By Toby Sells
A coalition of Memphis nonprofit organizations want city and county leaders to keep current tax rates and spend the excess funds on a raft of community investments in what they call a “moral budget.”
Memphis City Council members delayed the final vote on Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland’s proposed $716 million budget Tuesday, awaiting word from federal leaders on how they can spend money from the American Rescue Plan (ARP).
With only one regular council meeting left before the July 1st deadline for a new budget, little is likely to change. This is especially true of large items, like setting the city’s tax rate, which is a cornerstone of all civic budget-making.
However, that’s exactly what the Moral Budget Coalition is still pushing for. The group is comprised of many groups, including Stand for Children Tennessee, Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH), Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing For Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, and Whole Child Strategies.
During budget season this year, the coalition presented a new voice to the money conversation at Memphis City Hall. It requested something new from lawmakers, but something familiar with many in last summer’s Black Lives Matter movement: investment in the community versus the same old thing.
“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,” reads the proposal from the Moral Budget Coalition. “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.”
Instead of tax cuts this year, the group wants city and county leaders to keep current rates intact. This would yield $40 million in additional taxes for the city and $100 million for the county, the group said.
With the additional funds, the groups asked leaders to invest in Youth Education Success Fund for education, the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA) for transportation, mental health services for youth and adults, the Opportunity Youth Workforce Fund, debt relief for renters, the Memphis Affordable Housing Trust Fund, services for the homeless, housing help for the transgender and gender non-conforming community, weatherization efforts, expansion of broadband, raises for city and county workers, healthcare, art, and more.
“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,” reads the proposal. “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.”
*This article originally appeared in the Memphis Flyer.