by Max Brantley
A group calling itself the Arkansas Tea Party has issued a news release opposing the penny sales tax increase on the ballot in North Little Rock Nov. 8.
Too much fat, particularly in the economic development realm, and not enough discussion or information about specifics, a Tea Party statement says.
Putting aside the question of whether this statement represents one or 100 or 1,000 people — and putting aside that it's from the Tea Party, generally enough for a reflexive contrary opinion on my part — I confess that the statement raises some valid points.
This has been a hurryup, under-discussed affair — by design. It probably doesn't matter. North Little Rock, though a blue collar town, has always been friendly to the regressive sales tax. They like the mayor, too. If he says it's good, most people tend to think it's good. But giving even a good mayor a $20 million checking account for economic development, with no promise on how it's to be spent or meaningful oversight? This makes the Little Rock chamber of commerce controlled economic development slush fund look like a model of inclusive, responsible governance.
Mayor Pat Hays might buy some land for a future state fair site. Or he might buy some for an office park, doing with tax money what private enterprise should do. Or he might parcel it out to developer friends to build a parking deck for a hotel in competition with private operators who paid their own way. Who knows? Voters don't, and that's a problem. The State Fair relocation idea — apart from being a net zero for the county as a whole — is most likely a pipe dream unless the federal government suddenly steps up with $100 million to build the new facilities that would be required. The land is the least of the cost. There will also be highway connections to consider.
Tea Party finds an acorn, but, as in Little Rock, some obvious flaws don't necessarily dictate defeat of the measure with money for some worthy uses — police, fire, streets. Which is what Mayor Hays — and Mayor Stodola before him — is counting on.
TEA PARTY NEWS RELEASE
The North Little Rock sales tax increase proposal asks local taxpayers to fund unnecessary projects, according to the Arkansas Tea Party. “When many people are struggling to make theirnext house payment, it is irresponsible for the city to be asking for funds to improve parks, library facilities and economic development,” said Todd Sharp, Tea Party spokesman.
“Economic development is a good example. There are dozens of local, regional, state, corporate and federal economic development initiatives available. It seems only reasonable to fully explore these many options available before asking taxpayers to create yet another economic development fund in addition to what’s already available.
“We encourage taxpayers to take a close look at the tax proposal and the items it would fund,” said Sharp. “It raises the question of why the majority of Arkansas cities have a local sales tax well below than that being proposed by North Little Rock. How can cities such as Batesville, Sherwood, Searcy and many other cities operate successfully with about one-half the sales tax being proposed in North Little Rock?
“We elect city officials to manage city operations in a fiscally responsible manner, to find ways to control taxpayer expense rather than take the easy way out and ask for more money from taxpayers to run city government and fund unnecessary expenses.”
The proposed sales tax would increase to 9% on virtually every purchase made in North Little Rock. If you go to eat at a restaurant, you’ll pay 12% tax. This increase would put North Little Rock among the highest sales taxes in the state.
Sharp said local officials have tried to avoid close examination of the tax proposal by allowing only about a month before the public vote is held. “Rushing this proposal through raises a lot of questions that need to be asked of city officials,” said Sharp. “The Democratic process requires a well-informed public and allowing time for public debate and the exchange of ideas.
City officials have allowed little time for the process to work. This is about as close as you get to taxation without representation.”
In addition, the city has made it difficult to get details of the actual proposal. “I challenge anyone to find the actual proposal online,” said Sharp. “We had an experienced internet researcher look for the document and was unable to find it online. This is a major disservice to the public since so many people receive their news and information online. Are city officials trying to hide the details from the public?”
A campaign by sales tax supporters — including advertising and phone calling — Indicates that special interest groups, such as the Chamber of Commerce are pushing this proposal at the expense of hard working citizens. “The key questions are: what special interest groups are paying for this campaign, and how much they are spending to get it passed?
Who is representing the interests of the working folks of North Little Rock, those on fixed incomes as well as seniors and low-income families? These are the ones who will feel the biggest impact of this regressive tax.
“Consumer costs are up across the board including rising health care costs, groceries and transportation costs. We cannot afford more money out of our pockets, especially when you consider other possible taxes that could hit North Little Rock residents in the future such as the state proposal for internet sales tax and potential tax on the Broadway Bridge replacement. This is a time for residents to draw the line and vote No,” said Sharp.
Tea Party volunteers are going door to door to inform local residents of the adverse impact of the sales tax proposal. “We’re a grassroots organization that believes that we can resolve many of the existing economic and governmental problems by making sure that citizens from all walks of life and cultures are well informed.”