In his first State of the City address since being elected to a full term in office, Memphis Mayor A C Wharton said his measures to fight blight, crime, and gangs are working, “The state of our city is sound and continues to improve.”
Even so, the chief job of a mayor, Wharton said, is to be an economic development officer. To that end, he said his administration is hard at work on initiatives large and small, “We’re in the final phases of contracting for new parking meters. Y’all might not like this. You’re going to have to pay when you park at night now,” the mayor said as the crowd gathered at the Pink Palace Museum laughed. “We’ve got one of the crazier systems—at the time most people come downtown, we stop charging for parking.”
With reference to the bigger projects on deck, Wharton said that a Bass Pro Shops super-store slated to open in the empty Pyramid arena downtown is moving forward, “There will be no other store in the U.S. that will rival this one, and Bass Pro Shops will be working hard to get it open before the end of 2013.”
Wharton said efforts aimed at economic improvement would not be isolated to downtown Memphis, “It is crucial that downtown is not an island surrounded by deteriorating neighborhoods.”
Wharton’s office will unveil a citywide “Blueprint for Prosperity.” As a former public defender, Wharton said his experience has taught him that, “Folks don’t want you coming to them saying, ‘I’m going to pull you out of poverty.’ They want you to come and say, ‘I’ve got a job for you … so you can pull yourself out of poverty.’ And that’s what we’re going to do.”
Wharton said his administration would be measured by what it did for the 20 percent of the city that lives in poverty, “What slavery was to one generation, and what segregation was to another—economic freedom and our efforts to address economic opportunity are the perennial challenges we cannot ignore in our city.”
Wharton also used his address to reiterate his support for a local sales tax increase to fund expanded pre-kindergarten education. Such a measure would require Memphis voters to approve the sales tax increase on a citywide ballot question. A countywide sales tax increase for a similar purpose failed at the polls in November.
“I realize that when it comes to any kind of tax increase, even for the best of purposes, there is a question of trust,” Wharton said. For that reason, Wharton said he also wanted to create a legal trust with a board from outside city government to oversee the additional sales tax revenue.
“I wrote this in bold type,” Wharton told the crowd as he read an explanation of the legal trust from his speech, "from outside city government, whose sole purpose will be to ensure that the sales tax proceeds are used for, and only for, the intended purposes of Pre-K education and property tax reduction.”
Wharton said the sponsors of the proposed measure, City Council members Shea Flinn and Jim Strickland had agreed to his elaborate condition.
“And you will see that in the resolution that comes out of the City Council,” Wharton said.