by Max Brantley
The mayor has some projects in mind, yes. Public hearings? Not yet. A specific list of spending? No. Any kind of specific promise that there will be accountability in the spending of this new windfall? Not so far.
Much as the Little Rock sales tax proposal had its shortcomings, it was a model of transparency, public accountability and considered thinking compared with Mayor Hays' rush for a pot of midnight gold.
The most obvious flaw is yet another economic development slush fund — a whopping $20 million. It perhaps would buy some vacant land to steal the State Fair from Little Rock (presuming the fair figures out where to get $100 million to build the buildings.) Or maybe he'd build an office park. (If vacant buildings were the key to prosperity, downtown Little Rock would be the next Silicon Valley.) Maybe the mayor would use the money for downtown redevelopment, such as moving the bus station. Maybe he'd give it to a private hotel developer's needs for a parking lot to compete with a downtown competitor, long one of his aims. Who knows? It's all speculative at the moment.
This tax will push to 12 percent the cumulative tax North Little Rock collects on an order of chicken McNuggets. A little more consideration of those paying the freight might be in order.
North Little Rock has copied Little Rock's tested PR theme — public safety and jobs — to attempt to pass yet another regressive sales tax. Buy now, wonder later what happened to the jobs that government said it could create with a sales tax on the necessities of life. Wonder, too, about taxing those necessities just to relocate a business from one side of the river to the other.
In Little Rock, meanwhile, I keep hearing reports that planning — legal and real estate — for the taxpayer-financed research park is underway, though the chamber of commerce-dominated board that will spend the tax money has not yet met. The mayor also denies any movement is underway on the bond issue ultimately necessary to finance this project (with interest charges that seem certain to raise the taxpayers' investment beyond the amount outlined in the sales tax pitch).
It will be clear eventually whether the deal was pre-cooked. The mayor once told a neighborhood group that 27 to 28 acres would be bought south of I-630 between Fair Park and Woodrow, though he later said no decisions had been reached on the site. When the city does come asking for voter approval of still more money to pay for bonds to build the office park, I hope, at least, for more than one month's notice.