Tuesday, August 11, 2009

County Schools Flunk Course On Tax Fairness

Psychologists call it projection.

It’s the tendency of some people to attribute their own attitudes and behaviors onto other people, like a thief who thinks every one is trying to steal from him, or the county school board chairman who thinks every one else is lying and untrustworthy.

It’s a primitive form of paranoia that always surfaces when anyone tries to do what is fair for all Shelby Countians when it comes to public education. It is a rampant condition outside Memphis.

So many people seem able to say with a straight face that Memphians should pay twice for schools, and these are the same people whose flight out of Memphis was subsidized by city taxpayers, paying the lion’s share of new roads and new schools although they had already paid for the Memphis infrastructure with no help from county taxpayers.

Separate And Unequal

It’s a curious double standard. For decades, Shelby County Government – at a time when 90% of all county taxes were paid by Memphians – would fund major roads within the smaller towns. In the 1980s, the county amended the formula so that it paid 50% of major roads in the towns.

There was a point when former County Commissioner Julian Bolton revealed county government’s dirty little secret. It was considered audacious when he made a modest proposal for Shelby County to pay 50% of a road project within Memphis.

It was as if he had threatened Western Civilization. He was labeled a trouble-maker and he was shunned by the county administration. And yet, like many U.S. Supreme Court decisions, his minority opinion was proven right as the years passed.

But some form of the formula remained in place until the election of Mayor A C Wharton in 2002 when faced with the county’s deteriorating fiscal health, financial expediency was the vehicle for a better public policy.

It’s All About Me

We were thinking of all this in the wake of comments by Bartlett Chamber of Commerce president John Threadgill – who knows better – and Shelby County Schools Board Chair David Pickler – who just seems impossible to pursue anything except his own political demagoguery.

They typify the way that suburban officials are able to feign outrage as they take a position that essentially says this: yes, we know that Memphians pay twice for schools and we don’t, but we’re against fairer taxes because we’d have to pay more.

In other words, they like it just like it is now. They should. They’ve been making out like bandits for decades.

That’s why they push back against any recommendation – such as the single source school funding proposal now moving through the political system – that would promise Memphis taxpayers that they will receive services from Shelby County Government mandated by the Tennessee Constitution the same way that resident outside Memphis do.

Funny, Not

It’s strange how often quickly political expediency can amp up the rhetorical overkill outside Memphis. That’s how you have someone as normally intelligent as Mr. Threadgill taking shots at the plan to make Shelby County Government the sole funding source for public education in our community.

Memphians have such gall: they want to be treated the same as the suburbs. They have to know that isn’t right.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute about school funding as long as they were treated preferentially.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when county taxes paid for roads inside the suburban towns but not within Memphis.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when Memphians paid for the roads and schools that fed sprawl and starved the city budget.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when Memphians paid for ambulances but county towns got theirs free.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when Memphians subsidized fire protection and law enforcement for some county towns but Memphians paid for their own.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when their libraries were funded by county government but Memphians paid for their own.

Shell Shock

O.K., it was never really funny for Memphians, but with white mayors feeding sprawl as the political strategy to keep white voters inside Shelby County, there was a conspiracy of silence within county government about the truth. As a result, there developed a sense of entitlement for the towns (a term they're always use as a pejorative for Memphis officials).

There’s even the conventional wisdom outside Memphis that they are paying more than their fair share of countywide taxes…although its Memphians who were paying twice for schools, health services, arenas, and more.

It may have been funny then, but now, people like Mr. Pickler and Mr. Threadgill have the gall to defend the a tax system based on separate but unequal status for Memphis.

I had a cousin who served in the South Pacific during World War II, and his relief did not come as expected. In fact, it didn’t come for so long that when they did rescue him, he was suffering from shell shock. The Army’s answer was typical for the times: they operated on him and snipped something in his brain that disconnected him from reality.

Operation Error

Somehow, these officials outside Memphis have done it without any surgery at all. And yet, they are nothing short of delusional, operating on a “we versus them” attitude that thrives on the fantasy that they will do just fine even if Memphis goes down the tubes.

It’s a condition that produces statements like this one from Mr. Pickler: “Shelby County schools would not receive any less money, but they would not receive an additional dime. But yet the taxpayers who live outside the city of Memphis would receive on the education portion of the tax rate an increase that could go from $1.98 to as much as $2.81.”

Well, yeah. What he fails to mention – as he conducts his regular forays into attacks of amnesia – is that if Memphians are paying twice, why doesn’t he go to the board of aldermen in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Millington, Arlington and the pretend city of Lakeland and ask them to spend part of their property taxes on schools? Why is it fair for Memphis taxpayers to pay a higher proportion of their taxes on schools than every resident outside Memphis?

Meanwhile, he continues to plead for city and county boards of education to have taxing authority, an idea that was essentially DOA, but that doesn’t stop him from his normal demagoguery.

The “C” Word

He’s even throwing around the dreaded “c” word – consolidation – although he has to know that this isn’t going to happen and it was never a subtext to the special committee appointed by Shelby County Board of Commissioners Chair Deidre Malone to consider the best proposal for single source funding.

Then, both Mr. Pickler and Mr. Threadgill are continue to fan the flames with the town mayors, constantly reminding them that they weren’t on the committee. Of course, considering that they don’t put any money into public education and that it was all a ploy to make the committee as unbalanced as the MPO, it’s merely another example of what is becoming way too common in politics today – the big lie.

Based on everyone in the process that we know, it was Mr. Pickler that was the person unwilling to find a resolution that was fair to everyone and that he threatened to “take his ball and go home” more times than an NFL prima donna.

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz said the county school system’s support isn’t necessary for an agreement, and he is now doing his best to write it so that we can keep local decisions local and not be forced to go to Nashville for the Tennessee Legislature’s approval.

Meanwhile, Mr. Threadgill complained about “hidden agendas” and incredulously, we don’t think he was referring to the town mayors and Mr. Pickler. And he punctuated his journey into illogic by complaining that the process is basically about helping city residents to the detriment of the suburbs.

Come to think of it, there would be no suburbs without Memphis, and even small town Chamber of Commerce rhetoric can’t deny that fact.

19 comments:

Jupiter said...

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Anonymous said...

David Pickler is an utter disgrace. As a parent with two children in Shelby County Schools, I'm ashamed to be represented by David Pickler.

I'm ashamed and outraged by the fact that Pickler is essentially using my kids and apparently all other SCS students as unwitting pawns in his propaganda campaign. (On the first day of the new school year, fliers were sent home with students announcing the dates and locations of the next round of meetings for Pickler's campaign.)

Anonymous said...

Of course David Pickler is now trying to get a promotion for all of his "good work." He is running for the State Senate this year due to the Paul Stanley vacancy.

Of course we know that he is a one issue candidate, wanting to create a special school district for Shelby county Schools.

Zippy the giver said...

Isn't taxation without representation against federal law?
All the citizens of Memphis are in Shelby County and are the majority of county residents. They are not represented AT ALL being taxed twice. I think a suit should be brought for the damages, retroactive treble damages. Then, as the majority, we should TAKE their money by force if necessary, they could also pay twice, the same amount as city residents, or, have a lien against their house or valuables and be dispossessed for nonpayment, even for the penalties for stealing the citizen's money.
Yeah, I said STEALING, because that's exactly what they are doing. Last I check, theft was illegal.
We should also go after the politicians that keep this incredibly stupid game in pace, including Pickler, and take every single thing they own.
Then I'd go after both mayors, Wharton and Herenton for their part and everyone on city council too. I hope they have insurance.

Jupiter said...

While this is clearly unfair, I'm not sure who's fault it is. Is anyone going to bat for Memphians?

Louise said...

Thank you Tom, as always. Only you can state the obvious so well and so thoroughly. Keep at it; somehow, sometime (hopefully in our lifetimes) eventually you will convince the folks outside of Memphis to realize how they have raped and pillaged Memphis. Maybe one day they will even realize, as you have pointed out time and again, that they only exist as towns, cities and make believe places because of Memphis.

As one who dared, or was naive enough to do the dirty work by pointing out the inequities to the County Commission, I thank you.

Zippy the giver said...

Just figure out how much the damages are in dollars that the county has stolen over time, how long it's been going on, who was responsible for it, how illegal it is, and start a lawsuit, you'll win, it's a no brainer.

Anonymous said...

Louise said:
"...eventually you will convince the folks outside of Memphis to realize how they have raped and pillaged Memphis."

Read the CA Crime Report to see who actually rapes and pillages Memphis.

Zippy the giver said...

Just figure out the damages and sue Willy Herenton.
He's responsible. I think he may even be personally culpable since he can get a bus station that is for sale right now for 1.5million bucks, for just $90k.

antisocialist said...

I posted this earlier to the wrong thread. ugh.

“flight out of Memphis was subsidized by city taxpayers”

Three dollars went to Memphis schools for every one dollar that went to the county. Where, oh where did the City’s money go? Roads were built with gas tax returned through the State.

antisocialist said...

“yes, we know that Memphians pay twice for schools and we don’t, but we’re against fairer taxes because we’d have to pay more.”

County residents subsidize the City schools by millions and millions of dollars every year, and you know it. I have proven this over and over and over again. Just because you make the same error over and over again does not change the error.

"Fairness" is a code word for "gimme your money to waste on my stuff".

antisocialist said...

“In other words, they like it just like it is now. They should. They’ve been making out like bandits for decades.”

Once again, the county collects X dollars for education from county only residents. SCS spends millions and millions less than X. The county then sends those millions and millions to the MCS. You would not make a very good bandit.

antisocialist said...

“There’s even the conventional wisdom outside Memphis that they are paying more than their fair share of countywide taxes... although it's Memphians who were paying twice for schools, health services, arenas, and more.”

Not conventional wisdom – fact. The Sherriff is a jailor and process server. How much does it cost to patrol Lakeland and Arlington? What percentage of the Health Department’s and the Med’s budget is exclusively for residents of the County outside of Memphis? What percentage of the Health Department and the Med are even funded by local dollars? Arena construction? – Do you really want to go there?

antisocialist said...

“But yet the taxpayers who live outside the city of Memphis would receive on the education portion of the tax rate an increase that could go from $1.98 to as much as $2.81.”

So instead of the County only residents sending a 40 million dollar subsidy to MCS, they need to send a 140 million dollar subsidy to MCS? Can you really talk about tax “fairness” without giggling at the partisan pretzel you have to twist yourself into to come up with that logic?

antisocialist said...

“Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz said the county school system’s support isn’t necessary for an agreement, and he is now doing his best to write it so that we can keep local decisions local and not be forced to go to Nashville for the Tennessee Legislature’s approval.”


Good luck with that. The state will more than likely make SCS a special school district in the next legislative session. They only waited this year to see if the city and the county commission would come to their senses. You will get your fairness then – county residents funding county schools and city residents funding city schools. Oh, I-269 is the greatest thing to ever happen to this area. Wake up to the 21st century. A crowded, crime ridden, and corrupt centralized city is becoming increasingly irrelevant. The railroads don’t run the country anymore.

Smart City Consulting said...

It's not about numbers and it's not our opinion. Independent research by state government says that Memphians have the most regressive tax structure in the state.

And since Memphians are county residents too, why should they have to pay twice for schools if the rest of the county doesn't?

That's the basis of the inequity.

Why do they pay about 70% of the total county taxes for schools and then pay 100% of what the city has been paying. Do you see the disparity?

And three dollars should go to Memphis City Schools from county taxes for every one going to county schools. There are three times more students. The per pupil cost follows the pupils wherever they are.

There's only one problem with the grand plan. It's not legal in Tennessee. County government, not city government, has the Constitutional responsibility for public education. It's a countywide service besides. All of the kids are funded from the same pool of money. It's never made sense why Memphians should also pay a pool of money as well. If you live outside Memphis, you don't pay twice. How do you reconcile that one county citizen pays twice while another one doesn't.

This hits at the essence of fairness. Countywide services should be on the countywide tax base. It's sort of government 101.

Oh, one more thing. Even if Shelby County Schools becomes a special school district - a pathetically bad idea - it wouldn't result in city residents paying for city schools and county residents paying for county schools.

Finally, even if the county tax went up for education, city schools would get the same amount of money. All the funding is being put on the countywide tax base. There's no windfall.

Louise said...

Anon 2:02

I'm not talking about physical rape and pillaging. I think that is obvious. As for County citizens subsidizing the City of Memphis, you are delusional. Never happened; never will. every time there is a 50/50 deal, City and County, the City loses. Examples are special projects like the Pyramid and Fed Es Forum, funding the Chamber, City and County agencies administered by the County (OPD, Health Dept.) and much, much more.

You really shouldn't comment on that of which you do not know.

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