Here’s hoping that the Memphis City Council isn’t too busy toasting its historic vote to cut school funding by $73 million to see that its work is only half-done.
In the midst of the wall-to-wall media coverage of the vote on schools, overlooked was the fact that the Council actually increased spending by city government in the budget by more than $40 million.
It’s possible that support for cutting school funding may not be as strong when the public realizes that the schools took a hit to allow city government to continue business as usual.
It’s too bad, because if Council members really want pats on the back from taxpayers, they’ll turn their concerted attention to the hard part – whittling the city tax rate to get it below $3.
In that regard, the proposal by Councilman Jim Strickland deserves more consideration, not to mention more support.
His failure to support the massive cut in school funding caught the attention of numerous political activists who were puzzled by his no vote. He favored a different approach, one that would not have increased the city budget at a time when City Council was willing to cut school funding despite the risk that it would throw the district into disarray and chaos.
Seemingly acting on a philosophy that every one has to feel the pain, Councilman Strickland’s plan was built on a $50 million reduction in school funding, which he believed would prevent any changes in classroom programs, because that amount could be replaced from school board reserves, slight cuts in spending and savings in health insurance. Meanwhile, he proposed the beginning of negotiations that would lead to county government taking full responsibility for school funding.
Here’s where he took the road less traveled. He called for a balanced budget with no net increases in spending. And yet, the plan allowed for $32.2 million – for pay raises ($17 million which deserves re-thinking in our opinion), $3.6 million for more police; $3 million for health care premium increase; $2.5 million living wage impact, and $6 million in an OPEB (Other Post-Employment Benefit) Investment Trust obligation.
Courage Under Fire
In the end, it would have been revenue neutral because his plan had offsetting reductions that came from a hiring freeze and a reserve fund appropriation.
But the best thing of all was this: his plan would have taken the city property tax rate all the way down to $2.93, rather than the $3.25 set by City Council. Put another way, the reduction in the tax rate would have been 50 cents, rather than 18 cents, creating three times more savings for homeowners.
Now that’s true courage.