Luttrell Vetoes County Sales-Tax Hike, Setting Up Showdown

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Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell
  • Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell
As expected, Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell has vetoed the resolution passed by the Shelby County Commission on Monday, August 13, calling for a referendum on the November 6 ballot authorizing a half-cent increase in the county sales tax.

Luttrell’s veto follows almost two weeks of non-stop lobbying of commissioners against the resolution from Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, City Councilman Shea flinn, and others. The county sales-tax referendum , if placed on the ballot, would pre-empt a similar half-cent city sales-tax referendum approved for the ballot by the City Council.

And, if the count tax increase should pass, it would take Shelby County’s sales tax to the maxximum permitted by state law and would nullify the half-cent municipal sales-tax ncreases passed earlier this month by five county municipalities.

Commission chairman-elect Mike Ritz, who proposed the county tax increase, justified it as the only way of dealing with a $60 million deficit confronting the county’s soon-to-be established Unified School System. Funds from the tax, if enacted, would be distributed to schools in the outer munucipalities as well, though not in the proportions which their own sales tax hikes would enable.

Anticipating a veto from Luttrell, who called the increase ‘premature,” Ritz has said he has assurances of eight votes in support of the county tax hike — enough to override the county mayor’s veto. The measure passed the Commission last week by a 7-5 vote, with one commissioner, Memphis Democrat Melvin Burgess Jr., absent.

The test will come on Monday at the next regular Commission meeting.

Text of the county mayor’s veto statement is as follows:

August 23, 2012

Mayor Luttrell Vetoes Sales Tax Resolution


Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell today vetoed the recent resolution by the Shelby County Commission to raise the sales tax county-wide by a half percent.

Money from the tax increase, if approved by voters in Memphis, Millington and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County, would have generated money for the newly created Shelby County School system, which begins next year.

“I felt the commission’s action was premature. As I’ve stated many times, I believe we must review all options regarding the school budget before initiating a tax increase,” said Mayor Luttrell.
The Transition Planning Commission for Shelby County’s new public school system recently called for a thorough review of the school budget for cost-saving measures.

The school budget is still under discussion by the Shelby County School Board and is months away from being submitted to the Shelby County Commission for approval.

“With a close review of the school budget, we may be able to make recommendations that could prevent a sales tax increase. It’s important that we look at every aspect of the schools budget before we create an additional tax burden for the citizens,” added Mayor Luttrell.

The Shelby County Commission can still override the mayor’s veto. Should eight of the 13 commissioners vote to raise the sales tax, the issue would be ultimately decided in November by voters in Memphis, Millington and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

Citizens in Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville, Germantown and Lakeland have already voted to raise the sales tax in their communities to pay for their municipal school systems.

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