Real consequences to follow budget battles

That vastly more people in Shelby County are aware that there is a disagreement between Willie Herenton and Steve Cohen over the logistics of a debate than are aware of the battles being waged in local and state budget hearings is an unfortunate but unavoidable reality. But right now at City Hall, at the Shelby County Administration Building and at the State Capitol, there are public policy fights being waged that will eventually lead to real-world consequences.

Richard Locker in Nashville lays out how Memphis is caught in the crossfire of a budget dispute pitting Senate Republicans against -- well, against everybody else: Senate Democrats, Republicans and Democrats in the House and, of course, Gov. Bredesen. As much as $30 million is at stake for Shelby County institutions including the Regional Medical Center at Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum and the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Despite the high stakes, the Senate Republicans voted Tuesday to take the rest of the week off. According to the story:

The Senate Finance Committee unexpectedly recessed for the week Tuesday without voting on Gov. Phil Bredesen's budget proposal, an alternative proposed by Senate Republicans last week, nor a plan presented by Democratic Leader Jim Kyle that Republican House Speaker Kent Williams says is backed by a bipartisan majority of House members.
Rick tracked down Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, in New York for a Council of State Governments meeting, and he claimed that "very productive negotiations" were underway with the House.

Back in the Bluff City, that old saying about being careful what you wish for seems appropriate for A C Wharton as he presides over his first budget as Memphis mayor. Wharton claims, correctly, that he inherited a mess caused in large part by the City Council's decision in 2008 to slash the city's contribution to Memphis City Schools, though there is no question that throughout the special mayoral election campaign, Wharton and every serious candidate was well aware the first budget would be difficult because of the school funding. Wharton is saying he would not veto a budget that included salary cuts for city workers, but pointed out that seven votes for such a measure are not likely from on a City Council that has given those workers raises of 8 percent since since 2008. However, Wharton also made some bold claims after election about using the "political muscle" that came with his resounding victory, and the Council's leading budget hawk, Democratic District 5 representative Jim Strickland, said "we need his leadership on this issue."

Across Main Street, the County Commission approved additional funding for The Regional Medical Center at Memphis. And many current and future commissioners of both parties joined Republican gubernatorial candidate Zach Wamp at The Med to show their appreciation for his decision to sign a pledge they sent candidates to make a commitment to return all federal funds generated by The Med to The Med.

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As the process for merging Shelby County's schools accelerates into action, we'll provide bonus coverage here at, with a particular focus on the 21-member transition team and the 23-member unified school board. Comment early and often. If you have any tips or suggestions you wish to share, contact Zack McMillin at or 529-2564.

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