Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Wharton to Memphis: "Read!"

Posted By on Tue, Feb 22, 2011 at 12:18 PM

Memphis Mayor A C Wharton has some blunt advice for people who question the city spending money to attract new companies: get better informed about how the world works.

"Look at what the world is doing, take a global view," he said at a press conference Tuesday. "Read! Read! Look at what the world is doing."

Wharton is exasperated at critics of incentives for companies like Electrolux and Mitsubishi Electric, who are locating new plants here in exchange for multi-million dollar tax breaks.

"It really does get to me," he said, noting that other cities give even more incentives to attract automakers such as Hyndai (Montgomery, Alabama) or Nissan (Nashville and Smyrna).

The press conference was called to announce that the state team tennis tournament is coming to Memphis in 2011 and 2012, but Wharton quickly shifted from tennis players to taxpayers. Asked about looming budget cuts and layoffs of city employees, he told a quick story about a woman from Orange Mound who rides a bus to her job cleaning houses in Germantown every day and has no benefits or health insurance.

He said he must consider "the hundreds of thousands of people who have to pay for what they don't even get."

Again, he noted that critics sometimes seem unaware the states and cities all over the U.S. are making drastic cuts to stay solvent. Preliminary budget projections show Memphis could have a $70 million deficit plus $57 million it owes Memphis City Schools.

Asked about the schools referendum, Wharton said he is concerned about the low turnout so far. Only some 3,400 people had voted as of Tuesday morning. Whatever the decision, he said, "I hope it will feel like a mandate."

He said Memphis will pay $78 million to MCS in 2011 no matter the outcome, and has paid roughly that amount to MCS in 2010 and 2009 also.

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