MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Remember the days you were in school, and teachers tried to force all that complicated adding and subtracting stuff? They'd demand you know how to do percentages, and many times you'd wonder when you'd ever use all of this information. They knew. They knew someday you'd be living in Shelby County, and you'd be trying to figure out how much more you had to pay in taxes.
Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz forced a lot of folks to hit the books, when he came up with an idea for a countywide sales tax increase. It would mean more than $20 million for the Unified School System, and $23 million for the city of Memphis. "That's a lot of money for the city," Ritz said last August, "and I think they ought to be thankful we're looking out for the schools, and they're not."
Memphis Mayor A C Wharton supported the tax increase. Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell didn't. It made no sense to him to raise taxes when nobody had any idea what the Unified School System budget would be. "To consider a tax increase in anticipation of what we think the cost is going to be," Luttrell said last August, "is not an appropriate way to budget."
Mayor Luttrell vetoed the idea. Commissioners overrode his veto. Voters shot the plan down in November big time. We talked with people during the late summer and all expressed the same feelings of a couple of folks we found at the main branch of the Memphis city library. "The sales tax is already higher than any other state around here," one Memphis man said in late October. "So raising it would make it even higher. So you go to Mississippi. That's why people sometimes go shopping in Mississippi, because of the sales tax."
The vast majority of voters we talked with over the fall campaign said frankly, it made no difference if the money was going to schools or to pay for any educational programs. It made no difference to them - they said they'd been taxed to the point of no return. "I'm not going to vote for any increase in anything," a voter told me before entering the polls in November. "And I'm going to vote against all incumbents."
By the end of the year, the Unified School Board was anything but Unified. They made very little progress on recommendations by the Transition Planning Commission. It was board member, the Rev. Kenneth T. Whalum, Jr. who summed up the divide between city members and county members on the board in a politically incorrect way. "This thing was forced on them," Reverend Whalum said two weeks ago. "It was forced on them without Vaseline."