Sales Tax Hike Defeated, Akbari To Tennessee House

By Bill Dries

For the second time in a year, Memphis voters have said “no” to a sales tax hike and Democrat Raumesh Akbari claimed the Tennessee House District 91 seat.

The outcomes at the polls Thursday, Nov. 21, were the bottom line of the last two elections of 2013 in Shelby County and the last in a series of 11 elections in the county over the last three months.

The half percent citywide sales tax hike lost big despite a well-funded push by proponents of the tax hike as a way to fund an expansion of prekindergarten in the city of Memphis. Opponents of the measure had none of the television ads or yard signs that the proponents had, but took 60 percent of the vote.

With all 170 precincts reporting, the final unofficial results in the sales tax-pre-k referendum were:

No 17,636 or 60.2 percent

Yes 11,659 or 39.8 percent

Akbari, making her first bid for elected office, beat Libertarian rival Jim Tomasik to claim the District 91 seat held for more than 40 years by Democrat Lois DeBerry who died this past summer.

With all 33 precincts reporting, the final unofficial results in the special general election were:

Akbari 3,087 or 89 percent

Tomasik 369 or 11 percent

Tomasik’s loss wasn’t a total defeat. He filed suit in Nashville federal court and won a court order that required the Shelby County Election Commission to list him as the Libertarian party candidate for the state House seat instead of as an independent.

Akbari becomes the newest member of the Shelby County legislative delegation to Nashville. She beat six other contenders in the Democratic primary to advance to the general election.

Opponents of the sales tax hike repeatedly emphasized their lack of trust that the revenue from the sales tax hike would be used for the stated purpose in the ballot question – to fund an expansion of prekindergarten in the city of Memphis.

The distrust as well as the failure of a countywide sales tax hike a year ago this month appear to have figured prominently in the outcome as well as the low city-wide voter turnout.

The 29,295 voters were seven percent of the city’s 417,174 voters.

The November 2012 sales tax referendum was among voters in Memphis and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.

Proponents of the sales tax hike on Thursday’s ballot ran a campaign that included television ads and yard signs as well as an emphasis on how the ballot question was different than the ballot question of a year ago.

They pointed to a pre-k commission appointed by Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. to govern how the revenue from the tax hike was to be spent and specific language in the ballot question that said it had to be used for a prekindergarten expansion with any leftover funds to specifically go toward a reduction in the city of Memphis property tax rate.

The increase in the city’s property tax rate this summer may have also been a factor among tax-weary voters.

All results in Thursday’s elections are unofficial until certification by the Shelby County Election Commission.

Akbari will then be sworn in and take the District 91 seat when the Tennessee legislature returns to session in January.

Akbari serves the remaining year left in DeBerry’s two-year term of office and is expected to seek re-election in the 2014 elections.

Candidates can begin pulling qualifying petitions in the May 6 Shelby County primaries and the August 7 county general elections starting Friday, Nov. 22.