Memphis is a Patch of Blue in a Red Sea



Memphis is squeezed, or maybe screwed is a better word.

The sales tax referendum got slaughtered 69-31, the gas tax one-penny-a-gallon hike fell by a similar margin, and Memphis as a sort of 51st blue state was further marginalized in the Republican-dominated legislature. To use a popular term from Election Day, Republicans have a firewall in Nashville, and with super majorities in both chambers just think of the fun they can have with Memphis. In the state and national picture, Memphis may never matter again like it did before 2000 when it could deliver the state for Bill Clinton and Al Gore and other Democratic hopefuls. We're a patch of blue in a sea of red and, Steve Cohen excepted, the white Democrat is a vanishing breed.

I thought the sales tax would get at least 40-percent support because it would equalize sales taxes across Shelby County. And the gas tax works out to $5 or so a year, but I guess "MATA" and "new tax" are poison, whether apart or in combo. There's no blaming the suburbs for this one. Most of them could not vote on the sales tax referendum, and the measure was soundly defeated in Memphis precincts.

City Councilman Shea Flinn, a proponent of a Memphis sales tax bump before the Shelby County Commission preempted that gambit, says "it's going to be a fairly big hurdle to overcome but I would not rule out bringing it up again" as a Memphis referendum in a special election in 2013. He thinks it would raise $47 million, the uses would be easier to pinpoint, and the turnout would be lower.

"If you put raising taxes on the ballot you are already way behind when you start," he said. And unlikely to catch up, I would add after yesterday's wipe-out.

Here's what's off the table: consolidation, payroll tax, city employees required to live in city limits, "taxing" nonprofits, reining in PILOTs and tax incentives, and now increasing the sales tax and gas tax. That leaves the property tax, which is likely to go up anyway next year to equalize falling valuations, and when that happens the differential between Memphis and the suburbs will drive more people away. So cut services and employees, you say? Check out a City Council meeting when cuts are on the agenda or a school board meeting when cuts or school closings are on the agenda.

Related Story: On Vanishing White Southern Democrats

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