Thursday, June 05, 2008

City Council's Taxing Job Only Half-Done

Here’s hoping that the Memphis City Council isn’t too busy toasting its historic vote to cut school funding by $73 million to see that its work is only half-done.

In the midst of the wall-to-wall media coverage of the vote on schools, overlooked was the fact that the Council actually increased spending by city government in the budget by more than $40 million.

It’s possible that support for cutting school funding may not be as strong when the public realizes that the schools took a hit to allow city government to continue business as usual.

Real Progress

It’s too bad, because if Council members really want pats on the back from taxpayers, they’ll turn their concerted attention to the hard part – whittling the city tax rate to get it below $3.

In that regard, the proposal by Councilman Jim Strickland deserves more consideration, not to mention more support.

His failure to support the massive cut in school funding caught the attention of numerous political activists who were puzzled by his no vote. He favored a different approach, one that would not have increased the city budget at a time when City Council was willing to cut school funding despite the risk that it would throw the district into disarray and chaos.

Budget Neutral

Seemingly acting on a philosophy that every one has to feel the pain, Councilman Strickland’s plan was built on a $50 million reduction in school funding, which he believed would prevent any changes in classroom programs, because that amount could be replaced from school board reserves, slight cuts in spending and savings in health insurance. Meanwhile, he proposed the beginning of negotiations that would lead to county government taking full responsibility for school funding.

Here’s where he took the road less traveled. He called for a balanced budget with no net increases in spending. And yet, the plan allowed for $32.2 million - for pay raises ($17 million which deserves re-thinking in our opinion), $3.6 million for more police; $3 million for health care premium increase; $2.5 million living wage impact, and $6 million in an OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefit) Investment Trust obligation.

Courage Under Fire

In the end, it would have been revenue neutral because his plan had offsetting reductions that came from a hiring freeze and a reserve fund appropriation.

But the best thing of all was this: his plan would have taken the city property tax rate all the way down to $2.93, rather than the $3.25 set by City Council. Put another way, the reduction in the tax rate would have been 50 cents, rather than 18 cents, creating three times more savings for homeowners.

Now that’s true courage.


Kelvin Oliver said...

I think every has their own opinion. I believe that people will always lash out their thoughts and contradict someone before they get a fulld undertstanding of their way of thinking and approach on certain situations. I have learned that through my English course this past spring semester.

In other words, I'm not on anyone's side. I'm just a college student looking outside the window viewing the mix culture of Memphis.

At some point, we all should come together and solve issues that we have they are surfacing from the muddy Mississippi River and filter those out and make the water cleaner. I believe the only way this can be done is to come up with methods and some type of compromises that will prevent anything from happening.

Anonymous said...

People shouldn't have been puzzled by Strickland's proposal or vote. He got the calls of his constituents who send their children to White Station, Snowden, or another optional school and realized he couldn't outright support such a drastic cut in funding as Morrison proposed. The fact that, at the time of the vote, he didn't make any apparent appeals for his proposal in opposition to Morrison's seems to indicate it was mostly for show.

Smart City Consulting said...


On balance, we just think his proposal - whatever the motivation - offered a more long-term view than the $42 million in new city spending. We suspect he didn't make any appeals because he's as good at counting votes as just about anybody in local government.

gatesofmemphis said...

Do you think a reduction rather than an elimination of city funding makes the legal issue harder to resolve?

Anonymous said...

I am starting a recall drive for Mr. Strickland's removal.

He ran on a supporting education platform and failed to do so in any way, shape or form!