City Sales Tax Hike Proposal Resurfaces

By Bill Dries

Two months after voters – most of them Memphians -- rejected a countywide sales tax hike, there is a new proposal for a city-wide sales tax hike to go on the ballot later this year in a special election.

Memphis City Council members Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland are expected to talk about the idea Tuesday, Jan. 8, at a 10 a.m. council committee session.

Revenue from the half percent sales tax hike, an estimated $47 million a year, would be used to fund and expansion of pre kindergarten programs in the city as well as allow the council to roll back the city’s property tax rate.

Flinn proposed a half-cent citywide sales tax hike in 2012 and the council acted to put the measure on the November ballot. Then the Shelby County Commission approved a countywide sales tax referendum that legally trumped the city effort.

The referendum among city of Memphis voters and those voters living in unincorporated Shelby County was no contest. It was easily defeated by voters who turned out in large numbers for the Presidential general election that topped the ballot and draws the largest voter turnout of any election cycle.

The sales tax hike was also coupled on the November ballot with a one-cent Memphis gasoline tax to fund the Memphis Area Transit Authority. It too was crushed by Memphis voters.

Half of the revenue from the sales tax hike proposed then was to go to education with much of the campaign for the tax hike built around it possibly being used for pre kindergarten expansion but going generally to the countywide school system that begins in August. Critics campaigned against it saying the possibility wasn’t a promise because the countywide school board had not committed to specifically use the money for pre kindergarten expansion.

A 2013 Memphis referendum would require a special election because there are no regularly scheduled elections in Memphis during the year.