Will City Council Pass A Moral Budget?

Legislation | 08/16/2021

Paul Garner
Tennessee Regional Outreach Director

The Moral Budget Coalition was formed under the belief that a budget is a moral document that should reflect our values and priorities and demonstrates a desire to progress towards what Dr. King described as the beloved community. In May, our coalition released a bold plan to pass a budget that is truly representative of the needs and priorities of our local community by maintaining the tax rate and generating over $140 million in additional revenue to fund needed initiatives around affordable housing, public transportation, education, supporting workers, civic engagement, and more.

Commissioner Sawyer made a motion to set the tax rate at $3.69 on the dollar to generate revenue to pay for these vital public services, but ultimately this effort failed with only Commissioners Whaley, Milton, Turner, and Sawyer voting to support the motion. There were small allotments for transit funding, and a 1 cent increase to support Youth Mental Health, but not on a level that demonstrates a commitment to addressing inequity and poverty. Similarly, Martavius Jones proposed recertifying the tax rate from $3.00 to $3.19, a motion that fell on deaf ears.

Recently, The Moral Budget Coalition released a revised version of our asks to focus on the influx of federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act, and urged the County Commission and Memphis City Council to take advantage of this second opportunity to pass a moral budget, rather than continuing to uphold and strengthen the status quo of disinvestment in our community and investing in policing as the go-to solution to address crime and violence.

That same week, Mayor Strickland released his plan for ARPA investments with $6 million for public safety tech upgrades, $6.5 million for take-home vehicles for officers, over half a million for a new felony assault unit, and $13.5 million for police recruitment, accounting for almost 30% of the total ARPA funds. If the Memphis City Council passes Strickland’s budget as is, what message will that send about our values as a City?

Strickland’s plan includes some of the initiatives our coalition identified, though not at the level we’d hoped. His plan earmarks less than $1.5 million for opportunity youth, and we hope this will include employment opportunities that don’t solely focus on picking up trash. While we were glad to see line items for broadband expansion and education supports; those investments pale in comparison to the over $27 million in additional revenue for policing. 

We also believe an investment in youth education supports should include both district and community input, vetting other qualified organizations that provide educational support based on nationally recognized best practices. We maintain that a better vehicle for these initiatives would be a third-party fund that relies on the insight of experts in the field of education.

The Mayor’s plan provides nothing for affordable housing, public transit, supporting workers, and other needed initiatives. Memphis is stuck in a loop of poverty and crime and there is no proof that we’ll ever police our way out of it. Our communities are safer when the people therein have access to the things they need and are not forced to make choices out of stress and desperation.

That is more true now than ever as we see the pandemic coming back with a vengeance and no clear end in sight. It's time to break that loop and to do so, we need bold leaders who will stand up for their most vulnerable constituents and invest in solutions that get at the roots of crime and violence, namely poverty, lack of well funded education and opportunities for youth. The Memphis City Council, and likewise the Shelby County Commission should take as much time as needed to make sure that ARPA allocations are based on genuine community input and speak to the needs of those most vulnerable in our community.

Take Action Now to support ARPA funding for a Moral Budget:bit.ly/moralbudgetarpa

Signed,

The Moral Budget Coalition

Stand for Children Tennessee, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council, Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing For Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, The Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, Whole Child Strategies


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