Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Commission Stalemates on MATA

Posted By on Wed, Jan 22, 2020 at 10:27 PM

The question of whether — or how — Shelby County government should reinforce and expand MATA (Memphis Area Transit Authority) was no
click to enlarge Amy Spicer, on hand on Wednesday to present local GOP's objection to the wheel-tax proposal, chats with audience member and frequent commission attendee Joe  B. Kent. - JB
  • JB
  • Amy Spicer, on hand on Wednesday to present local GOP's objection to the wheel-tax proposal, chats with audience member and frequent commission attendee Joe B. Kent.
t resolved during an extended committee session on Wednesday morning.

The meeting, held in the first-floor auditorium of the Vasco Smith County Building, flowed this way and that, but never in the direction of a settled point of view.

Indeed, when discussion of the MATA issue finally subsided in the early afternoon of a meeting day that began at 8:30 a.m., all the commissioners had managed to agree on was that they could not agree, and the residue of that disunity was embodied in a substitute proposal from a bipartisan group of commissioners.

That proposal, which allowed for a bifurcation of funds taxed under the rubric of the county’s long-controversial wheel tax, would allocate roughly $9 million of the funds raised from a new $20 surcharge to MATA, along with a stipulation for expanded routing, while another $3 million would go to pay the salaries of new sheriff’s deputies in the freshly de-annexed portions of former Memphis suburban areas.

But the proposal — an obvious effort to allay the reservations of suburban members — did not gain approval per se as a finished proposition. It was merely remanded to the attention of a new ad hoc task force created by commission chairman Mark Billingsley for the purpose of re-examining the larger matter of transportation policy in Shelby County.

And the effect of the substitute was undermined by an add-on resolution from Brandon Morrison, a customarily low-profile Republican first-termer who was the only GOP member to be numbered among the sponsors of the original bifurcation proposal and was the sole author of the final substitute. Morrison’s add-on — presented as a companion measure and offering a recipe for reducing the presumably unpopular wheel tax by $5 — would necessitate eliminating the commission’s community grant funds, by means of which each commissioner has the discretion to endow projects considered desirable to his or her district.

Though it was defeated, the add-on will be voted on again during the commission’s regularly scheduled public meeting on Monday, and by drawing forth the votes of several Republicans, exposed the enduring polarities of a legislative body that generally aspires to bipartisanship.

The same underlying cleavage was revealed by the 2-7 rejection of a proposal to abolish county-residence requirements for Shelby County employees. That resolution, proposed by GOP member Mick Wright, was scuttled by uniform opposition from the commission’s city residents. But it, too, will get another vote on Monday.

A third matter of potential controversy (but one generally lacking partisan outlines) — that of new paper-trial voting machines involving hand-cast ballots versus machine-case ballots — was deferred for lack of time, though Bennie Smith, a member of the Shelby County Election Commision, was on hand to make the cast for voting by hand.

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