It's hot. It's summer. And the city of Little Rock plans a special election Sept. 11 on a three-mill property tax to support a $105 million bond issue for streets and drainage. Maybe nobody but supporters will notice, the political thinking goes.
I remain generally well-disposed to ongoing basic infrastructure work. But questioning has begun about the request for a new tax levy, which comes not long after a sales tax increase aimed to raise $500 million over 10 years, including $195 million in capital projects.
Enter Jim Lynch, a city political activist of long standing who was among those who opposed the city sales tax campaign. Opposition like his was integral to defeat of the tax in low-income neighborhoods. He says again the city is seeking too much. I'd take exception to him on one point — I think the city's push for a new tax to pay for infrastructure (equally split among city wards though the need varies among the wards) is indication of the city's tacit acknowledgment of the emptiness of the cherished city hall propaganda that growth pays for itself. It doesn't. A permanent infrastructure program financed more by old parts of town than new proves this. We should have impact fees, of course, as well as ongoing infrastructure programs. But it would also be nice if city officials would stop blowing smoke.
Lynch's explanation follows of the chart he prepared above of city bond issues over the last half-century. It's from a letter he sent to a city board member announcing his opposition to the tax proposal.
LETTER FROM JIM LYNCH
...I prepared this chart last year during the sales tax campaign.
The tall column in red is the 3/8 cent tax approved at the Sept. 13, 2011 election.
Fair enough, the voters said "Yes". During that campaign I and others raised the question of the amount of taxes ($500 million Tax — Too Much! Committee). Now, less than one year later, City Hall proposes another $105 million capital expenses IN ADDITION TO the record-setting $195 million approved 10 months ago.
(Please note that the dollars in the chart are inflation adjusted so the amounts can be fairly compared, year-to-year and deade-to-decade.)
LR over the last 40 to 50 years has, on average, issued a capital improvements bond issue about every six or so years. And, the $195 million is a 10-year plan, but, the question remains...
How Much is Enough? Now, we are supposed to accept $300 million ($195 million plus $105million) is needed for the next decade. This sum equals $30 million per year....compare this money with the green columns in the chart....and these were bond issues expected to last every six years or thereabouts!
I and others continue to resist the City Hall line that "growth pays for itself" because the results are now apparent that it DOES NOT. LR, during the 1970s, 80s and 90s almost tripled its land area and at every juncture we were told "not to to worry" about these new territories will not be a financial burden. The results are obviously otherwise.
(I make some distinction between the westerward annexation push and the SWLR annexation of Mabelvale and vicinity. Mabelvale had thousands of residents unserved with clearly needed local services when the annexation was initiated. By contrast, no one lived in the Deltic Timber acreage west of LR's city limits.)
I strongly support public services and have supported most of the bond issues in the green columns but I cannot support the next one proposed for a September election. We need better policies to grow our existing neighborhoods instead of constantly creating new ones out of raw acreage because land developers insist on doing so. And, with the recent controversy of a city-sponsored entity (Tech Park Authorty Board) ready to bulldoze stable, moderate income homes in the central city, a vote for still even more city taxes is just beyond my limit.