Little Rock rolls out its property tax campaign | Arkansas Blog

Little Rock rolls out its property tax campaign

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The city of Little Rock has begun the campaign to pass a three-mill property tax for streets and drainage. A current 3.3-mill tax is about to expire. The city plan to distribute property tax money equally among the wards has drawn criticism recently for favoring wealthier wards, where the needs aren't so great. City Directors Ken Richardson and Erma Hendrix have declined to join other directors as co-chairs of the drive because of the disproportionate share of the work their low-income neighborhoods will receive.

Here's the list of the names of the committee backing the tax.

Here's the release backing the tax, which notes a millage for this purpose has been in place since 1958 and emphasizes that it's meat-and-potatoes work, not "pet projects."

The release is from the Markham Group, the private political consulting firm that ran the successful city sales tax campaign. You may recall that campaign effort was housed in Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce offices and Chamber CEO Jay Chesshir was essentially in charge, based on his testimony before the state Ethics Commission over my complaint that the committee had sidestepped the clear intent of the law by failing to report specific campaign expenditures except checks cut to the Markham Group. The Ethics Commission staff agreed — and ethics commissioners were sympathetic — but said ambiguous drafting of the law didn't support a finding of an ethics violation. They have promised to ask the legislature to correct the law to require more reporting in the future. Meanwhile, I am assuming until told diferently that this campaign will operate like the others and most others currently underway in the state (such as the highway tax increase) and be secretive about expenditures. This tax has no $21 million gratuity for the Chamber (so far as we know), as the sales tax did in providing money for the chamber's plan to build a spec office building to attract private business. That plan has riled neighborhoods targeted for destruction to make way for the office building.

As I indicated in my column this week, I have a hard time opposing continuing property tax millages for basic infrastructure work. But I think complaints about allocation of the money have a point.

The committee backing the tax, Keep Building Little Rock's Future, has not yet filed any disclosure about money raised or spent. Interesting, because it's almost certainly this group that has been in the field with a pollster surveying the issue that happened to ring up my phone a few weeks ago. Who did the poll? What did it cost? Who paid for it? Who provided the money to pay for it? Answers don't exist in the public records of the Ethics Commission. They should.

UPDATE: Ben Thielemier of the Markham Group, in response to my question about reporting, says:

The Committee will comply with the intent of financial disclosure rules and laws to fully disclose campaign spending.

UPDATE II: And further from Gary Smith, the businessman acting as treasurer of the campaign:

As treasurer of the Keep Building Little Rock’s Future Campaign, I can assure you that we are going to itemize all expenditures (postage to individual payroll and everything in between). It will all be listed.

That would inspire confidence. I'll keep an eye on the Ethics Commission website for filings.

The news release doesn't mention the date of the election. It's Sept. 11.

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