Leading From the Top 

Governor Haslam and Mayors Wharton and Luttrell have tough battles ahead.

click to enlarge wharton.jpg

So far in 2015, we have  been sufficiently dosed with annual "State of ..." speeches delivered by the heads of government of most direct importance to us — the governor of Tennessee and the mayors of Memphis and Shelby County.

And we have heard both preamble and follow-up speeches from all three officials. Though, as expected, all three, Governor Bill Haslam, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton, and Shelby County Mayor Mark Luttrell, found much to boast about, they all also, with varying degrees of frankness, touched upon some dire needs — for more money, more efficiency, more ingenuity, or whatever — to avoid a curtailment of vital governmental services, including provisions for public safety, that all citizens, regardless of ideology, insist on.

All three chief executives can, with some justification, state a claim that serious efforts have been made within their jurisdictions over the past several years to operate their governments in accordance with the dictates of economy and the needs of hard-pressed taxpayers. But, even amidst the boasting, all three conceded the degree of difficulty they're operating under.

As Wharton acknowledged on Tuesday, the strain of keeping the city in the black has been considerable. Speaking of the wrenching changes he deemed necessary in the benefits package of city employees, Wharton said, "We're all scarred, but our city is better off as a result."

And Luttrell has confessed that the incentives offered to potential new businesses by the EDGE (Economic Development and Growth Engine) board supervised by himself and Wharton are under fire and very likely — like the board itself — in need of review.

Meanwhile, Haslam also has his problems. He is fresh from having offered a special session of the Tennessee General Assembly an unusual bargain — some $1.4 billion annually in federal funding (a measurable part of it derived from this state's taxpayers in the first place) in order to facilitate health-care insurance for an estimated 200,000 Tennesseans who have not been able to afford such coverage. 

Temporarily, anyhow, this bonanza — based on a carefully structured plan with numerous free-market components — has been denied to these citizens, as well as to the state's over-burdened hospitals, by an ad hoc state Senate committee. The committee was stacked in advance by Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey with opponents of the governor's plan for Medicaid expansion, called Insure Tennessee, and denounced by them as synonymous with the imagined excesses of "Obamacare." This, despite the fact that the Haslam's plan has numerous distinguishing features and was designed to spare the state of Tennessee and its taxpayers any expense whatsoever.   

Perhaps the General Assembly, meeting now in regular session, will revive Insure Tennessee. We hope so. The Shelby County Commission, in two bipartisan votes, has urged just that in no uncertain terms. So have our two mayors. We hope, too, that the scars spoken of by Wharton will heal, and that his and Luttrell's devices for attracting new jobs, and for developing the workforce to assume those jobs, can reach the right kind of equilibrium to satisfy all components of what is still a seriously divided community.

We agree that these leaders have all managed to get some roses to bloom. But the thorns are still there, too, and somehow have to be plucked.


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