MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Memphis Police Association wants voters to approve a half-cent sales tax to restore first responder benefits, but the union’s own president spoke out against a similar referendum six years ago.
Video posted to the Memphis Police Association’s YouTube page shows the association’s president, Mike Williams, speaking against a 2013 tax referendum.
Money from the 2013 half-cent sales tax would have been used to help 4,500 children in Memphis go to pre-K.
The 2013 referendum failed by a large margin.
At the time, Williams said the tax would harm the poor.
"We have a lot of people that are hurting in this city and they don't need to impose a tax upon themselves," Williams said in the video.
On Wednesday, WMC Action News 5 asked Williams if he still believes a half-cent sales tax would harm the poor, since a half-cent sales tax is exactly what his association now proposes to restore police and fire benefits.
"First of all, you know, to focus in on that one line, I think is an affront to the whole democratic process," Williams said.
Williams said there were other reasons he opposed the 2013 referendum.
The money would have been funneled through an un-elected commission, which Williams opposed, saying it created “too many uncertainties”
He also said the city had gotten out of the education business.
Getting back to the question of whether a half-cent sales tax today would harm the poor as he suggested in 2013, Williams said he has learned a lot more about how it would impact families.
"So, I wasn't as educated as I am now. But now I am very educated on the subject," said Williams. "I've learned that it is not a regressive tax. It does not affect snap. It does not affect pharmaceuticals, for the elderly, and medications."
Williams says the sales tax would only cost the average family $40 a year. Any extra money generated by the tax would go to pre-K and paving roads.
Memphis City Council Chairman Kemp Conrad is against the public safety referendum.
He says Williams is just plain wrong.
"The facts haven't changed on this affecting poor Memphians more than wealthy Memphians," said Conrad. "It does affect the poor more than the wealthy, because they spend a lot more of their disposable income on things that are taxed through the sales tax."
A lot of uncertainty remains about this year’s referendum and how it will be implemented if voters approve it.
The unions say the city must implement it as intended.
Chairman Conrad says the city could spend the money on something else, if the council, which approves the city budget, chooses to.
Complicating matters more, the county has the option to claim a share of that tax if it passes, which Commissioner Edmund Ford, Jr. is already proposing.
“In the event the October 3rd referendum passes, I believe we have a significant opportunity in front of us,” Ford said in a letter to his county commission colleagues on Wednesday. “At the end, we want our constituents to be given their ‘fair share.’”