Shelby County Commissioner Steve Basar continues his headline hunting Wednesday with a Board of Commissioners resolution opposing the Tourism Development Zone at the Fairgrounds and requesting the Tennessee Legislature to change the law, which would effectively kill the use of this funding mechanism in Memphis.

The resolution that he’s introducing continues to indicate strongly that he doesn’t understand the fundamentals of how the TDZ funding works.  For example, he makes the incredulous claim that the high-quality sportsplex which should rival the widely praised facilities in Indianapolis would hurt tourism, rather than help it.

This begs the question of why leaders of the tourism industry are supporting the fulfillment of a sports vision that was set 10 years ago by a citizens committee that studied the best uses for the Fairgrounds and settled on the sportsplex idea.

One of the fiction that Mr. Basar spreads is that the Fairgrounds TDZ will result in less educational funding because the development is paid for with a sales tax rebate.  Actually, the sales taxes for education – and under the law, these are the school system’s money, not the county commission’s – will continue to grow every year.

In the Wrong Office

As we’ve said before, the baseline for sales taxes is adjusted every year so that its increase matches the percentage of increase for sales taxes countywide.  Because of this yearly calculation, the amount of school funding generated by the Fairgrounds project would grow every year.   In other words, the sportsplex and the retail component to support it will produce new school funding, but if there’s no TDZ, none of the improvements on the Fairgrounds project footprint will result in more money for schools.

More than anything, if Mr. Basar wants to mandate priorities for City of Memphis, he should have run for Memphis City Council.  There’s plenty for him to do in county government, but he seems to spend a lot of time giving advice to people whose operations he has no role in – think convention center and Shelby County Schools.

This time, his resolution states that all public expenditures should be part of the pending Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau strategic plan.  It’s an answer in search of a question since the CVB has never suggested that it agrees with such a theory, and more to the point, this would affect some county projects too.

As the CVB has long said, it is the marketing arm for Memphis and Shelby County.  The notion that it wants to have control over public investments by either city or county governments flies in the face of its traditional philosophy.

Red Meat Politics

The Shelby County Board of Commissioners has already rebuffed his attempt to elbow his way into City of Memphis decisions about the convention center, and hopefully, the commissioners will turn back his latest foray into bad policy.  Or at least send him a petition to get his City Council campaign under way.

In short, his resolution is the most egregious meddling that we’ve seen by one local legislative body into the decision of another.

It’s hard not to wonder who he’s pandering to with this opposition to the TDZ and if there’s an influential contributor whispering in his ear or whether he is courting support from those in his party who base their political strength on their anti-Memphis rhetoric.

It summons up once again the image of Caucasian Republicans who think they should disrespect all traditional protocols and mandate decisions to the African-American Democrats who are the majority in Memphis.

Double Standard

The decision about the Fairgrounds – whether to proceed or not – is a decision for City of Memphis and its elected officials to decide.  The City Council has proven in recent weeks that its members are clearly capable of asking tough questions and making decision that are in the best interests of their citizens.

This willingness by Republicans to interfere in decisions here – whether by fiat from the Tea Party Legislature or from the interference by Mr. Basar – is one of the ugliest aspects of Tea Party takeover of state Republican politics.

We believe that events in the coming weeks is likely to show that the State of Tennessee has been delaying the review of the Fairgrounds TDZ in order to give the Tennessee Legislature the opportunity to consider legislation that will limit Memphis’ ability to do exactly what Nashville has been able to do – most notably, with the TDZ for the massive, new Nashville Convention Center.

It’s no revelation in Memphis that Nashville gets special treatment, and if any legislature is approved that changes the TDZ rules in the middle the game, it will lay bare the anti-Memphis motivations that lie at the heart of so many actions in suburban and state politics.

Second Class Status

Rhetoric about protecting school funding may make for clever talking points, but as we’ve pointed out before, if Mr. Basar is really serious about funding for schools – rather than chalking up political points – he would concentrate on the approximately $11 million  a year that is waived by tax freezes (PILOTs – payment-in-lieu-of-taxes).  That amount overwhelms the relatively negligible amount of school funding affected by the TDZ, and because of it, his selective concern paints his actions with an obvious political brush and calls into question the sincerity of his concerns.

Make no mistake about it: in the end, this is all about treating Memphis as a second-class city.

All Memphians, whether they are for or against the Fairgrounds TDZ, should watch carefully the actions of Mr. Basar and the Tennessee Legislature.  It will be nothing short of outrageous if the City of Memphis plays by the same rules as Nashville, follows the same laws and procedures, and pursues a funding source already being used for more than half dozen projects across Tennessee, but Memphis is treated differently by people motivated as much as anything by a plantation mentality.