Friday, June 04, 2004

The Emperor's New Clothes

It continues to amaze me that the local news programs and the two main papers are still taking seriously County Mayor AC Wharton's "doomsday" budget. How anyone can think he'd honestly propose cutting the sheriff's budget by seventeen percent, eliminate the Metro Drug squad and other anti-crime programs, and cut back on mosquito and rat control is beyond me.

Step back a moment. Look at what he's doing. Wouldn't that, under any other circumstance be considered bizarre political suicide? Wouldn't the public boggle and the news have a field day questioning the sanity of anyone in elected office who proposed it? If the papers printed a story from some other community where this was happening, wouldn't we wonder what kind of idiots they were?

So why isn't that happening here? The Memphis Flyer stepped up with an editorial that seems almost credulous.
Just now, Shelby County government is the test case. Budget deliberations by that body in the next several weeks will determine whether draconian cuts will need to be made in most, if not all, county agencies. Sheriff Mark Luttrell, whose public style is refreshingly open, recently embarked on a public-relations mission of sorts in which he made the case to various media outlets, including the Flyer, that the law enforcement arm of his department would be endangered if he were forced to enact cuts of the magnitude that have been suggested.

Mayor A C Wharton, whose trial balloon for a significant property tax increase (most of it merely to pay for debt service) was shot down in mid-air some weeks back, has responded to the county commission's reluctance by proposing a moratorium on new home construction. At first blush, this appears to be a negotiating tactic. But maybe not.

Maybe the mayor is merely enunciating what the sheriff and other department heads will soon, for better or for worse, have to reckon with. In the vernacular: You get what you pay for.
The Commercial Appeal, perhaps smelling the rat, hasn't weighed in yet. Or maybe they're waiting for Sunday? We'll soon see.

The television news programs, of course, are having a field day. Last night, WMC breathlessly ran a story about rats, and how County budget cuts will mean rats overrunning the city. They even had lots of video of rats! EEEE!

[Digression: Speaking of rats, Councillor Carol Chumney was part of that video report. She's been making herself really, really available to the local news and so is showing up on television a lot. Of course, this makes her look "involved" and "concerned" and gives folks the impression that she's "doing something about the problem." Sigh.... Do we really want someone so nakedly and desperately ambitious as Mayor? Or as District Five's representative?]

Anyway, no one yet is calling this spade a spade. Wharton threw a challenge back to the County Commission. His "doomsday" budget is a sham. Rather than do the politically difficult work of crafting real cuts in the County's budget, they'll cave in a couple of weeks and simply revert back to Wharton's original budget. And they'll cravenly blame Wharton, saying they "couldn't" vote for his "doomsday" budget. And we'll get stuck with the 23 cent property tax increase absent any meaningful spending changes by the County.

You watch.

No comments: