People who hand out city and county tax incentives say Blue Flu isn’t their fault

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The people responsible for handling the tax incentives for Memphis and Shelby County are saying the Blue Flu and pension problems are not their fault.

Some angry city workers are pointing the finger at the Economic Development Growth Engine, or EDGE, blaming tax breaks for the pension shortfall.

EDGE President and CEO Reid Dulberger told WREG he sympathizes with police, fire and city workers who are struggling with hikes in health care premiums. However, he said a lot of the money EDGE hands out is from federal funds, so city workers should point the finger somewhere else.

Hundreds of police officers are at home, instead of work. Most of them, choosing to stay home in protest of the city’s hike in health care premiums.

Pensions for police, fire and city workers are dangerously underfunded, and Michael Williams with the Memphis Police Association thinks excessive tax breaks to recruit and keep businesses are partly to blame.

“A lot of cities give businesses PILOTs for three to five years,” he said. “We’re issuing 10-, 15-, 20-, 30-year PILOTs. That is crazy!”

Those PILOTs are also known as Payment in Lieu of Taxes.

Dulberger said EDGE is forced to give longer incentive periods to keep big businesses coming in.

“It is an enormously, fiercely competitive market out there,” he said.

It is not just big businesses feeling the heat. Some city workers are protesting small stores and restaurants tied to the Chamber of Commerce. They blame the chamber for pushing business over people.

Thursday, EDGE’s new finance committee approved three loans to small businesses, totaling $75,000.

“We can help a variety of small to medium size firms that are looking to expand their facility, buy new equipment,” Dulberger said.

Williams thinks the money edge is handing out should be going towards resolving the pension problems instead.

“A lot of the businesses may not be bringing anything to the table other than, they provide jobs,” he said.

Dulberger also said he feels people who are protesting businesses attached to the chamber are going about solving these problems the wrong way. He wants to see the community work together to find a solution.