I'll be writing more this week about taxpayer and ratepayer subsidies of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber steadfastly refuses to tell me how public money in its economic development fund is spent, beyond general line items.
I have learned that the City of Little Rock ($200,000), the Port Authority ($7,500) and the Wastewater Utility ($25,000) have provided money this year. Central Arkansas Water has voted, 4-2, to provide $25,000 next year and in each of the succeeding three years for a total of $100,000. The Wastewater Utility will vote Wednesday to provide another $25,000 annual government subsidy to this high-profile lobby for free enterprise next year. UALR also contributed a token $350.
County Judge Buddy Villines said the Chamber has also sought a handout from the county for its work next year, but no decision has been reached. Villines said the Chamber touted its political work -- anti-union, anti-universal health care, etc. -- in seeking the contribution. He says he told Chamber reps that there are some county officials who might not find that an incentive to send along taxpayer money. Rare bird.
The City of Little Rock is supporting the Chamber's stonewall on how the money is spent. I'd like to know who is receiving the $425,000 in employee pay and benefits being subsidized by taxpayers, how much they are paid and whether their work includes lobbying on controversial issues touted on the chamber website. The Chamber won't say. The city doesn't care. It's just taxpayer (and ratepayer) money.
I'd also like to know about an $84,000 expenditure on minority businesses. The Chamber won't say. The city doesn't care. It's just taxpayer (and ratepayer) money.
I did learn that North Little Rock doesn't contribute to this fund. Hold your applause. It sends $250,000 annually from the proceeds of city electric revenues to the North Little Rock Chamber of Commerce. Every time you fire up your a/c on the northside, just remember you're helping the chamber.
The contradiction is obvious. Groups that decry government subsidies of health care and, as the LR chamber says, "costs associated with taxes and government regulation" busily stick their hands out for their own subsidies. Of course the guys on the LR Chamber's taxpayer-financed team HAVE group health care, at a cost of $23,000. Your tax dollars at work. None dare call it government subsidized health care. That's only when you want it. Not when THEY get it.