Mayors Berke and Strickland after testifying in Nashville, Wednesday.
NASHVILLE -- After a two-hour hearing on the now-famous de-annexation bill by the state Senate's State and Local committee, both Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and Chamber of Commerce president Phil Trenary professed themselves satisfied that progress had been made toward either de-toxifying the bill or defeating it outright.
Two amendments were discussed and voted on, the first returning the House version of the bill to the status of a previous Senate version that applies the provisions of the bill statewide, thus eliminating the controversial winnowing down of target cities to five "egregious" offenders in the House bill that passed overwhelmingly last week.
That amendment passed 8-1. A second amendment that clarified aspects of debt repayment required of de-annexed areas and left the way open for widening the scope of those debts passed 7-1. Ready in the hopper, when the committee reconvenes on Tuesday is an amendment that would include pension and OPEB obligations among those debts remaining on the tax bills of de-annexed citizens.
Both amendments were regarded as congenial by members of the large delegation in attendance from Memphis. Trenary said, "I think everybody's eyes have been opened up here." He and Strickland both indicated they thought the House bill was destined to be a thing of the past.
The very fact that the State and Local Committee only scratched the surface of a flock of amendments and will need to reconvene on Tuesday is an indication that things are moving in the direction of the Memphians in attendance. Chairman Yager did say, however, that the clock would not run out on the bill, that a version readymade for voting would be ready next week for House-Senate conferencing and a final vote.
Testifying before the committee on aspects of the bill were Strickland and fellow mayors Andy Berke of Chattanooga and Madeline Rogero of Knoxville, as well as Pitt Hyde of Auto-Zone, and David Popwell and Jim Vogel of First Tennessee Bank.
Strickland repeated reservations about the bill he had previously stated — including the fact that the city stood to lose 110,000 residents under the provisions of the House bill and financials losses amounting to 12 percent of its annual budget. Further, he said, the city would fall from 23rd largest in the nation to 33rd and be faced with a profile of instability that would adversely influence potential business/industrial clients looking to relocate.
Although Berke and Rogero did not envision results for their cities that drastic, they each testified that urban and state affairs would be put in a state of uncertainty and confusion if the House version became law. Hyde and the First Tennessee officials underscored the negative effects the bill would have on economic prospects for Memphis.