashville residents currently receive televised access to local government proceedings, Metro events, and other local shows. Dean wants to jack up the monthly fee from five cents to 65 cents. While 65 cents a month doesn’t sound like a big deal, taxpayers are already being nickel and dimed into oblivion. A dollar here, a dollar there, and pretty soon we’re talking real money. The mayor wants to use this additional tax revenue to equip all Metro buildings with television services. The plan also includes the purchase of a mobile production unit and receiving station to televise events throughout the city. And best of all, the mayor wants to bring taxpayers Metro Council meetings and other televised proceedings, including “Bat Poet,” in high-definition. Not only does this plan represent a colossal waste of taxpayer money, it unfairly punishes certain taxpayers while others get the windfall. First, the tax only applies to Comcast customers. Those who opt for Comcast’s competitors, such as AT&T or DirectTV, get the same service without the cost. Surely Comcast customers are not the only spectators of “Bat Poet,” and therefore should not bear the full cost of airing the absurd melodrama. Further, taxing all Comcast customers for the high-definition upgrade poses a similar problem. It is estimated that only 40 percent of Comcast customers pay for high-definition access. Thus, a significant majority of customers will fork over extra dough for a service they cannot even take advantage of without incurring even more costs by purchasing HD. As the spokesmen for Tennessee’s leading government watchdog organizations, we commend the mayor and the city for their partnership with Comcast to bring more open, transparent government to Nashville residents, batty shows notwithstanding. However, this 1,200 percent tax hike will do nothing to make Metro government more transparent. It will merely put less money in taxpayers’ pockets and sharper images on their TV screens. If Mayor Dean wants superhero status, he needs to drop his call for this unfair, unnecessary tax hike. Ben Cunningham is the spokesman for Tennessee Tax Revolt. Justin Owen is president of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research.