Pre-K Tax Critics Say City Cannot Be Trusted

(Memphis) Education advocates are calling Memphis city leaders liars over the pre-k tax up for a vote next Thursday.

Mayor A C Wharton and some city council members say the half cent sales tax increase would bring in $30 million to fund pre-k for all Shelby County students with about $20 million to go toward lowering property taxes.

Every year Shelby County residents pay a $50 wheel tax, and when the county passed it decades ago politicians said the revenue would be spent on education.

But now years later critics say there’s no proof that’s actually what’s happening after millions have been raised.

Some people don’t want to see that happen again with the pre-k tax.

Councilman Jim Strickland says the future of this community is riding on the approval of what’s dubbed the pre-k tax hike next Thursday.

“Memphis needs drastic change, and pre-k is the best way to do that at this time,” said Strickland.

He says by law that money has to be spent on pre-k because it’s written in the language on the ballot which wasn’t the case with the Wheel tax.

“The ballot language guarantees 100% that pre-k would be fully funded for every preschooler in Memphis,” said Strickland.

If the city council violates that deal it’s breaking the law and the tax can be stopped.

A panel of community leaders appointed by the mayor will also oversee how the money is spent.

“That’s not true. I think it’s a bunch of lies,” claims opponent and former school board member Kennth Whalum.

Whalum has a copy of the ballot and says it’s all a smoke screen.

“It will be used to fund a pre-kindergarten program, what the heck does that even mean? They think voters are stupid!” said Whalum.

He says the panel to oversee the money is accountable to the mayor and council, and will do whatever they want, and there are no set terms for the panel.

“The bottom line is that the elected officials in the city of Memphis cannot be trusted to do what they say they are going to do,” said Whalum.

Whalum and the opposition say this is not about pre-k.

They believe it’s actually about bringing down property taxes because they have shot up so high due to the city giving so much away to big businesses in PILOT tax breaks passing the tax burden to property owners.

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