NASHVILLE — Gov. Bill Haslam said Monday he's "concerned" about a municipal de-annexation bill, sponsored by Rep. Mike Carter, R-Ooltewah, which is scheduled for a vote later today on the House floor.
The Memphis Commercial Appeal reported Haslam also questioned the constitutionality of the bill's House version. As written, it allows de-annexation votes by unhappy residents of communities in just six Tennessee cities: Chattanooga, Memphis, Knoxville, Kingsport, Johnson City and tiny Cornersville in Marshall County.
The Tennessee Constitution generally requires most laws to impact the entire state without singling out individual places. But for generations state lawmakers have often made bills applicable to select towns and cities on the basis of population or local form of government and such laws have stood if the courts find there is valid public purpose.
Haslam, a former Knoxville mayor, was asked about the bill during a question-and-answer session with mayors and other municipal officials atttending the Tennessee Municipal League's annual spring conference in Nashville.
The Commercial Appeal reported the governor said "I think right now that bill deals with six cities. I'm not a lawyer but I wonder about the constitutionality of something that just applies to those six, but we'll see."
"But I have a major concern," Haslam added. "What I try to tell people in the legislature is, you might not be from a city, you might be from a rural area or a suburban area but cities matter to you. The services that happen in cities, if those go away, then you've got a problem."
Haslam urged municipal officials from across the state to make their voices heard with their local legislators, including on the de-annexation bill even though it may not affect their cities initially.
"There's a bill in the House. They're pretty far down the road. They're not quite as far down the road in the Senate. I would encourage you all to engage both sides on that issue," he said.
After the TML presentation, the governor told reporters that the de-annexation bill is concerning. Asked if he would veto the bill if it wins legislative approval, he demurred:
"Let me just say at this point, I am concerned about it. The constitutionality of it, somebody else will have to rule on that so that's not for me to say. But I am concerned about the impact.
"You take a Memphis that has a challenging financial situation to begin with. Mayor Strickland's called up two or three times to express his concerns about the impact. We'll see Mayor (Madeline) Rogero in a few minutes to talk about the impact on Knoxville and what that would look like. I know Mayor (Andy) Berke in Chattanooga is concerned.
"What I would say to people who live outside cities is, you want cities to be strong because they provide a lot of services that somebody is going to have to provide, whether it be police or transit or a lot of the issues that come along with urban life in America. You don't want those cities to be in a financially weak position."