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Why I Voted ‘No’ to the Sales Tax Increase ~ by Darrell Hugueley

October 31, 2012

Thanks to Darrell Hugueley for another great post. Watch for more of Darrell’s insights as a new regular contributor to Back in River City. 

I have participated in early voting, and I voted against the half-cent sales tax increase. I am not a miser. I do not think that I would feel financial loss or strain if I start paying 9.75% on sales on the sale of goods and services instead of 9.25%. I voted against it on principle, and here’s why.

One of the leaders of the Transition Planning Committee posted on Facebook an admonition to her friends and followers to vote for the tax, saying that it is a vote for the children of this county. I asked her to persuade me, an already overburdened taxpayer, why I should vote for new tax revenue instead of fiscal reform and fiduciary accountability. It seems to me that there is no vested interest on the part of civic administrators in restructuring finances or mission to reflect a commitment to improving the lives of citizens in the area of education reform. After all, it was the Memphis City Council that withheld funds from Memphis City Schools on a fiscal whim, which started the whole chain reaction of the school consolidation movement.

As a teacher in an MCS middle school, no one wants to support pre-school education more than I do. No one wants to see the success of the new merged school district more than I. But I see no equanimity in any new tax. In my mind, it is merely politicians coming up with creative ways to ask for more money from constituents. Yes, some of the money will go to education, but a lot of it is earmarked for non-educational purposes. There is no historical track record of taxpayer contributions making educational improvements or achieving educational gains by increasing taxes. I have no faith that this auspicious request will be any different.

I say first things first. I pay a wheel tax from 25 years ago that was supposed to be a “one-time” tax. I pay into two property tax coffers. Now government is coming to my door in the guise of needful children to ask for more money. Isn’t a 9.25% sales tax already one of the highest in the region? Money is not what will fix problems. It has never been the answer to problems.

I am ready for some new answers to the old questions. I’d like to see leaders and politicians get committed to education and educational reform by making it a priority of policy, then ask for my help as a taxpayer. Why can’t we have some proactive initiatives? I have been wheel taxed and property taxed to death. It is hard for me to see this hand extended from the government as anything but enabling bad management.

One more piece of this picture is how the sales tax increase has been proposed as a move to block the municipalities from getting their school systems funded. We all know that if it passes, it will be a death knell for the formation of new school systems in the Shelby County municipalities. That amounts to playing political chess with my paycheck. You can’t withhold funds from public education on a whim one year, then ask for money for early education the next. Either you’re for the children or you’re not.

I feel like the recommendation for this tax is a chess move in the endless game of power between those that want to do what is right for children, and those that see an opportunity to fatten the public coffers without any further alleviation for taxpayers or sacrifice on their part.

As an analogy, when Chuck Colson established Prison Fellowship Ministries, he was working very hard with prisoners and their families all over the world to meet their needs. But one day he had an epiphany–he was not doing anything to keep men from entering prisons in the first place. That’s when he started the Centurions program to train cohorts of men and women to think about and work for cultural changes.

That’s how I feel in this education reform movement. We are going through the reactive motions of trying to accommodate inevitable change, but there is little or no commitment to changing our minds about how we approach the problem. What happens to this funding mechanism if populations radically shift? How does it help students once they matriculate to grade school and beyond? Will this method of funding keep up with escalating costs? Is it compatible with future economies? The only way to
adequately address those questions is to fundamentally alter our Guiding Questions (as we would put it in the classroom). At this point I would rather change the politicians than change the tax.

Darrell Hugueley is a Language Arts Teacher at Cordova Middle School. He is a Teach Plus Fellowship alum, and serves on committees for Memphis City Schools as a teacher voice in the Teacher Effectiveness Initiative and the Teacher Compensation workgroup. He was most recently added to to the joint committee forming the teacher evaluation model for the consolidated school district. He is a published poet and author, has been married 29 years and has two children.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary Jane Thompson permalink
    November 1, 2012 2:40 pm

    Very Interesting. J

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