Memphians approve public safety sales tax referendum

Updated: Oct. 4, 2019 at 4:34 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Memphis voters have passed a public safety sales tax referendum restoring benefits to first responders that were lost years ago.

The referendum passed with 52 percent of voters in favor of adding a half-cent in sales tax in Memphis.

Earlier this week, city officials argued the numbers did not add up for the referendum to be passed and operate successfully. Memphis City Council chairman Kemp Conrad said he thought the the referendum would be “underwater” as soon as the tax is put into action.

But Memphis fire and police urged voters to pass the referendum hoping to restore health and pension benefits for public safety employees.

Conrad told WMC the city is already hiring more officers and paying them more so the referendum wouldn’t restore either of the concerns above.

Hours before the referendum passed, WMC Political Analyst Mike Nelson said he thinks the referendum would have a chance to pass based on the number of petition signatures. He said 140,000 people signed those petitions and if even half of those people voted for the referendum Thursday it would pass.

This same referendum was proposed years before in 2013 but the police union president pushed back saying the tax would harm the poor.

He now believes that same half-cent tax increase will not affect the poor in any way. He explained his current reasoning in an interview last week.

“So, I wasn’t as educated as I am now. But now I am very educated on the subject,” said Mike Williams. “I’ve learned that it is not a regressive tax. It does not affect snap. It does not affect pharmaceuticals, for the elderly, and medications.”

It is unclear when the referendum will actually go into effect.

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