Psychologists call it projection.

It’s the tendency of some people to attribute their own attitudes and behaviors onto other people, like a thief who thinks every one is trying to steal from him, or the county school board chairman who thinks every one else is lying and untrustworthy.

It’s a primitive form of paranoia that always surfaces when anyone tries to do what is fair for all Shelby Countians when it comes to public education. It is a rampant condition outside Memphis.

So many people seem able to say with a straight face that Memphians should pay twice for schools, and these are the same people whose flight out of Memphis was subsidized by city taxpayers, paying the lion’s share of new roads and new schools although they had already paid for the Memphis infrastructure with no help from county taxpayers.

Separate And Unequal

It’s a curious double standard. For decades, Shelby County Government – at a time when 90% of all county taxes were paid by Memphians – would fund major roads within the smaller towns. In the 1980s, the county amended the formula so that it paid 50% of major roads in the towns.

There was a point when former County Commissioner Julian Bolton revealed county government’s dirty little secret. It was considered audacious when he made a modest proposal for Shelby County to pay 50% of a road project within Memphis.

It was as if he had threatened Western Civilization. He was labeled a trouble-maker and he was shunned by the county administration. And yet, like many U.S. Supreme Court decisions, his minority opinion was proven right as the years passed.

But some form of the formula remained in place until the election of Mayor A C Wharton in 2002 when faced with the county’s deteriorating fiscal health, financial expediency was the vehicle for a better public policy.

It’s All About Me

We were thinking of all this in the wake of comments by Bartlett Chamber of Commerce president John Threadgill – who knows better – and Shelby County Schools Board Chair David Pickler – who just seems impossible to pursue anything except his own political demagoguery.

They typify the way that suburban officials are able to feign outrage as they take a position that essentially says this: yes, we know that Memphians pay twice for schools and we don’t, but we’re against fairer taxes because we’d have to pay more.

In other words, they like it just like it is now. They should. They’ve been making out like bandits for decades.

That’s why they push back against any recommendation – such as the single source school funding proposal now moving through the political system – that would promise Memphis taxpayers that they will receive services from Shelby County Government mandated by the Tennessee Constitution the same way that resident outside Memphis do.

Funny, Not

It’s strange how often quickly political expediency can amp up the rhetorical overkill outside Memphis. That’s how you have someone as normally intelligent as Mr. Threadgill taking shots at the plan to make Shelby County Government the sole funding source for public education in our community.

Memphians have such gall: they want to be treated the same as the suburbs. They have to know that isn’t right.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute about school funding as long as they were treated preferentially.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when county taxes paid for roads inside the suburban towns but not within Memphis.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when Memphians paid for the roads and schools that fed sprawl and starved the city budget.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when Memphians paid for ambulances but county towns got theirs free.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when Memphians subsidized fire protection and law enforcement for some county towns but Memphians paid for their own.

Funny how county taxpayers outside of Memphis were mute when their libraries were funded by county government but Memphians paid for their own.

Shell Shock

O.K., it was never really funny for Memphians, but with white mayors feeding sprawl as the political strategy to keep white voters inside Shelby County, there was a conspiracy of silence within county government about the truth. As a result, there developed a sense of entitlement for the towns (a term they’re always use as a pejorative for Memphis officials).

There’s even the conventional wisdom outside Memphis that they are paying more than their fair share of countywide taxes…although its Memphians who were paying twice for schools, health services, arenas, and more.

It may have been funny then, but now, people like Mr. Pickler and Mr. Threadgill have the gall to defend the a tax system based on separate but unequal status for Memphis.

I had a cousin who served in the South Pacific during World War II, and his relief did not come as expected. In fact, it didn’t come for so long that when they did rescue him, he was suffering from shell shock. The Army’s answer was typical for the times: they operated on him and snipped something in his brain that disconnected him from reality.

Operation Error

Somehow, these officials outside Memphis have done it without any surgery at all. And yet, they are nothing short of delusional, operating on a “we versus them” attitude that thrives on the fantasy that they will do just fine even if Memphis goes down the tubes.

It’s a condition that produces statements like this one from Mr. Pickler: “Shelby County schools would not receive any less money, but they would not receive an additional dime. But yet the taxpayers who live outside the city of Memphis would receive on the education portion of the tax rate an increase that could go from $1.98 to as much as $2.81.”

Well, yeah. What he fails to mention – as he conducts his regular forays into attacks of amnesia – is that if Memphians are paying twice, why doesn’t he go to the board of aldermen in Germantown, Collierville, Bartlett, Millington, Arlington and the pretend city of Lakeland and ask them to spend part of their property taxes on schools? Why is it fair for Memphis taxpayers to pay a higher proportion of their taxes on schools than every resident outside Memphis?

Meanwhile, he continues to plead for city and county boards of education to have taxing authority, an idea that was essentially DOA, but that doesn’t stop him from his normal demagoguery.

The “C” Word

He’s even throwing around the dreaded “c” word – consolidation – although he has to know that this isn’t going to happen and it was never a subtext to the special committee appointed by Shelby County Board of Commissioners Chair Deidre Malone to consider the best proposal for single source funding.

Then, both Mr. Pickler and Mr. Threadgill are continue to fan the flames with the town mayors, constantly reminding them that they weren’t on the committee. Of course, considering that they don’t put any money into public education and that it was all a ploy to make the committee as unbalanced as the MPO, it’s merely another example of what is becoming way too common in politics today – the big lie.

Based on everyone in the process that we know, it was Mr. Pickler that was the person unwilling to find a resolution that was fair to everyone and that he threatened to “take his ball and go home” more times than an NFL prima donna.

Shelby County Commissioner Mike Ritz said the county school system’s support isn’t necessary for an agreement, and he is now doing his best to write it so that we can keep local decisions local and not be forced to go to Nashville for the Tennessee Legislature’s approval.

Meanwhile, Mr. Threadgill complained about “hidden agendas” and incredulously, we don’t think he was referring to the town mayors and Mr. Pickler. And he punctuated his journey into illogic by complaining that the process is basically about helping city residents to the detriment of the suburbs.

Come to think of it, there would be no suburbs without Memphis, and even small town Chamber of Commerce rhetoric can’t deny that fact.