It should come as no surprise that Memphis Mayor A.C. Wharton changed his mind about his support of the county-wide half cent sales tax increase. Wharton, after all, is ever the politician and when he was told the wind was blowing toward a popular vote in favor of the tax initiative from city voters, he boldly jumped to the populace majority.
Wharton justified his political backslide by stating he was assured funds would be provided for pre-kindergarten education. And who can argue with pre-school? Yet, we wonder, if polling showed a majority against the half-cent theft by the county commission, would he have been so quick to cross the aisle?
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell can’t say as much but he acknowledged that there’s plenty to question about the Memphis mayor’s Monday announcement.
“It’s obviously an attempt by those forces to wrap sales tax around the pre-k program,” Luttrell said. “And it’s hard to be against pre-k, but their proposal is not a well thought out concept.”
Wharton said supporters of the county-wide half cent tax proposal identified pre-k funding to come from the “philanthropic world.”
The city’s and county commissions continued use of arbitrary sound bites without any substansive answers is starting to remind us of the famous skits by Jon Levitz on Saturday Night Live. Levitz was the inventor of the incredible tall tales claiming to be a famous lover, married to any number of world class beauties.
In this case we have the city’s mayor saying he was suddenly swayed by unidentified funding sources for an unfunded program that he doesn’t have the authority to dedicate monies to.
“If the intent is to funnel money into the public school system, the mayor needs to touch base with the public school officials,” Mayor Luttrell reminded.
Bartlett Mayor Keith McDonald agreed.
“Certainly Mayor Wharton has the right to express that opinion,” McDonald said, “but he’s talking about using some of the Memphis money for pre-kindergarten. That’s a decision of the school board and the city council. I appreciate the political nature but there is no binding effort on any other political body. The mayor, nor the council, can bind the school to the use of that money.”
Mayor Luttrell, who previously vetoed the county commission’s tax effort, again noted the lack of specificity in the commissions’ plan.
“Before we ask voters to pass a tax we have to have more precise information on how the money is used,” Luttrell said. “Second – the City of Memphis has withdrawn total funding of the public school system and they want to support pre-k. I suggest they look instead to the holes in the education plan, specifically school security. There’s a $6 million overrun to secure our schools. We need to be able to keep our children safe before we think of expanding pre-k.”
So Monday the Mayor of Tennessee’s largest city said he suddenly supports a half cent tax initiative for a program that has no identified funding source in a district that can’t afford to keep the students already attending school safe.
And they wonder why suburban schools want out.