by Max Brantley
Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen is distributing a letter outlining his reasons for opposing the proposed Little Rock sales tax increase — a penny increase to produce almost $50 million a year — to be voted on Sept. 13.
I'd be remiss if I didn't comment that — 1) though I agree with some of the judge's sentiments and 2) the judge has clearly established the right of a judge to the same First Amendment protections others enjoy — it's not impossible that issues related to the sales tax could find themselves contested in circuit court. Just because a judge CAN speak freely doesn't mean he SHOULD.
LETTER FROM WENDELL GRIFFEN
Fellow Little Rock Residents,
I'm writing to urge you to vote "No" twice in the September 13 election to triple the Little Rock sales tax and to explain why I'm opposed to it. City leaders have placed two measures on the ballot. One will increase the sales tax by 5/8 of a penny forever. The other will increase the sales tax another 3/8 of a penny for ten years. Together, the measures are projected to raise over $500 million—yes, half a billion dollars—in ten years.
Here's why I'm opposed to the tax increase.
1. Little Rock only needs $8 million a year to balance its books, not a million dollars a week! Over a ten year period, this sales tax increase will raise over $500 million in revenue for an average of about $50 million a year. There are 52 weeks in a year. That amounts to giving City Hall $1 million in new tax revenue every Monday for ten years!
2. Struggling people need their money. The State legislature and Governor Beebe worked together last year to remove the state sales tax on groceries. Now Little Rock politicians want to triple the city sales tax on groceries and everything else we buy. Economic conditions in Little Rock are tough for many families. It's not right for City leaders to triple the city sales tax on everything Little Rock residents buy when wages are stagnant, hiring is down, and unemployment is high. .
3. Little Rock residents are being sold a pig in a poke. Supporters of the sales tax increase claim that it'll spur "economic development" and point to a $6 million fund they claim will be used for that purpose. They also point to another $22 million they intend to spend on a "research park." They can't tell us where the research park will be located. They can't tell us what kind of jobs will be created, how many jobs will be created, how much the jobs will pay, or even when any jobs will be created. Voters are being asked to take money from their family budgets (and that's what a sales tax amounts to) based on fantasies.
4. Little Rock taxpayers shouldn't be forced to subsidize private investors. The City already gives $200,000 a year to the Chamber of Commerce. State government has an agency dedicated to economic development. So why are City leaders sticking Little Rock residents with the total cost of the "research park" they want to build? If this is such a good idea, why won't private investors spend their own money on it instead of taking our money by tripling the sales tax on everything we buy?
5. Little Rock residents are being forced to pay for what we don't need to get what we deserve. We need streets fixed. Older neighborhoods need help. We need to replace the communications system for the police department. But the 3/8 cent part of the sales tax vote includes money for the $22 million "research park." We shouldn't be forced to buy a research park to get potholes fixed and streets repaired.
6. We shouldn't pay half a billion dollars more for government that doesn't work well. City government tried to divert the $2 million dollar insurance payment for the burned Adult Leisure Center into general revenue. City leaders have blocked civilian review for questionable police shootings. City Hall won't establish a residency requirement for city employment, so many city employees are paid with our tax dollars and live in other communities. Now City leaders want to triple the sales tax to benefit even more people who will refuse to live among us.
Little Rock doesn't need half a billion dollars ($500 million) to balance its books. Little Rock doesn't need $50 million a year to balance its books. Little Rock doesn't need $1 million a week to balance its books. But the one cent sales tax increase will generate those dollars. Instead of asking us to balance the books, City leaders are trying to triple the sales tax for what amounts to a Christmas shopping spree.
I urge you to join me and other concerned Little Rock residents in voting "No" twice on this outrageous demand. Election Day is Tuesday, September 13, 2011. Early voting starts Tuesday, September 6 at the Pulaski County Regional Building at 501 W. Markham Street (from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday thru Friday and on Monday, September 12). There will be no weekend voting.
· If you don't want the sales tax tripled, vote "No" twice.
· If you agree we shouldn't give City Hall $50 million a year for the next ten years to cover an $8 million budget shortfall, vote "No" twice.
· If you agree that it makes no sense to give City Hall $1 million every week for the next ten years, vote "No" twice.
· If you agree that it makes no sense for the city to raise the sales tax on groceries when groceries were dropped from the state sales tax last year, vote "No" twice.
· And if you want City leaders to develop and present a solution to the budget shortfall that is fair, responsible, and that will result in better government services, vote "No" twice.
Thanks for taking time to read this letter.