Noses are funny. Often the most noticed facial feature…next to the eyes, noses are also one of the most complained about things people have on their face.
My nose, is what I affectionately call a “3 finger nose”…meaning, from my face to the tip is three fingers long. You can see it below.
When I was a kid I hated it. I wanted a smaller nose.
It was an object of teasing and torture through my adolescence. I’ve never been so vain as to consider plastic surgery on it, but I certainly “wished it smaller” more than once.
My nose is a feature that provides a great deal of utility from the obvious, smelling, to holding up my glasses. This, of course comes with some costs. Allergies or head colds aren’t a small affair for me. There’s a lot of real estate there. A lot of ground to cover. More than one tree has died in the service of blowing my nose. I’m sure many more will as well.
Eventually, I came to grips with my feelings about my nose, even beating people to the punch with jokes. It is a dominant feature, no doubt, but its one that I have come to embrace over the years.
So what do noses have to do with the Memphis budget? Simply put, by focusing on tax rate, and cutting, cutting, cutting, we’re proposing a solution that not only doesn’t address the bigger problems, but also creates an environment where there’s no oxygen in the room to even discuss them.This is almost like the behavior of a newly single middle aged person trying to find the one thing that will make them attractive once again to the opposite sex.
Its easy to focus in on one thing, and proclaim that by fixing this one thing…everything will somehow be ok. The unfortunate reality is that by focusing in on that one thing, we ignore the real problems…the fact that we can’t see our toes, that we need to eat healthier and exercise, or that we need more therapy than we can afford.
We focus on this one feature, like a nose, because its simple.
We convince ourselves that by correcting this one simple single problem we have shot the silver bullet that will make the others go away. But this never works out. The problems remain, and we are still in the same situation we were before.
Our only choice is to either focus on addressing the real issues, which is hard, or find another distraction that will be our next failed “silver bullet”. Thus far, this Council and the Administration has focused on the distractions.
I do appreciate the support, but this isn’t just about any one person.
I consider Jim Strickland a personal friend. He supported me in my campaign, and I’ve supported him in his past campaigns. We disagree on this issue.
I started down this road because, aside from my belief that “tax rate” is a poor metric by which to judge efficiency, I am also curious as to what the end game is. What is the long-term vision? How will doing this address the long-standing problems that impact Memphis…from crime and education to economic opportunity and flight…especially for those who are suffering most (low income families) and leaving the fastest (middle income families)?
Thus far, that hasn’t been described in any tangible way. So, absent something to convince me otherwise (which would be a tough sell to begin with), I’m left with little understanding as to the long game.
When I ran for County Commission last year, I talked about solutions that outlive political cycles. “Solution” is a word I don’t really like to use, because it implies permanence or that there is a “silver bullet”. Policy is neither permanent nor a “silver bullet”.
Policy, is supposed to be a living, breathing thing that evolves as the situation evolves. This is hard for politicians to accept. We all want things to be simple. We want answers to be certain…”If A then B” type statements. That may make for a good TV sound byte, but it doesn’t make for good policy.What we get, more often, is gut reactions and hill to die on declarations, especially from legislators. This is only compounded when the administration has failed to either articulate, or gain widespread support for their vision.
And that’s where we’re at, and where we’ve been for some time…even before Mayor Wharton took over. We’ve been a city without a policy vision.
The CVB has a vision of Memphis that it is pushing both internally and externally.
A slew of local non-profits have articulated their vision for either attracting or building up local talent. (more than I want to try to mention)
Hell, even the Grizzlies have articulated a sense of self-identity with their “Believe Memphis” and #Grit #Grind mentality.
Why we can’t adopt any of these ideas, these identities, and turn them into an attitude for a long-term policy vision for the community is beyond me. But here we stand, fragmented. Looking toward our future with little to no idea of what we’re working for when we get there, or how to do it.
So rather than do the hard work, we go for the nose job, or the facelift. We buy some snake-oil salve from a late night tv infomercial, or rehash tried and failed “tax cuts = job creation/growth” strategies we borrowed from an administration that saw the single largest devastation of middle class wealth since the Great Depression.
We get caught up in cosmetics, rather than getting on the treadmill and putting down the Pork Rinds, or maybe reading something other than a trashy pulp novel for personal development.
In short, we focus on the fast food solution for our challenges, and leave feeling just as unsatisfied as we were when we started, and a little bit fatter.
I’m not saying I have all the answers. But come on:
If flight out of the city is something you’re concerned about, laying off and eliminating jobs is one helluva way to say don’t move from Memphis. You just nearly guaranteed 400 people will move. They’ll have to.
If Public Safety is something you think we should focus on, eliminating 280ish public safety positions is one really self-defeating way to do that.
If you think taxes are too high, then how will you explain to the public that these very actions will increase insurance premiums by 11% to 15% (which by the way, is more than the tax hike would be).
I’m just saying, with four members of the City Council supposedly angling to run for Mayor, you’d think there would be something better on the menu than the paper plate of failed ideas and broken dreams we keep getting served.
You’d think that some kind of coherent vision would emerge…something people could get behind. Because what’s going to happen now is people are going to love the tax break and be pissed when their house burns to the ground, or Ma-Maw dies of that stroke because response times increased, or you wake up to find some dude rifling through your car at 3am because the police presence just ain’t there any more.
That tax cut isn’t going to mean anything when that happens. And people will use those experiences to drive their decisions and belongings out of town…just like they have been for more than 20 years (with a lot of help from the County Commission, I might add, which has, in turn, negatively impacted their ability to raise revenue).
For 20 years, as a city (and a County) we’ve bought one facelift and tummy tuck after another, expecting our fortunes to magically change, all while not dealing with the real problems facing the city (and County), and chasing after folks that just don’t and ain’t gonna love us no more.
For 20 years we’ve given lip service to the real issues that are driving down revenues, and stymying population growth, all while cramming Ho-Ho’s and pork rinds in our face and ignoring the real hard work that has to be done to correct the problem.
That’s not just dumb, that’s a slow suicide.Its got to stop. But to stop, we have to have leaders who don’t look at the whole enterprise as a lost cause, and I’m not convinced that’s what we have right now.
And while the facelift we’re currently contemplating (aka the rate cut) may make us look pretty on Facebook and Twitter, there’s still all those real issues lingering beneath the cropped edges on that profile picture that have been, and will continue to drive people out, or keep them away.
In the end, this facelift will be just as successful as all the past ones…un…and we’ll still have all the same problems, but worse.
And a year from now we’ll be sitting here wondering why it didn’t work, and still have no long-term plan, and wonder if that stomach electrocution thing really will give us six-pack abs or if they just hired models that already had them and put it on them.
What’s worse, we’ll probably buy that dumb piece of crap looking for another silver bullet.
We shouldn’t be surprised or disappointed when it doesn’t work.
At the end of my last post I talked about value. Specifically I said:
In the mean time, the Council needs to think long and hard about their ideas of revenue, expenditures, long-term liabilities, rate and most importantly, value.
…phrases used in this and previous budget negotiations are empty political rhetoric unless they include specific proposals backed by accurate data that adds real measurable value to the citizens of Memphis, not conventional wisdom or ideological flights of fancy.
What did I mean by that?
The short answer is, does the proposal fulfill some kind of need in a meaningful way that adds value to the community without causing undue harm?
That probably seems like a long answer, but the truth is, there are many considerations that must be taken into account to determine ‘value’.
For instance: Some feel that outsourcing certain City functions would reduce spending, and thereby create ‘value’. At the top line level, this may be true, a private contractor may cost less to provide a service, and that may seem like value creation.
However, that savings on the top line comes with a cost…usually to employee pay, which means less income for the family, which translates to less spending and ultimately less revenue for the city in a heavily property and sales tax dependent environment.
The “value” is determined by a formula that looks at both savings to spending and reductions in revenue as a result of the proposed plan.
You can’t cut a number of employees and pay the rest less privately without a hit to your revenue collections. The families impacted will have to react to the new conditions. They may have to sell or otherwise lose their home. They probably will have to cut back on spending themselves…which in turn means less revenue and perhaps an empty house. The amount per person may seem negligible, but multiplied by tens or hundreds of employees, it can turn into an awful lot of lost revenue.
Whats more, the reduction may not be just a portion of the revenue collected. Depending on the job, the person may have to move away to find work, meaning that revenue is gone until the economy organically produces a job of equal value…which in a slow economy could take a while.
If that top line savings is then offset by a tax rate reduction, you’ve just cost yourself rather than saved anything other than a few pennies on the dollar dispersed across the economy in a way that will never create a return. This not only doesn’t solve long-term budget issues it most likely leads to more problems in the future.
Short answer: You cannot cut your way to prosperity or health. That’s why we stopped the practice of bloodletting.
There are a bunch of words that are easy for people to say in political rhetoric. “Cut spending” or “cut taxes” are two of the most popular, especially now in the wake of 30+ years of Neoliberal economic policy. This idea basically says that cutting spending, and seeking savings from privatizing public functions creates intrinsic value.
Adherents of this neoliberal economic ideal aren’t restricted to a specific party or ideology. Both sides have used the argument to further political aims, primarily to reduce spending for things they don’t like as a part of their ideology.
The chorus of conventional wisdom has become so loud, the notion that cutting spending/taxes is a good thing is largely unchallenged in the media or by the electorate, even if the ultimate outcome is negative.
The net negative literally slides by most people, completely unnoticed. When it is discovered the problem remains, faith in government and civic institutions erodes. – Wash. Rinse. Repeat.
When looking at the top line math of policy, spending alone has no value. Increasing or decreasing spending alone has no positive or negative value. The ultimate effect of that increase or decrease is where the positive or negative value lies. And that is the part of the conversation conventional wisdom that has become popular mythology ignores.
Neoliberal economic policy assumes it is correct to reduce spending without proving it. Now, some 30+ years after the wholesale adoption of such policies, there’s a great deal of evidence to suggest harm. Since the dawn of wholesale neoliberal economic policy during the Nixon administration, wages have been stagnant or decreased across nearly all sectors. Income inequality has skyrocketed creating more have nots than haves.
I should note, one of the conditions that allowed this economic philosophy to so enthrall the conventional wisdom of the nation is the ease with which it is spoken. Presented as “kitchen table” discussions, when budgetary issues on even a local level bear no resemblance to said discussions does a disservice to us all.
Further, the conditions present at the inception of this economic philosophy…in a time where there were few controls for efficiency, helped expedite the adoption of this philosophy.
Rather than a simple +/- math question, we need to be willing to explore the overarching, and underlying math that determines the value of economic decisions.
No one seems to be really asking those questions or even acknowledging they are valid…which is a very large part of the problem with the long-term outlook of the City of Memphis budget.
Value doesn’t have to cost more. It doesn’t have to cut spending. It just has to have a net benefit to the community.
It has to be as efficient as possible (though some things are inherently inefficient but vital, like education, and plumbing). It has to seek to meet a need. It has to work. It should have sound metrics and math, rather than belief or mythology regurgitation at its core.
The items that one seeks to address cannot be looked at from the simplest levels. The equivalent of an economic MRI is required…to see what’s happening on the inside, to get to the things people immediately see on the outside.
There’s a great deal of data available at your fingertips for people with the knowledge and willingness to use it. Not all of it is specific to Memphis, but we can and should work to use it to inform our decisions and try to get ahead of the challenges we face as a community.
It has to be comprehensive. You can’t look at one piece of the pie to get to the number of cherries in the whole pie. You have to look at all of it, honestly, dynamically, with an eye toward solutions that last longer than political fortunes. With a commitment to presenting those solutions to the public, not overselling them, and seeking a commitment in return.
It is neither politically expedient, nor easy, but that’s how you get true value, true growth, and eventually, community buy in.
If that’s happening, I’m not seeing the effects which means we’re either not talking about it, not talking about it effectively, or we’re just doing it wrong.
We create value both by doing this kind of honest and deep investigation, and finally, by seeking to enrich our community by investing to reduce the impact of our net negatives…knowing we will never fully eradicate them.
Instead, we’ve chosen to be paralyzed by our challenges. We speak of them as existing in perpetuity…as impossible problems to tackle.
When we do that, we place our community in a position where nothing is possible but decline…decline in wages, and property values are the result…decline in spending is heralded as the only solution to jumpstart the economy.
But that’s not the case here, or anywhere else. Just as blind additional spending isn’t the answer.
The answer is to stop focusing on the top lines or the beat up exterior and start seriously looking under the hood. That’s where you find the tools to build value…both in a budget, in an economy, and in a community.
If you’re not confused you’re not paying attention.
To be honest, I’ve been on vacation for a week, and doing everything I can to not pay attention, but the events of yesterday’s Memphis City Council meeting snapped me back into reality.
By my count, I’ve seen five separate budget proposals put before the Council:
• The original plan that increased the rate to $3.39.
• Three plans reported by the CA on May 30th. All three have a variety of options, all dire either through extreme cuts, or tax increases.
• The current plan, which increases the rate to $3.51 reported on June 4th.
I reserve the right to revise and extend this list in case I’ve left one out (I’m a blogger, not a journalist, I can do that).
I haven’t seen the latest four budget proposals, so all I can do is rely on media reports until I can track them down. I also don’t know which one Mayor Wharton is most wed to. I presume its the most recent budget, which seems to resemble the original proposal more closely, but also seems to ignore the results of impasse proceedings that have made their way through the pipeline over the past several weeks.
The long and the short of it is: We’re 25 days out from the new fiscal year, and we seem no closer to a resolution to the budget issue than we were back in the middle of May when I published my last post.
Coincidentally, Nashville just passed their budget. $1.8b for all Metro and County operations. $1.8b is also the sum of all City and County operations, even though our population is nearly 300,000 more people. Maybe if I add in the budgets of the other municipalities it would make more sense, but I kinda doubt it.
There’s been a lot of rhetoric surrounding this budget season. The reasons for this are many: ideology, political aspirations, and personal vendettas are the first three that come to mind. But beyond the rhetoric is the basic reality of 9th grade civics involving government. Simply put:
It is the responsibility of the Executive Branch to propose a budget.
The proposed budget should reflect the priorities of the Executive branch with an eye towards the long-term direction of the community and the realities of the revenue sources, long-term liabilities, and nuts and bolts expenditures of the city. An accurate portrayal of these financial realities is critical, because they ultimately inform the public, and Legislative Branch, of things that are coming down the pike. This is just a proposal, however, not the final product.
It is the responsibility of the legislative branch to enact a budget.
The enacted budget can be similar or radically different from the proposal. Legislative branches have wide latitude to re-shape all kinds of priorities with the budget pen. The tailoring of these priorities can be surgical in nature, or a Frankensteinian hack-job.
But lets not get it switched. It’s not the fault of the Executive that the Legislative branch passes a budget that conveniently ignores any or all of the revenue streams, liabilities, or expenditures. Once the Legislative branch is done either giving a haircut, creating a monster, or anything in-between, it is the job of the Executive to try and make that budget work, and realize as many priorities as possible, with the tools they have available as a result of that budget.
Seems to me that both sides have forgotten portions of this throughout this and previous budget seasons. And while I believe that a skeptical eye is both critical and necessary to being an effective legislator, personal issues seem to have taken over what should be a professional exercise.
The budget season was on track to be a contentious battle in the first place. Lower revenue outlooks due to decreases in property values meant either a tax increase (from 3.11 to 3.36 to remain revenue neutral) or serious cuts were in the future.
The report detailed many problematic financial issues. The one most widely mentioned is the “scoop and toss” debt refinancing the City has engaged in several times in recent years. While there’s no doubt that using one credit card to pay another is a bad idea, if it means a lower interest payment, and there’s a commitment to actually pay down that debt, it can be an effective strategy for reducing the impact of debt on revenue streams.
It should be noted, Shelby Co. government has refinanced a great deal of debt over the past several years using historically low bond interest rates to reduce short-term liabilities. I’m not sure why Memphis’ use of this tactic is any worse, except that the overall revenue outlook probably doesn’t have as much upside.
So debt is a big deal. The other big deal is revenue, which the report notes, is declining necessitating a tax increase, a reduction in spending, or both.
What most people haven’t keyed in on is the section of the report called Fiscal Concerns located on page 4.
In that section the Comptroller says:
“…We are concerned with the low level of general fund balance after accomplishing the corrective actions listed above. The City appears to have funding needs in the near future for liabilities related to pension obligations, other post-employment benefit obligations, and money owed to the school system. Also, the City has aggressively used PILOTs and other property tax incentives for economic development purposes which have cut into future property tax revenue growth.”
You can take that paragraph a couple of ways, but all of them include the following: We’ve got some big bills coming due.
Really, most of this is stuff people already knew.
Pensions aren’t in the budget, as far as I can tell, but its a subject that some of my more conservative friends consistently herald as a bad long-term liability. Its hard for me to tell if this is reality or just some bias against paying pensions, but I sure would like some clarity on the issue. (though this article mentions the liability problems, though not in detail)
There is a section called OPEB (Other Post Employment Benefits). We borrowed $22m from that fund last year to pay for Pensioners Insurance (that’s what it looks like anyway). From my perspective, that money never should have been borrowed. Period.
So now, we not only have to fund the current year, but also last year. I don’t know who proposed that, but it was a bad idea that follows a trend of folks taking a promise and turning it into a threat when it comes to dealing with retirees.
That ain’t cool.
What’s most interesting to me is the comment about the aggressive use of PILOTs and other tax reduction schemes for business. Does this mean these things aren’t paying off? This year the budget mentions $5m in PILOT payments. Last year, AFSCME had a list of the top PILOT recipients. I used to have it somewhere, but I can’t find it. Needless to say, the savings to business was north of $20m…for the top 10 recipients.
This begs the question…are these incentives doing what they’re supposed to? The Pew Center on the States has a paper from last year that deals with state incentives and some of the pitfalls. It might be a good read for local governments too. While the EDGE Board may be super transparent compared to other IDB’s, I haven’t seen them recommend the revocation of a PILOT due to non-compliance. That’s a little concerning since, I’m pretty sure there is at least one isn’t meeting the terms of the agreement.
The Comptroller’s report makes mention of a 5 year strategic plan. I haven’t seen this document. I’ve heard a lot about it, but until someone can point me to a copy its vaporware as far as I’m concerned.
The Administration hasn’t done a good job of selling this plan to the public, and that’s part of why the Council is picking them apart.
The Council has, in the past, sought some kind of longer-term budget guidance. I’m not aware of any vote or resolution that would mandate such a plan. Right now, I’m not sure the politics of the situation would allow some members to give that kind of high ground to an administration that they’re basically actively running against. That’s a missed opportunity in my book.
The Council, by contrast doesn’t have to be as consistent. Legislative bodies, by their nature are supposed to have a somewhat adversarial or at least skeptical eye toward administrations. I’m not sure this level of adversity is productive, but political fortunes and personal vendettas being what they are…this kind of thing isn’t entirely unexpected.
In the absence of an articulated, concrete vision, legislative members are free to roam the hills of fishing expeditions and rhetoric that suits their political needs. I see more of that than an honest appraisal of what needs to happen to make Memphis more sustainable going forward.
The City Council has not seemed to be able to muster any kind of consensus long-term vision. 12 of 13 members are in the second year of their second term. Many of the decisions they have made over that nearly 6 year period have brought us to where we are today. I don’t blame them for the overall national economic conditions, or all the things they inherited, though 6 years in, the timeframe for that pardon is quickly diminishing.
Its time we got serious…and if this is what serious looks like…then wow, just wow.
A couple of months ago I gave a talk on school funding. In that presentation I said:
Budgets are a reflection of the moral convictions of a community.
I hold to that.
I hope our moral convictions are such that we would be very cautious about seeking additional sacrifices from working families that just happen to work for the City. The 4.6% cut last year was a hit in hard economic times. There should at least be a timeframe for restoration of that cut. We can’t be a city that penalizes people who serve our community. That’s no way to grow.
I think everyone understands that some positions will be eliminated while we try to clean up the financial mess we’ve made. Hopefully that can be done through attrition rather than layoffs to give more of a soft landing than a hard bump.
In the mean time, the Council needs to think long and hard about their ideas of revenue, expenditures, long-term liabilities, rate and most importantly, value.
“Reduce spending”, “increase efficiency”, “raise revenue”, “decrease the tax rate” and many of the other phrases used in this and previous budget negotiations are empty political rhetoric unless they include specific proposals backed by accurate data that adds real measurable value to the citizens of Memphis, not conventional wisdom or ideological flights of fancy. Sure, it makes for a great sound byte for the media, but it doesn’t mean anything until there’s some real meat on the bone. I hope all parties concerned will take that to heart.
For reasons unknown to anyone, the Mayor seems to have decided to let the City Council drive the bus. Hopefully, they’ll find a place to stop, get a map, and take us somewhere we can at least deal with for a while…that isn’t FantasyLand.
I can’t clap to keep Tinkerbell alive any longer.
In City Hall, the County Commission, and most importantly, the school board, politicians will be putting together numbers for the upcoming year.
The schools budget hasn’t been released yet, though it is expected on Tuesday, so a complete picture isn’t really available.
What we do know is thanks to a whole lot of economic factors outside of our control, and many more within our control (though few would admit it) we’re going to see a property tax increase in both Memphis, Shelby Co., and likely many of the municipalities that were once thought above such measures.
While we’re talking about an increase, Nashville Metro is talking about a small decrease in property tax rates.
Considering the overall economic climate, this may come as a surprise. I know I was surprised when I heard it. But the underlying reason Nashville gets a cut, while we’ll most likely see an increase goes to a whole lot of issues we, as a community have been unwilling to face. None of which, by the way, have to do with “spending too much”, though that is the most often cited reason.
Property tax is the single largest piece of the City and County “revenue pie”. As property values increase, the tax rate required to remain “revenue neutral” drops. As values decrease, the tax rate required must increase.
Almost no one wants to see critical services cut: Police, Fire and Trash Collection. Trash collection is its own thing, funded by a fee collected by MLGW, so tax rate has basically NOTHING to do with that (regardless of what Kemp Conrad says), but Police and Fire make up a huge percentage of the City budget. Law and order plays a big role in the County budget as well, though the impact is muted because the Sheriff doesn’t have to staff up the way municipal police departments do. The single largest issue the County has to deal with is education, which we’ll save for after the budget comes out.
The data in the above spreadsheet comes from the Census and from published tax rates and calculations listed in the budgets from each area.
There are a couple of things that should jump out at you immediately:
1. Value – The median home values in each area. As you can see, Nashville’s median value is much higher. This means they can collect the same amount of money without levying a higher tax rate. Shelby Co.’s median home value is one reason for our high tax rate.
2. Vacancies – Shelby Co. has a very high rate of vacancies compared to Nashville, and Memphis is an even higher percentage than that. High vacancy rates depress value and overall collections for two reasons: oversupply and weak demand brings down prices over time, and long-term vacancies not only mean lower collections from that home, but often many of the homes in the area as home values decline, especially if there is a high volume of vacancies in a specific area. (Note: Shelby Co. vacancies include Memphis vacancies, because, you know, Memphis IS in Shelby Co.)
None of this is new. We’ve known it for a long time. I’ll have to address why this is the way it is another day, but for now, lets just say both Memphis and Shelby Co. government have been chasing population rather than giving people a reason to stay. This is also reflected in outmigration information. Again, that’s a different post.
A lot of politicians believe that pushing for a tax hike is like getting Herpes. You might be able to manage it, but it will never go away.
This is due in part to politicians focusing on spending rather than what we get for said spending. Most people prefer a visible police presence in their neighborhood. Fully staffed and nearby fire stations bring down response times and, by extension, insurance rates, not to mention that your chance of survival if tragedy strikes is greatly increased.
Understand, we can’t have these things if we don’t have the money to pay for them.
At the same time, almost no one is talking about the conditions that play in to our tax rate, including oversupply, and vacant, often blighted homes. This depresses our ability to get the same level of service for a lower rate. Note, that doesn’t mean your tax bill will go down. Things still cost what they cost. It means the rate would be less.
The reality is, all this fussin’ about “tax rate” is double talk. Everyone with half a brain in their head knows you can’t field the same level of police or fire presence with substantially less money. It ain’t gonna happen.
But “tax rate” is the thing that fits on most political literature. It’s an easy sell. Its harder to explain to people that a series of policies you put into place helped raise home values.
So, in a sound bite driven world, what we end up talking about is what fits on a postage stamp, rather than the big things that actually play in to that “postage stamp” issue.
For a homeowner with a median value, increasing the tax rate in Memphis by the proposed amount will cost $70/year, or about $6/mo.
If you’re fortunate enough to have a million dollar home, it will run you about $60/mo.
In both cases, its pocket change relative to the income one must have to own such things.
Of course, the County is most likely going to raise Property tax rates as well. Even still that’s an increase of about $14/mo. Hardly the oppressive increase that we are told it will be.
When you talk to realtors, they give you a three main reasons people move: Crime, Schools, and Space…not necessarily in that order.
I’ve talked to a lot of realtors over the past several years, and none of them have said someone wanted to move out of Memphis because the tax rate is too high. I’m not saying there aren’t some people who do. I’m just saying its a tiny percentage.
Crime and Schools are the top two things that the City and County could actually tackle to keep people from moving (I don’t think they can do much about space) you have to ask yourself what have they done, and to what effect?
Here’s what they’ve done: They’ve inadvertently fed into the notion that neither are solvable problems.
How have they done this? In a couple of ways.
By threatening to reduce funds for public safety, and thereby planting the idea in people’s heads that the city will now become less safe because fewer police will be on the beat. If you’ve ever had your home broken into (and I have) this plants a seed in your mind that will eventually move you to action.
On the schools front, the lack of certainty, some of it real, some manufactured, and some imagined…along with low test scores and a general feeling that all is lost. This comes from leaders who choose to accentuate negatives as a political wedge to ultimately fund schools less in search of lower tax rates.
In both cases, this is about political rhetoric meant to shift blame from political leaders to “bureaucrats” in the various departments, or just any other political leader, rather than seeking real solutions to the County’s top two self-identified problems.
It’s baloney, pure and simple, and it shows a greater commitment to the four-year political cycle than the long-term health of our community…whether they mean to or not.
If we were really committed to addressing the long-term problems our community faces, we would redirect our efforts from the “Tax Rate Tango” to poverty cessation. 26% of everyone in Memphis lives in poverty. Another 36.6% is considered “working poor”. That’s nearly 63% of the total population of the City, or 410,000 people. Enough to fill the Liberty bowl almost 7 times.
High poverty means lower than average wages (about $7000 less than state household median), which translates to lower sales tax collections (less disposable income) and the necessity for lower housing rates (which means lower property values and less revenue per home).
This doesn’t mean the City needs to undertake a huge Welfare program. We already have that for Corporations…they’re called PILOTS. It means we have to do more to support efforts already underway by the Federal, State and County governments, as well as the litany of non-profits that work on these issues. It means we have to stop doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results.
Most of all, it takes a little “outside the box” thinking, and a commitment to correcting this issue.
How does that impact crime and schools? The short answer is poverty, crime, and low educational attainment are all intertwined. Poverty doesn’t cause crime or low educational attainment, but higher poverty rates correlate to them.
I’ll delve deeper into that in my next post.
Forty-Five years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was killed by an assassin’s bullet as he stood on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis.
Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
King came to Memphis in support of a sanitation strike brought on by low wages and horrific working conditions that led to the deaths of two workers.
Despite the passage of these reforms, there were still many roadblocks to African-Americans in particular and the poor generally, receiving equitable treatment and access to opportunities that would help them overcome their circumstances.
In the final days of King’s life, he worked to organize a Poor People’s Campaign in search of economic justice not only for African-Americans, but for all of our nation’s poor.
The struggle of the Civil Rights Movement, which was born of a desire for equal rights, came to include the ideas of economic justice. It is a struggle that continues to this day, not only in Memphis, but around the country and impacts all of us.
“An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” ~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the past forty years we’ve seen the fruits of King’s leadership come under consistent attack. Sometimes in ways that are hard to recognize.
The list of incremental changes over time is too long to even attempt to compile in one place, but laws that seek to limit people’s ability to exercise their rights, like the Voter ID bill, and efforts to hamper people’s ability to seek justice, like the Tennessee Civil Justice Act of 2011, which limits a company’s financial liability, have become the norm rather than the exception.
Yesterday I wrote about the value of work and how the notion of work has been turned on its head in recent decades. I wrote about a bill before the state legislature that would make it harder for people hurt in the actions of their work to be taken care of.
This kind of injustice is exactly what Dr. King fought against in his later years. In the years since his death, the concerted effort of one group to limit the access to justice has become commonplace both here in Tennessee and across the nation.
“He who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.
Over the past forty years, there has been an organized assault on the ideas of economic and social justice.
This effort has taken many shapes, and been played out in many venues…from school boards to legislatures at the state and federal level, as well as everything in between.
It is well funded, and organized for a single purpose: to further tilt the playing field in support of those who have plenty and seek to accumulate more, in opposition to those of us who are seeking to simply make a life for our families.
Newscoma wrote about one such group, ALEC an organization that crafts model bills that are personalized for each state. As she notes in her post, we’ve had several of them.
These bills, which have been labeled “conscientious reform” by supporters, seek to make holding people accountable more difficult, especially when they have more resources. They represent an attack on economic justice for people who have few resources to fight for themselves.
By and large, there have been few organized attempts to bring light to the impact these bills would have on regular people. The struggle has been fragmented while the attack has been organized. The end result has been a steady erosion of justice by limiting access and stifling accountability.
The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education. – Martin Luther King, Jr.
The cause of true education, as King describes it, has been under attack by forces seeking to cripple public education for the past two decades. An increased focus on testing has led to curriculum focused on teaching to the test rather than critical thinking and problem solving skills that empower people regardless of their chosen profession or trade.
While the effort began before the passage of No Child Left Behind, this bill had a devastating effect on education by forcing educators to focus on rote memory rather than broader ideas of personal development.
The philosophical foundation of the act ultimately makes learners “consumers of education” rather than active participants. True education can no be based on a passive “consumerist” model. Students must be active participants engaging in a dialogue to truly gain the “intelligence plus character” that Dr. King mentions.
This notion of consumerism is furthered in legislative efforts that have followed.
The concept of “school choice”, either through transfers, charter schools, or voucher programs, resonate with parents seeking to give their children the best opportunity to gain a quality education. This idea is based on this same consumer model predicated on personal resource availability, time, transportation, and money, that, by default, exclude those who lack resources.
In Tennessee, bills seeking to hobble teachers unions, state nullification of local charter school decisions, school voucher programs, and stiff economic penalties for the poor who do not meet state educational standards, AKA “Starve the Poor” bills have made, and are making their way through the state legislature.
These initiatives seek at once to reduce investment in education, place public dollars in the hands of private entities that are largely unaccountable in the public sphere, and most importantly, distract from the economic circumstances brought on by decades of economically unjust fiscal policy in the service of wealth concentration for the mighty few rather than opportunity for the common good.
This is similar to Dr. King’s opposition to the Vietnam War, which sucked resources away from domestic programs, and led to a global financial showdown that paved the way for the trickle down economics that would dominate the 1980′s and begin a trend of wage stagnation that continues to this day.
The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.
Dr. King’s work is most closely associated with social justice and racial equality, particularly through his I Have a Dream speech. But his legacy cannot be defined by that one awe inspiring event.
Dr. King’s vision went beyond the struggles of his day, and is owed the consideration of his later efforts, including those that led to his life being cut tragically short here in Memphis.
His later work focused on the broad ideas of justice and were targeted at helping the economically disadvantaged.
I think it was and still is difficult for people to understand the potential outcomes of this effort.
While focused in the south and primarily on African-Americans continuing their struggle for equality, his work didn’t just apply to one race, but to all who fell under the grip of poverty. I feel confident that over time this effort would have expanded to poor white coal miners in West Virginia, and migrant workers in California.
We never got to see what would come of Dr. King’s leadership on economic justice. His life and work was cut short.
We can continue to take cues from his leadership, and push on, continuing the struggle, through out tireless exertions and passionate concern, dedicated to the service of justice.
In fact, we have a duty to that very thing.