The Little Rock Board of Directors convenes at 5 p.m. tonight to vote on a tax proposal for a special election in September.
As it stands, a total of a penny has been suggested — 5/8ths permanently for operations and 3/8ths for 10 years for so-called capital spending, including a $38 million economic development slush fund by which the city plans to get in the scientific research business.
Changes are still possible. Polls are driving the behind-the-scenes discussion. Mayor Mark Stodola's angry response to criticism here last week of the slush fund derives from the fact that "economic development" are words akin to motherhood and apple pie. Such polling as has been done finds more support for "economic development" than for a tax increase for city operations, though if you talk police and fire protection, some bare majority support can be elicited. In short, Stodola thinks his slush fund spells victory for a tax increase that is desperately needed for basic city services so he doesn't want to see it dissed.
I don't think the polls are good indicators about the practice of secretive, unaccountable city spending on economic development pipe dreams. Are voters FOR "economic development"? Sure they are, insofar as it implies new jobs, population and greater prosperity. If only a slush fund guaranteed such a thing. Are voters for wasting money, secrecy and substituting government investment for private investment? I'd like to think not.
Tune in tonight. Some neighborhood groups haven't stopped pushing for interests closer to the ground than dreams of a government-financed research miracle. Buses on John Barrow Road, for example. Rebuilding that fire-destroyed community center. Building a fire station that Mayor Stodola claimed as one of his "accomplishments" in his 2010 re-election bid. And lots more.