Madeleine Taylor gave specific reasons why the Memphis Branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) is endorsing a countywide half-cent sales tax increase.
"The funds would be used to support pre-K," said Taylor, the organization's executive director, during a press conference at NAACP headquarters on Monday (Oct. 15.)
Members of the group's executive board surrounded Taylor. It was crafted as a show of solidarity for the half-cent tax increase that Mayor A C Wharton Jr., other elected officials, a group of ministers and a coalition of civic and community organizations have been pushing for more than a week.
The Shelby County Democratic Party, Latino Memphis, Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, and Stand for Children are rallying the community to support a tax increase that O.C. Pleasant, chairman of the NAACP political action committee, said is "an opportunity to save the soul of Memphis."
Pleasant said Memphis could become another Detroit, if the tax increase doesn't pass the test voters in Memphis and the unincorporated areas of Shelby County.
Appearing first on the Nov. 6th ballot, the County Sales and Use Tax Referendum will read: "Shall the resolution of the Board of County Commissioners, increasing the county sales tax from 2.25 % to 2.75 %, except where the sales tax rate is limited or modified by statue, be approved?"
A projected $60 million would be generated from the tax increase, with half of that – an estimated $30 million mandated by the state of Tennessee – going to the unified school system, if the measure passes. The funds, Taylor emphasized, are required by law to go to public education.
"Our members have stood strong to let our voice be heard on issues facing this community and this is one time we cannot be silent," she said.
Dr. Warner Dickerson, NAACP president, said the sales tax increase for public education is "the best of evils."
"Nobody wants to advocate for a tax increase," he said. "But for the boys and girls, I think it's an avocation that's well worth doing. I know of no other way of doing this."
Taylor said public schools deserve additional funding.
"It is our understanding that with $15 million allocated for pre-K in Memphis, we can educate 2,500 more students or fund up to 125 new classrooms (over a 5-year period), she said.
The additional funding that the city of Memphis receives from the sales tax increase will be used to extend the hours of libraries and community centers and help to clean up blight, the tax supporters pointed out. Mayor Wharton has said property taxes could also be reduced.