TSD Memphis

Sat04192014

Greater Metro

Majority rejects sales tax hike. Now what?

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As many suspected, the turnout was low – about 7 percent of 417,174 registered city voters. And of those concerned citizens, a dominating majority, 60 percent, wanted no part of a half-cent sales tax increase to extend pre-k and bring the property tax down.

Ordnance No. 5495 Local Option Sales Tax went down with a thud – 17,636 against; 11,659 in favor. The outcome moved opponents such as the Rev. Dr. Kenneth T. Whalum Jr., a former school board member and pastor of The New Olivet Baptist Church, to think in biblical terms of the underdog David sling-shoting down the giant Goliath.

Proponents of the referendum had much deeper pockets for their campaign but still got slammed in Thursday's election.

Mayor AC Wharton Jr., a big proponent of the measure, had already turned the page on Friday morning. In an interview with The New Tri-State Defender, Wharton talked of "focusing on those conditions which are placing so many of children at a disadvantage and that's poverty. And that's what you'll be hearing from me.

"It's something we've been working on for a year, a year and half now. Go back to the root, root cause."

The root cause of failure in the higher grades is failure in the lower grades, said Wharton.
"And what is the cause of failure in the lower grades right now is no access to pre-K. Well, what causes that? Poverty, poverty, poverty in many instances. So dig more deeply and come up with some real programs."

Wharton said such a move would not be made with the naivety of thinking, "We will end poverty, but to provide many more escape routes, particularly for the youngest out of poverty."

That may mean addressing mothers' needs and dads' needs and with a more systemic approach, he said, adding that costs associated with such efforts must be thought of as an investment that will pay for itself in the long haul.

"We will do it the same way we do everything else. If we bring a factory here, we invest in it. We don't say we paid for the factory. We invested in the infrastructure."

The strategy of linking the proposed sales tax hike and extended pre-K as an investment in children clearly did not work, Wharton acknowledged.

"No one said they were against pre-K. It was that they did not like the sales tax (hike). So what we have in mind is not let's come up with another tax to do this. We can redeploy some of our existing assets. There is a hefty amount of grant funding out there as I've shown with Bloomberg ... and all the other foundations I have been working with.

NOTE: In the race to fill the District 91 position left vacant with the death of Rep. Lois M. DeBerry, Democrat Raumesh A. Akbari trounced James L. Tomasik, who ran as an independent. Raumesh came out on top 3,087 votes to 369, with 16 people choosing write-in candidates.