Mayors ask for tax freedom - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Mayors ask for tax freedom

The Mayors of Memphis and Shelby County told state lawmakers Friday they need help, saying their hands are tied.  They want Capitol Hill to cut Tennessee counties loose to create and levy taxes as the need arises.

Shelby County Mayor A C Wharton told state lawmakers that the county has already slashed $30-million and 800 jobs during the past year. 

But when it comes to finding new money, other than from property or sales taxes, his hands - he says - are tied.

"If a group of people were to come to me and say uh, Mayor Wharton here's an essential service we need.  We need more law enforcement.  Crime is getting out of hand and Mayor Wharton we're willing to pay for it.  But we don't want property taxes and we don't want sales taxes.  I'd have to say, sorry... You can't have increased law enforcement," said Wharton.

He and Memphis Mayor Willie Herenton made a unified plea to state lawmakers, asking for the power to create new taxes.

"It's important to me that they bring us a bill and not an idea," said State Senator Jim Kyle.  He says he's open to giving taxing authority to local communities because it shifts further accountability back where - he says - it belongs.  "I would say to you that people who are elected locally should not have the state as an excuse as to why they cannot balance their budget."

Wharton has spent much of last year lobbying Nashville for development fees that would help raise money, but state lawmakers were hesitant and the pitch went nowhere. 

But with budgets starving around the state, Shelby County leaders hope the time is ripe for a closer look.

The plan to give Tennessee counties "tax freedom" is one that's floating around the state right now.  A bill to that effect should be presented to the legislature sometime late this month or early February. 

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