The following is the Moral Budget Proposal submitted to Memphis and Shelby County Governments by dozens of groups supporting stronger investments in people and neighborhoods. The organizations include Stand For Children Tennessee, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing for Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis for All, The Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, and Whole Child Strategies.
As we watched the current budget cycle, there was a growing sense that we are caught in an ill-fated loop that never leads to progress and prosperity for our community. Current budget proposals and discussions only played at the edges of any kind of forward movement. The Coalition for a Moral Budget felt the need to come together and propose a set of budget amendments that would be a bold statement for where we wanted Memphis and Shelby County to head in the future. We hope that you will take these recommendations as an opportunity to break us out of the loop of austerity to a new day that makes real commitments to the progress and prosperity of the people of Memphis and Shelby County.
While this may be viewed as late in the budget process, we have seen our local mayors and legislative bodies move mountains to offer tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives to projects within a couple of weeks because time (and the business community) demanded. Since our proposed moral budget does not affect the current budget and supports new revenue to fund the proposed investments, we know that the City Council and County Commission can get this done for our people and communities before the budget deadline with the same urgency and deliberate speed brought to bear for the business community.
We believe these investments reflect the needs of our young people and our most underserved communities, emphasizing the values and priorities most of us hold dear. While some may call this plan ambitious, we believe it is crucial at this moment of grave uncertainty and amazing opportunity. We urge the members of the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission to find the political will necessary at this pivotal moment for our community to fund a moral budget.
We are requesting that you:
* Maintain the current tax rate by recertifying the tax rate to the state-mandated level and adjusting it back to the current rate generating an estimated $40M in additional revenue for the City of Memphis and $100M in additional revenue for Shelby
* Use the revenue generated from the increased value and wealth in our community to make the investments for people and communities summarized in the charts below and detailed in the corresponding Moral Budget Narrative
SHELBY COUNTY MORAL BUDGET
|County Moral Budget Investments General Budget ARP|
|Education – Youth Education Success (YES) Fund||$20,000,000|
|Public Transportation – MATA||$10,000,000|
|Youth Mental Health||$1,000,000|
|Adult Mental Health||$500,000|
|Opportunity Youth Workforce Fund||$2,500,000||$1,000,000|
|Rental Debt Relief||$15,000,000|
|Affordable Housing Fund||$10,000,000||$20,000,000|
|Homelessness Wraparound Services||$700,000|
|TGNC Community Land Trust||$600,000|
|Upscale Weatherization Initiatives||$3,000,000|
|Relief for Nonessential Workers||$10,000,000|
|Workers Rights Commission||$150,000|
|Building Culture & Engagement|
|Dedicated Arts Awareness & Education Funding||$2,000,000|
|Shelby County Youth Engagement Fund||$250,000|
|County Coordinator for Community Budget Participation||$200,000|
|County Coordinator of Civic Engagement||$200,000|
CITY OF MEMPHIS MORAL BUDGET
|City Moral Budget Investments General Budget ARP|
|Education – Youth Education Success (YES) Fund||$8,000,000||$2,000,000|
|Public Transportation – MATA||$15,000,000||$5,000,000|
|Youth Mental Health||$400,000|
|Adult Mental Health||$300,000|
|Opportunity Youth Workforce Fund||$2,000,000||$1,000,000|
|Rental Debt Relief||$10,000,000|
|Affordable Housing Trust Fund||$9,000,000||$1,000,000|
|Homelessness Wraparound Services||$700,000|
|TGNC Community Land Trust||$600,000|
|City Workers Pay Increase||$5,000,000|
|Relief for Nonessential Workers||$5,000,000|
COALITION FOR A MORAL BUDGET
We are a coalition of individuals and organizations who care deeply about our community. We are educators, parents, renters and homeowners, restaurant workers, nonprofit professionals, faith leaders, youth, and most importantly Memphians who work every day to make our beloved community a better, safer, and more just place to live, work, and play. Some of us have been engaged for years in the push towards lasting change, and there are many, young and old, Many who are newly activated by the charge to confront the injustice and inequity we see around us. We are all driven by a belief that a better world is possible, and the first step requires investments in the people and communities of Memphis & Shelby County for equity, progress, and prosperity. We call on our elected officials to demonstrate a commitment to that vision by passing a moral budget for FY2022.
As we watched the current budget cycle, there was a growing sense that we are caught in an ill-fated loop that never leads to progress and prosperity for our community. Current budget proposals and discussions only played at the edges of any kind of forward movement. We felt the need to come together and propose a set of budget amendments that would be a bold statement for where we wanted Memphis and Shelby County to head in the future. This unprecedented community coalition budget includes line items to start to address issues that have been discussed for years (and sometimes decades) in more significant ways, commitments to support those most impacted by the pandemic, and investments that lay out a future for a healthy and engaged community. We hope that you will take these recommendations as an opportunity to break us out of the loop of austerity to a new day that makes real commitments to the progress and prosperity of the people of Memphis and Shelby County.
VISION FOR A MEMPHIS & SHELBY COUNTY MORAL BUDGET
In 2017, the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission cut property taxes in accord with the conservative Tennessee law that limits revenue for local governments, while allowing for historic revenue surpluses on the state level. The move was consistent with a decades-old economic philosophy to reduce taxes and keep public services to a minimum which has contributed to the maintenance of a high poverty rate and continued disinvestment from neighborhoods and efforts to help our fellow residents. This reduction cost Memphis and Shelby County nearly $80 million in potential recurring revenue, hobbling any attempts last year to increase equity and support the development of people and communities in the largest, most diverse county in Tennessee.
As a result of maintaining the recertified rate and the effects of an unprecedented global pandemic, elected officials who passed our FY2021 budgets were faced with difficult challenges, with a $10 million County deficit and the City facing an expected $100 million shortfall. Federal COVID relief resources that could have assisted more people struggling to face the effects of the pandemic were utilized to help fill the gaps in the budget caused by the limited revenue. Because those charged with the care of our residents have largely obfuscated their responsibility to fund core services like housing, public transit, and education for decades, we were not prepared for the unpredictable, inevitably resulting in a level of austerity that is shameful, leaving many residents to fend for themselves during an historic economic downturn.
Yet, the recent reappraisal of properties countywide has shown that wealth has continued to build in some parts of our communities. Similar to the national increase in wealth seen for billionaires despite the pandemic, some of our fellow residents have fared better than others. Once again, our elected leaders have the opportunity to decide whether we build a more equitable community that values and supports all of its people with significant, targeted investments or whether we maintain the status quo of failed trickle-down economic theory that cuts the tax rate and forces us to limp along with limited revenue available.
From buying groceries to massive capital improvement projects, budgets are a ranked list of our priorities, and a reflection of the values we hold as a community. That begs the question, “”What do the proposed FY2022 budgets say about our values as a community?”
Recently, both Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland and County Mayor Lee Harris presented their visions for next year’s budgets. Both largely continue funding patterns of the past and rely heavily on federal dollars to plug shortfalls in local revenue, with police/public safety taking the lion’s share of both the City and County budgets, and no significant increases for initiatives and institutions that help our communities to flourish. In fact, the only workers getting a pay increase in the proposed City Budget are police, while other public sector workers who served our communities at great personal risk throughout the pandemic will only receive a one-time bonus from Federal American Rescue Plan dollars.
Both proposed budgets fail to employ the increase in value and wealth apparent from property reappraisals, which misses a significant opportunity to fund the things that reflect our values and take care of our working class, our low-income earners, and our most vulnerable at a time that is still fraught with uncertainty and hardship. Mayor Strickland has proposed a decrease from $3.19 to $2.75 per $100 assessed value, sacrificing over $40 million in potential City revenue. On the County-side, Mayor Harris has made a similar proposal to use the decreased, recertified tax rate to maintain a flat amount of revenue, giving up around $100 million in additional local funds if the tax rate remained the same.
While we anticipate that some may regard maintaining the property tax rate as an increase in taxes on behalf of low-income residents, it is important to remember that most households will not see a significant increase in what they are currently paying because of the documented devaluation of property in majority Black neighborhoods. Even with a potential increase, what the austerity-focused conservative view does not include is the significant, positive impact that additional investments (made possible by revenue) would have on the quality of life for our most vulnerable and low income families who rely on our public services, like affordable housing programs, education, and public transportation.
In the coming weeks, the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission have an opportunity to do more than set a record for how quickly a budget can be passed. We know that the content and moral fiber of a budget that will determine what kind of care and support we provide to our fellow residents during tough times is more important than expediency. We have seen our local legislators and mayors spend time during budget season on challenges and changes that meant far less than drawing a line in the sand about the future of our city and county.
What will our FY2022 budgets say about our priorities as a community? Will we continue to make the same mistakes over and over again, expecting a different result? Or, will we say “enough is enough” and make tough political decisions now that will yield safer, stronger, more vibrant communities, ensuring a future that generations to come will be proud to inherit?
FUNDING THE MORAL BUDGET – THE PATH TO NEEDED REVENUE
By taking into consideration property reappraisals and leaving the current property tax rates in place for the City ($3.19) and County ($4.05) in FY22, we could generate over $140 million in additional local revenue to fund core services and initiatives that would have a significant impact on struggling families and individuals. We propose maintaining the current property tax rates to ensure that we are creating and sustaining support for our communities into the future when Federal relief dollars will no longer be available. It is key to the future success of Memphis and Shelby County to set property taxes to a rate commensurate with the growing challenges faced by our children, working families, and communities. In the dark hour of this crisis, and with the potential for crises unseen and unexpected, let’s imagine together a Memphis and Shelby County, responsibly and sufficiently funded, able to confront the injustice of pandemics and poverty.
City Ask: Maintain the current tax rate of $3.19, generating an estimated $40 million in additional revenue
County Ask: Maintain the current tax rate of $4.05, generating an estimated $100 million in additional revenue
EDUCATION – YOUTH EDUCATION SUCCESS (YES) FUND
To address the issues that face Memphis youth in a transformational way, the work must start with bold solutions in our classrooms. The Youth Education Success (YES) Fund was created in collaboration with local education stakeholders—parents, community members, advocacy groups, and educators—who came together to identify best practice solutions in K-12 education to address the inequities that plague our community.
The YES Fund would target critical milestones of childhood development, from early literacy efforts to freshman and postsecondary success. In addition, the YES Fund would increase student mental health resources and reduce chronic absenteeism. Investments in early literacy include a literacy coach in every elementary school as well as greater investments in Response to Intervention programming. High school success initiatives, like freshman success academics and college and career coaches, would be implemented. Investments would also be made to expand full-time nurses in elementary schools as well as “reset rooms,” a place where students can receive care and learn strategies when they are experiencing a behavioral or emotional crisis. The fund would be housed within the SchoolSeed Foundation, and would be distributed to the school districts with the greatest need increasing funding equity in our local education landscape.
We recognize that millions of dollars of federal COVID-relief money are coming to the district from the American Rescue Plan Act. In the short term, the YES Fund key strategies will provide research and evidence-based guidance on where to direct dollars meaningfully, while also providing an opportunity to scale up the impact of these initiatives. In the long term, the YES Fund provides a mechanism to purposely set aside money for the future of Shelby County students and schools with the highest need. Considering that federal relief money will sunset in approximately three years, the YES Fund can be used to sustain the progress that comes from investing in these priorities now.
City Ask: $8,000,000 in local funding; $2,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funding
County Ask: $20 million
PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION – MATA
For too long, public transportation in Memphis has been underfunded, under-improved, and as a result, underutilized. Yet we know that a well-functioning public transportation system is a key factor in reducing poverty—allowing residents a reliable way to get to work, attend school, keep medical appointments, and meet their basic needs. The city has adopted a plan for improving public transit (Transit Vision Plan, part of Memphis 3.0), but we have yet to live it out. The COVID-19 pandemic has only heightened the urgency to improve our transit system; more people need access to affordable and timely transportation, yet fewer riders can safely occupy a bus at one time—lengthening already long wait times. The current schedule is unreliable and it can take as much as 2 hours to get to work or other destinations. Ridership for all, but especially our modest income citizens would greatly improve, and employers would have a larger source of workers to fill better paying jobs, thus reducing poverty and increasing productivity.
The pandemic response has come with varying infusions of federal dollars, but they will not last. A moral transit budget for Memphis and Shelby County will restore the $10 million COVID-related reduced city funding and will add another $10 million to fund immediate and long-term transit needs, including: increased frequency and hours for high-use routes; improved on-demand service for critical routes with fewer riders; strengthened job training efforts for recruiting additional drivers; and more eco-friendly transit operations. Recently, MATA proposed to the City of Memphis additional funding of $10 million for increasing frequency on 3 major routes – 42 Crosstown, 50 Poplar and 36 Lamar ($4 million)— expanding weekend hours to the weekday schedule ($3 million) and additional increased frequency and improved services on 10 additional lines ($3 million) – important first steps.
The county should expand its MATA sustainable support to $10 million as a share of MATA sustainable funding this year to fund other beginning new features of Transit 3.0. Over the next three years, city and or county funding of MATA must increase from its pre-COVID $30 million from the city to $65 million total local funding (city and/or county) along with anticipated federal funds to fully implement Transit Vision 3.0. This will result in MATA becoming a more equitable and high performing transit system serving many more citizens.
City Ask: $15,000,000 in local funding; $5,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funding
County Ask: $10,000,000
YOUTH & ADULT MENTAL HEALTH
It’s no secret that our communities, particularly those hit hardest by the pandemic, have faced unique mental health challenges over the last year. According to a June 2020 survey of adults 18 and over across the United States, as reported by the CDC, “40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition, including symptoms of anxiety disorder or depressive disorder (30.9%), symptoms of a trauma- and stressor-related disorder (TSRD) related to the pandemic (26.3%), and having started or increased substance use to cope with stress or emotions related to COVID-19 (13.3%).” These struggles are not new, they have simply been highlighted and exacerbated by the acute stress of the past year.
We can and must do a better job of erasing the stigma around mental illness, promoting existing mental health resources, and increasing access for early intervention (pre-diagnosis, and tracking data to better understand and meet the mental health needs of youth and adults). We support the Proposal for Shelby County Youth Mental Health Coordination and Services which calls for dedicated staff members for youth mental health in Shelby County Government, an education and de-stigmatization campaign, and a mental health access fund to begin and sustain this important work. We also believe that additional resources should be allocated for adult mental health, especially as residents across our community deal with the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
City Ask: $400,000 for Youth Mental Health; $300,000 for Adult Mental Health
County Ask: $1,000,000 for Youth Mental Health; $500,000 for Adult Mental Health
OPPORTUNITY YOUTH WORKFORCE FUND
One of the primary drivers of the Opportunity Youth population is a lack of investment in high-quality employment opportunities. Memphis is known for its enormous logistics and transportation industry. These types of industries utilize huge workforces of part-time and temp jobs, often filled by young, low-income workers. These jobs often lead to personnel cycling in and out of the organization, stigmatizing such positions as “perma-temp” jobs offering no benefits or short-term, insufficient income. Because this is a cost-effective and profitable structure for large companies, there is little incentive for business leaders to make any changes. This, coupled with the city’s adherence to a $7.25 minimum wage (well below any estimation of a livable wage), helps sustain the poverty of a large number of Memphians.
Through a cursory look at the Jobs4TN website, it appears as though the vast majority of available jobs in Memphis do not require more education than a high school diploma or equivalent. Additionally, nearly 90% of the posted jobs either pay less than $20,000 per year or have no listed salary. This problem is the other side of the coin of the job certifications problem, as it deals with poor job prospects for those who do not have an advanced degree or certificate. In order to change this reality, we propose creating a fund to incentivize employers to 1) create full-time pathways to quality jobs with living wages, 2) fund apprenticeships and internships that promote on-the-job learning and that lead to full-time employment, and 3) support organizations coordinating wraparound services for employees (i.e., mental health support, transportation assistance, etc.).
City Ask: $3,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funds
County Ask: $2,500,000 in local funding, $1,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funds
RENTAL DEBT RELIEF
The eviction moratorium kept people and their families in their homes during the pandemic while people were not able to work. However, during this period people have accumulated incredible amounts of rent debt. In Shelby County alone there are 12,287 homes behind on rent, with an average of $2,690 of rent debt per household. This works out to about 33 million dollars of rent debt in Shelby County. We know that this amount of money owed could lead to a massive eviction/houselessness crisis in the county. Without eliminating the rent debt, the moratorium will essentially be worthless. We are asking that tenants be able to apply freely for these funds to make rent-debt payments.
City Ask: $10,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funds
County Ask: $15,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funds
In Memphis, we need more than 30,000 quality affordable housing units; however, federal or state dollars are not enough to address the need. The Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund (MAHTF) is a local funding tool that allows non-profit developers to build quality affordable homes in communities that have been historically devalued and disinvested. There is a gap in disinvested neighborhoods between the cost of producing homes – either renovations or new construction – and the return at sale or rent. With dependable funding, developers can build and renovate quality affordable homes that will in turn increase property values, promote local home ownership, create job opportunities, and build up Memphis neighborhoods.
While the City of Memphis has established MAHTF, we believe that Shelby County also has a significant role it can play in filling the affordable housing need. This could happen either by making MAHTF a joint fund or establishing a new Shelby County Affordable Housing Fund.
City Ask: $10,000,000 (in addition to restoration of FY20 funding)
County Ask: $10,000,000 in local funding; $20,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funding
HOMELESSNESS WRAPAROUND SERVICES (FLEXIBILITY FUND)
The COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated the persistent issue of housing instability in Memphis and Shelby County. Greater investment in homelessness wraparound services is necessary to rapidly resolve and prevent households from experiencing housing insecurity in Memphis/Shelby County. Diversion is a strategy that prevents homelessness for people seeking shelter by helping them identify immediate alternate housing arrangements and, if necessary, connecting them with services and financial assistance to help them return to permanent housing.
Investing in flexible funding to expand the homeless services system’s capacity for diversion can reduce the number of families becoming homeless, the demand for shelter beds, and the size of program waitlists. Successful diversion programs include access to flexible funding that is dispersed rapidly to resolve a family’s housing instability. Families on the brink of homelessness may not always qualify for federally-funded initiatives or other programs with strict eligibility criteria that offer one-time assistance.
Flexible funds can be utilized to assist a wider range of sources of housing instability such as transportation barriers to employment through vehicle repair assistance or landlord mitigation to be able to return to previous housing. This strategy enables communities to reserve scarce emergency shelter units and longer-term housing assistance for those families who truly have no alternative to shelter.
City Ask: $700,000
County Ask: $700,000
TGNC COMMUNITY LAND TRUST
The inclusion of a Fund for the Transgender and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) Community Land Trust would foster an opportunity to preserve affordable housing, avoid gentrification, and build community wealth. Restoring urban blighted communities should be a priority as residents of Memphis and Shelby County face housing discrimination at higher rates. Despite the economic and political gains that African Americans have achieved since the passage of the Civil Rights Act, significant disparities still exist between African Americans and non-Hispanic whites in terms of access to homeownership, quality education, and employment, among other assets. For transgender people, housing discrimination is even more prevalent. According to the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey, nearly one quarter of transgender people report having experienced housing discrimination within the past year because of their gender identity. The TGNC Community Land Trust will provide new and renovated affordable housing and jobs, and will revitalize Memphis’ and Shelby County’s oldest historic communities.
City Ask: $600,000
County Ask: $600,000
UPSCALE WEATHERIZATION INITIATIVES
Utility bills are often burdensome on low-income families. No one should have to choose between paying the light bill or the rent. Home energy use is also a large contributor to carbon emission and climate change. Weatherization simultaneously reduces utility bills and energy wastage, and if it’s done right it can also provide good, reliable, union jobs to the community. Low-income residents are caught in a place where they can’t afford the much needed weatherization. We must expand the current weatherization program and link it with union apprenticeship programs to create pathways to economic well-being for local residents.
County Ask: $3,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funding
Internet access is crucial, now more than ever. 1 in 5 households making less than $30,000 do not have access to the internet. The costs of services aren’t the only impediment; some neighborhoods simply do not have access to broadband because of where the lines are laid, in what many are calling digital redlining. Our schools made large leaps in access to devices and Internet access for virtual learning in response to the pandemic, and we must sustain, support, and continue the expansion of this access for all.
We must have a digital infrastructure to provide free or affordable high-speed Internet access to all neighborhoods and communities throughout Memphis and Shelby County. The City of Memphis has included funding for this effort in its Accelerate Memphis plan and the Shelby County Commission approved funding to study expansion of access. These initial efforts will require greater funding to support planning and implementation of ubiquitous Internet access, creating an upward spiral of interest and open the possibility of further investment from federal grants and other programs. Memphis and Shelby County governments need to work together to provide this necessary infrastructure for a competitive future.
County Ask: $3,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funding
CITY WORKERS PAY INCREASE
City workers make our city work. We haul garbage to keep our community healthy, we deliver community and library services, we keep public buildings safe and functioning. Many of us were on the frontline of the pandemic, delivering food, PPE, and vaccines. Because discrimination is rampant in the private sector, jobs in local government provide one of the primary avenues for working class Black and Brown families to achieve financial stability.
But most city workers haven’t received any raise in four of the last six years, and what raises we did receive were small: 1%. The cost of living at that same time has gone up more than 10%. That means each year we have gotten a real-dollar pay cut. It’s wrong. A city job should keep you out of poverty, not lock you into it. City workers who have been left out and left behind need to have a raise equal to the cost of living over the last 6 years.
City Ask: $5,000,000
RELIEF FOR NONESSENTIAL WORKERS
In order to revitalize Memphis, we must revitalize our workforce. The restaurant industry is one of America’s largest employers—and one severely impacted by the pandemic, both by loss of work during shutdowns and high rates of Covid-19 infection among those who have been working on the front lines. According to the Washington Post, over 30% of job loss was in the hospitality industry, but only 8% of PPP funds were allocated to this sector— and even then, this relief went to businesses, though they failed to support their retained employees. As of March 2020, Memphis employed 60,000 hospitality and leisure workers. Within that month, a third of this workforce was laid off and even more workers were drastically underemployed. Unemployment benefits distribution took weeks, and still, many workers were not eligible for assistance because of their continuing employment status in jobs with a low-base hourly wage ($2.13/hour). As this workforce provides the human infrastructure for tourism, we believe the American Rescue Plan will provide relief to an industry that is vital to our community. A direct payment to these workers will supplement where other promised funds failed to deliver. This industry is already facing a recession, and in order to combat this hardship, a direct payment is mandatory not merely for pandemic relief, but in order to move our city forward.
City Ask: $5,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funds
County Ask: $10,000,000 from American Rescue Plan Funds
Shelby County Schools suffers from a difficult teacher shortage. The struggle to retain teachers hurts our whole community. Among the things that make life as an educator difficult over the long term are constantly escalating healthcare costs. Shelby County Schools must increase the percentage of healthcare premiums it covers for its hard working educators.
County Ask: $2,000,000
WORKERS RIGHTS COMMISSION
Workers are widely taken advantage of throughout Shelby County. At many private employers there are frequent workplace violations, from wage theft and safety breaches to discrimination and harassment.
The County’s ability to directly intervene with private industry is limited, but there are myriad indirect ways to increase the well being of working people in Shelby County. There must be an official body, made up of workers rights advocates and experts, devoted to studying both public and private sector workers’ needs in Shelby County and making policy recommendations to the Commission. Among those policies, perhaps the most important for public sector workers is reversing outsourcing. It’s time to reevaluate the privatization implementations of previous administrations, and to bring previously outsourced work back in-house. This includes the food service workers at the correctional facilities, custodial workers throughout the County building portfolio and at SCS, and studying other key departments to reverse privatization.
County Ask: $150,000
BUILDING CULTURE & ENGAGEMENT
DEDICATED ARTS AWARENESS & EDUCATION FUNDING
Every US city with a population above 500,000 people has some sort of office of arts and culture or a nonprofit partner that is the conduit for municipal funds for the sector. Yet, neither Memphis nor Shelby County governments have an office to fulfill this vital role. In a city and county whose culture and acclaim is dependent on the arts, the absence of funding to sustain arts and culture should be unthinkable, but sadly, it is a reality. If we want to preserve and sustain our vibrant culture for future generations, we need dedicated funding to expand equitable access to arts experiences and opportunities across our community.
County Ask: $2,000,000
SHELBY COUNTY YOUTH ENGAGEMENT FUND
In their 2020-2021 Shelby County Youth Voice Report, The Shelby County Youth Council (SCYC) recommended the creation of different youth-centered and focused events that young people ages
12-18 could attend throughout the community. The events SCYC proposes are intended to create spaces where youth can engage with each other in a healthy and safe manner while having fun in order to diminish youth criminal involvement. Events include field days in different communities across the county that bring educational workshops, food trucks, games, aquatic games, and arts so that youth can access and learn from these spaces.
Educational workshops at these events can include cooking classes, art classes, music classes, finance classes, self-care classes, and college application classes, etc., facilitated by local community organizations that are already doing this work. Moreover, this fund could also create a partnership with local museums to host specific “Youth” days during which young people can attend for free. This fund can also provide for bus transportation so youth can attend these free events, ensuring that youth in low-income communities have access to these resources and opportunities.
County Ask: $200,000
COUNTY COORDINATOR FOR COMMUNITY BUDGET PARTICIPATION
Government should always be for the people, by the people. Elected officials have both a practical and moral obligation to engage community members in understanding the budgetary process and setting priorities for how we invest our money. Community expenditures should match community values. We need a participatory budget process that allows for residents to be fully engaged in order to produce a moral budget. Similar processes have been adopted by over 7,000 cities around the world since 1989.
To achieve this outcome, we propose the creation of staff resources in the Office of Community Engagement and Outreach to serve as coordinators for community budget participation, with dedicated personnel, and specifically tasked with creating a Community Participatory Budgeting process, with a provision to provide administrative support for the implementation of a participatory budget for FY2023 and beyond.
County Ask: $200,000
COUNTY COORDINATOR OF CIVIC ENGAGEMENT
Shelby County residents suffer from underrepresentation in our local, state and federal elections. Communities that are left out of economic opportunity are also marginalized in politics—it’s simply not as easy for working class, and low income people to access registration, polling locations, and information about who and what they are voting for. This could be drastically improved with a targeted investment to increase civic engagement. City Councilman J.B. Smiley’s initiative to mail voter registration cards to residents through Memphis Light, Gas, and Water is a great step, as is Mayor Harris’ move to put voter registration kiosks in some County buildings. There are many other small investments and administrative adjustments that could boost voter participation in Shelby County. Higher participation in our democratic processes creates a path to community engagement and most importantly, it helps Shelby County get the material reform its residents need. To this end, we propose the establishment of a County Coordinator Of Civic Engagement to guide this work.
County Ask: $200,000
TIME TO ACT
With this submission of a moral budget, we have presented a new vision for city and county budgets that attempts to show that we can build a community focused on progress, prosperity, and equity. This includes raising additional revenue and funding programs and initiatives that we believe are not only possible, but necessary to lift up our communities more equitably and ensure a safer, more secure, economically viable reality for all residents of Memphis and Shelby County.
Some might say that it is too late in the budget process to make these decisions and chart a new course for our future. Yet, we have seen our local mayors and legislative bodies move mountains to offer tens of millions of dollars in tax incentives to this or that project within a couple of weeks because time (and the business community) demanded. Can our community rise to the same level of urgency and speed of action? With a decision to adjust the tax rate to its current level after recertifying it, the City Council and County Commission can begin to travel a new road of investments supporting our people and communities.
We believe these investments reflect the needs of our young people and our most underserved communities, emphasizing the values and priorities most of us hold dear. While some may call this plan ambitious, we believe it is crucial at this moment of grave uncertainty and amazing opportunity. We must make investments now to build on the promise of our people and to avoid disaster in the years ahead when the current influx of federal assistance sunsets. We urge the members of the Memphis City Council and Shelby County Commission to find the political will necessary at this pivotal moment for our community to fund a moral budget.