MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - There are some who will claim there were more people standing behind the podium inside the Shelby County Commission chambers than there will be voting in favor of raising the sales tax. That’s what this meeting was about. Nobody likes tax hikes, and face it, people voting to raise their own taxes is a rare thing indeed. But in this case the argument is, think of the kids.
“There are tough choices that are still going to be there,” says sales tax increase supporter Shea Flinn of the Memphis City Council. “But without this sales tax increase they will get very frightening, very quickly.”
Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell watched all of this from the audience. He watched Memphis Mayor A C Wharton say people should vote for the sales tax increase in order that the merged schools get an expanded Pre-K program.
Maybe the group was making a harmonious plea for support from the podium, but Mayor Luttrell turned out to be the clinker. He was a member of the merger's Transitional Planning Commission, which says unless major cuts are made the system will be $57 million in the red. Things could get worse as well, he says. “Memphis Police has completely withdrawn security from city schools,” Mayor Luttrell says. “The Shelby County Sheriff’s Department will do it, but it’s about a six million dollar hole in the budget.”
Mayor Luttrell says the budget gaps need to be taken care of by the Unified School Board right now. They need to try and get money from other agencies first, he says, and then they need to look at making serious budget cuts. All of these things need to be done, according to Luttrell, before there’s any talk of asking you folks to vote to increase sales taxes to pay for Pre Kindergarten programs.
“Before we start talking about expanding programs,” Luttrell says, “we need to take care of the holes in the current programs. To expand Pre-K but not provide security for the schools is unpardonable.”
On Election Day in November, Mayor Luttrell says when he comes to the referendum question about raising the sales tax, his vote will disappoint a lot of those people behind the podium. “At this time,” he said, “I won’t vote for it.”