Memphis voters reject sales tax increase

The Memphis sales-tax referendum failed Thursday by an overwhelming margin of 60 percent to 40 percent, or 17,636 votes to 11,659, in the evening’s final unofficial tally as reported by the Commercial Appeal.

Only 7 percent of the city’s 417,174 registered voters participated.

The result represents a victory for skeptics of the plan to raise the sales tax to expand preschool training and help reduce the property tax.

“Apparently, if the numbers hold, The margin indicates that the will of the people is that they didn’t want to pay more sales tax for a partial Pre-K program, and I’m delighted by that,” said one of the main opponents of the tax, former school board member Rev. Kenneth Whalum Jr.

Whalum and others spoke out against the concept, but didn’t organize campaign committees.

By contrast, proponents built a committee that raised and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars. “The promises that they were making did not line up with the content of the referendum itself. … It feels good to be David defeating Goliath,” Whalum said

Memphis City Council member Shea Flinn, who helped initiate the sales tax referendum, had few words Thursday night.

“We lost. Who won?” he said by phone, then paused for several seconds. “That’s all I can say.”