MEMPHIS, Tenn. — No public policy issue has been debated more in our community over the years than lucrative tax breaks to lure new companies here – or expand existing ones. So why should 2021 be any different?
Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer renewed the debate Wednesday by introducing a resolution calling for a 180-day moratorium on corporate tax breaks – also known as PILOTS, or payments in lieu of taxes. Sawyer’s resolution failed miserably in committee. She was the only commissioner among those present who voted for it, but that does not mean the issue is dead. Far from it.
Business leaders and most elected officials in the city and county believe PILOTs are necessary for the community to grow economically. But is it really smart, for example, to grant a $1.8 million tax break to Robert Pera, the wealthy majority owner of the Grizzlies, to bring 25 warehouse jobs to Memphis? Some would insist the answer is no, which is why this debate continues to be necessary.
It’s probably a certainty that Sawyer’s resolution will be rejected again when the full commission meets next week. But I see nothing wrong with local governments insisting that companies getting PILOTS pay a livable wage. I’m also OK with appointing a task force to study other rules.
Everyone wants a vibrant economy. But I believe it’s worth taking another close look at PILOTS. And that’s my point of view.