Councilman questions sales tax increase

Councilman questions sales tax increase
Councilman Jim Strickland
Councilman Jim Strickland

(WMC-TV) - Memphis Councilman Jim Strickland had strong questions about the proposed Shelby County sales tax hike.

Strickland held an unscheduled debate Tuesday and said it was not fair to tell voters the money will go to pre-k education.

He said the mayor is selling the referendum to the people without a written commitment by the school board that money collected will go to universal pre-k.

"Commit to fully funding pre-k if they want people to vote for this sales tax," he said.

The only mention of pre-k is in a Transition Planning Commission report to spend $3 million.

The only plan in writing proposes covering up to 500 students.

"Universal means everyone. Not 400 to 500 students," said Strickland.

When Mayor A C Wharton learned of Tuesday's discussion, he showed up at the meeting.  

"I cannot debate that. I'm going to push the school board to commit to precisely that," Wharton said.

School Board Commissioner Dr. Kenneth Whalum Jr. said he has seen no indication of a vote to commit money to pre-k.

Without a sales tax increase, the mayor anticipates a property tax increase, layoffs, and canceled city services.

Dr. Whalum was quick to point out other options like restoring the $57 million the city is no longer required to spend on schools.

"Why not pay the $57 million and let's see where we are," said Whalum.

The mayor said he would look into a provision to make sure sales tax money supports universal pre-k.

"I'm going to speak to the lawyers and see if we can repeal it if it does not go for that," said Wharton.

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