Sunday, January 12, 2020

County Mayor Harris Asserts 30-Day Goal for Passage of MATA Funding Proposal

Posted By on Sun, Jan 12, 2020 at 10:00 PM

click to enlarge At weekend gathering, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harri repeats vow to secure passage of wheel tax add-on to provide county funding for MATA. Also pictured are members of the Tommy Van family, hosts for the affair, and Lexie Carter, a co-sponsor of the event. - JB
  • JB
  • At weekend gathering, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harri repeats vow to secure passage of wheel tax add-on to provide county funding for MATA. Also pictured are members of the Tommy Van family, hosts for the affair, and Lexie Carter, a co-sponsor of the event.


At its regular monthly meeting on Monday, the Shelby County Commission will take one more crack — the crucial one — at adding $20 to the current county wheel tax in order to contribute roughly $10 million to the operation of the Memphis Area Transit Authority (MATA). On the eve of the vote, County Mayor Lee Harris set an informal deadline of 30 days to achieve a successful outcome for the proposal, which needs 9 votes and netted a maximum of 5 votes on Wednesday in preliminary voting in committee.

Harris mentioned the 30-day figure in conversation at a Saturday night fundraiser in his honor in Lakeland. “Either we pass it outright on Monday, or we’ll find a way to delay the final vote for 30 days,” the Mayor said. “But I predict we’ll get it done.”

The fund-raiser was at the home of Tommy and Monica Van and was primarily a cooperative effort by members of the local Asian and African-American communities. In his remarks to attendees, Harris recapped his argument for the wheel tax add-on as follows:

“There was no more vivid example of the need for increased transit options than a guy named James, an ex-offender. He lives in Frayser, and he finally found a job but, of course, the buses don't run very frequently on the weekend. And on weekends, instead of missing his shift, he decides to sleep at his job so he can be there the next morning and not miss a shift. So James begged and pleaded that we invest more in transit so he could go home when his shift ends and come back to the job the next day and not have to sleep there.

“And I think about Miss Sarah who said transit is important to her, because she has not had ice cream for years. She says she can’t get ice cream from the grocery store to her house before the ice cream melts. And so she doesn't buy ice cream anymore.

“So it's about Miss Sarah and James and Frayser and all the folks who are trying to move around the community and trying to get access to jobs, and trying to create more opportunity for themselves and their family. And that's the kind of debate I want to have. That's why I ran for office in the first place. And I'm hopeful that we'll be able to persuade all parts of this community that these are the right kinds of conversations to have.”

Harris also made reference in his remarks to the currently controversial issue of providing haven for foreign refugees. The mayor held a press conference last week to make public his letter to the U.S. State Department in favor of providing such haven in Shelby County. As he said about that moment on Saturday night:



“We tried to drive a conversation that this community should continue to be a welcoming community for refugees. Refugees, by definition, are individuals who come to this country fleeing persecution, their lives are on the line, and we as a country have the ability to intervene and save families and save lives. And so we should do it. We can try. [Applause]

“Years ago, Shelby County accepted about 400 or so refugees a year that is now down to about three dozen refugees. The United States of America with this heritage of being a beacon of hope around the globe right now. We have around 1% of the world's refugees in the United States of America, I think we can do a lot better on that score as well. So these are the issues that I've talked about, since I've been in elected office. They’re not issues that win you a lot of, you know, big business donors per se, but they are issues that matter nonetheless. And so I'll continue to drive these kinds of conversations for as long as I'm in office.”

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