Funding Fairness or, Let them pay!

Mayor Rout has made a partial response to Mayor Herenton’s “Formula for Fairness”. We examine the differences.

Perhaps it is inevitable that the only sensible proposals come from politicians who have more to fear from “Prince Mongo” Hodges than from the candidate of the opposing party in an election. On the face of it, however, one would not see the positive qualities of a $16 million increase in county spending, especially in the aftermath of the Wolfchase-area annexation, which took several million dollars a year from city and county schools and placed it in the City of Memphis’ general fund.

While there is pending legislation in Nashville to end this practice, and perhaps revert the Wolfchase funding shift, Mayor Rout has sensibly decided to continue looking at who should be paying for the services provided by Shelby County and its municipalities. His preliminary proposal, which tracks fairly closely with my funding equity proposal (with a few additions and modifications), appears fair.

Nevertheless, Rout’s proposal does leave one with some serious questions. Removing Memphis’ zoning authority over areas outside its city limits, and divorcing the city and county planning department, is a good step toward reducing the power of Memphis’ city council members and bureaucrats over non-residents, but it doesn’t resolve the root cause of suburban sprawl: the overconcentration of powers inherent in a oversized, unrepresentative county government. Other states have dealt with these problems by devolving substantial zoning powers to township governments; it is a shame that Tennessee has not followed suit.

However, the city administration’s pathetic response to Rout’s proposal raises far more doubts. Now that Mayor Herenton has seen the logical consequences of his “formula for fairness” proposal, conceived in his desperation to appear relevant in the wake of Public Chapter 98, is he having second thoughts? The response of Rick Masson, the city’s chief administrative officer, is telling: in speaking of a “public policy that allows or encourages someone to move … to avoid a social cost but at the same time enjoy the social benefits,” he seems to deny that Memphis’ government has promoted this trend. One must assume that in Mr. Masson’s mind, Memphis’ sewer extensions build themselves without council or mayoral approval.

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