As a governmental politico of vast experience, Tennessee State Comptroller of the Treasury, Republican Justin Wilson, is not a man unfamiliar with the intricacies of carving out fiscal budgets. But, as the policy advisor and Deputy to former Governor Don Sundquist, Wilson learned the consequences of when fiscal responsibility surrenders to the idea of "kicking the can down the road."
"We believe in having a balanced budget. By a balanced budget, I don't mean just a constitutionally balanced budget. But, I mean one where the money going in. Money goes out actually balance," Tennessee Comptroller Justin Wilson said.
If you're an observer of Memphis government in action, that's a captivating concept isn't it? But, as a constitutional officer of the state, Wilson is applying the pressure on Memphis Mayor A C Wharton and the embattled Memphis City Council to get it's financial house in order. In the second letter he's written in the last month to Memphis government leaders, Wilson issued more than a wake-up call. In correspondence to Council Chairman Edmund Ford Jr., Wilson warned the governmental body "not to kick the can down the road" when it came to paying down the debt it owes. Later he wrote "the Council should decide the city's priorities. If the Council does not do this, someone else may end up doing this."
It's the stern, yet ambiguous nature of those lines which many Memphians took as a threat. But, Collierville Republican State Senator, Mark Norris, who presided over Wilson's appointment hearing in 2009 says it's the just the kind of plain talk which has earned Wilson a solid reputation as a money manager.
"The important thing here is that the city of Memphis is actually in a good position to do what needs to be done to right the ship of state, so to speak. This is not a dire situation. The letter wasn't written as a threat. It's sort of like no brag. Just fact" Norris said.
"He comes out of Nashville establishment. There is a Nashville versus Memphis thing, I think, which is famous. But, he also has a reputation for being fairly objective and not an ideologue," columnist Jackson Baker said.
Norris, who talked by phone with Wilson on Thursday, notes under Wilson's watch the state has reduced it's borrowing costs and has maintained a strong financial rating.
"He's brilliant. He's very effective and yet pragmatic. With great business sense as well as the political sense it takes to do that job," Norris said.
So, apparently Wilson is trying to forcefully persuade Memphis government officials to do what they were elected to do.