Tuesday, June 15, 2004

AC Still Playing Games

County Mayor AC Wharton was on Andrew Clark's Sunday radio show on AM600 WREC. He was basically selling his "doomsday" budget as though it was a realistic option. Wharton took some calls and I got through. I asked him to put the budget document that the County Commission had requested of his revised budget proposal on the County Portal Website. It's now been posted. (Right-click and save. This is a PDF file.)

Problem is, this is only a listing of the proposed cuts, and not a list of what he still plans to spend County money on. I'm grateful to have the document to read (all 24 pages), but knowing only what he wants to cut and not what he proposes to keep isn't helpful. It's all the publicly-funded programs, athletics, arts grants, jobs programs, etc. that I'm curious about. Does the County have any public golf courses, for example? It seems to me that closing those would be better than laying off police officers, yes?

I also got a chance to ask Wharton about the failure of the County legislative caucus to the General Assembly, our County lobbyists and the Municipal League to get back the state-shared revenue funds that Bredesen cut this year. That amount was $12 or $17 million, and with the State running almost $300 million in budget surplus this year, it seems getting it back would be a slam dunk. But we didn't get anything. I made a mistake though (saying the lobbyists were paid $500,000 instead of $50,000) and AC semi-deflected the question, laying a nebulous blame on the Legislature.

Anyway, the Commercial Appeal ran a special page of columns in the Sunday edition about the budget problems, but I haven't digested it all yet. More tomorrow.

Everyone is still treating this like it's a serious proposal, instead of a maneuver to get higher taxes and a new source of revenues. Wharton has re-introduced the payroll tax, calling it a "head fee" now; the Memphis City Council is also looking at one. I'm pretty sure that's a dead issue, as the business community will bear the burden of collecting it from payroll and doesn't want the trouble nor the expense.

Clark and Wharton talked a bit about folks like me who call this a charade and they dismissed us, claiming to be solemnly serious about this terrible situation. Horseshit.

I'm not opposed to raising taxes, if necessary. But I demand that all other options be explored first, like cutting unneeded programs, cutting spending and adjusting priorities. Political greed and cowardice got us here and there's no sign it's been eradicated. So, no, I don't want to hand these clowns another blank check.

Nor do I appreciate Wharton's deceptions and brinksmanship. Rather than patiently explain why we must raise taxes, he simply threw a completely ridiculous proposal into the faces of the County Commission and dared them to pass it. They can't back down; it would be a loss of face and perceived power. So, everyone plays along and you and I get to watch the circus.

There will be much gnashing of teeth and dire warnings about the horrors to come. The local television news has been doing a bang-up job for AC in that department. Rather than cast this story in a skeptical and disbelieving light, they are playing along so they can run eye-catching shock-horror stories about the city being over-run by gangs (WPTY) and rats (WMC).

Only the Commercial Appeal has held off on expressing an opinion in this matter. They've run reporting, and they gave the main parties room in the Sunday paper, but the editors have yet to come down on any side, or to express any direction for the principal parties to move. I'd like to know why, but I have a suspicion. They know it's a charade, but don't want to call the Mayor and Commission on it.

Meanwhile, you the voter get worked over.

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