by Max Brantley
The mailbox is mostly empty this morning. But Wendell Griffen, the circuit judge who wears a political activist hat as a Baptist minister, is on hand with a statement opposing the city of Little Rock's special election proposal next week to continue (with a slight reduction) the long-standing property tax millage for street and drainage work.
Griffen is roused by work of the ad hoc committee supporting the tax. He continues the message of other advocates of inner city Little Rock that it is unfair to spread the spending evenly by ward when needs in the older parts of town are so much greater.
It's a tough argument that I've followed from afar these last couple of weeks. The one-man, one-dollar approach is undeniably the politically expedient way to get this tax approved, particularly given the higher voting patterns in the better neighborhoods that will disproportionately benefit. (Note that these neighborhoods include many that didn't pay their fair share for extension of infrastructure in the city's westward annexation expansion.) Mayor Mark Stodola and others have also been guilty of misleading rhetoric. A flat millage tax is NOT a progressive tax. It disproportionately burdens the poor owners of property who pay a larger share of their available income on property taxes. It is NOT true that developers have contributed much by way of money to past infrastructure work. Yes, they build driveways and many lesser streets, but the big collector streets, the fire stations, police stations, parks, sewer and water demand and alll the rest build a rapidly accruing bill for all. And the notion that property tax wealth is heavily concentrated out west overlooks huge tax bills on the center city, particularly downtown.
No matter. I find myself today leaning strongly toward a vote FOR the property tax continuation. It would be devastating to the city to lose this historic source of steady and somewhat elastic support at the end of this year. I can lament some of the political cynicism at work in the campaign, but I can't overlook the consequences of refusing continuation of the levy. The tax vote doesn't bind the ward spending plan for all time, for one thing. Voter referendums ARE possible, too.
WENDELL GRIFFEN STATEMENT
A group calling itself the "Keep Building Little Rock's Future Committee" (www.buildinglittlerocksfuture.com) is urging Little Rock residents to vote in a special election on September 11 to lower the millage rate on the property taxes used to fund the City street and drainage program. Mayor Mark Stodola called for this special election during his State of the City address earlier this year. I'm issuing this statement to our Congregation and the wider Community urging that we vote AGAINST the measure on September 11.
Of course, proposals to cut taxes are always politically popular. That doesn't always make them fair. It is common knowledge that Little Rock needs to devote substantially more money to improve streets and drainage in the downtown and southwest parts of our city. Residents of those areas are especially vulnerable to flash flooding during heavy rainstorms. So it is strange that Mayor Stodola and other leaders refuse to place greater emphasis on street and drainage improvements in those vulnerable areas, claiming that they want to divide money for street and drainage improvements evenly among the seven wards regardless to need.
Every religion teaches that we owe a greater moral and ethical duty to protect and provide for people who are more vulnerable. As followers of Jesus, we do not resent people who are privileged. However, we must always be careful to not misuse privilege to the disadvantage of those who are vulnerable. Simply put, it is unfair for Little Rock officials to distribute the same percentage of money for street and drainage improvements to areas that are not as needy as they allocate for downtown and southwest Little Rock where flooding danger is highest and street and drainage improvements are most needed.
Concern for those with greater needs is not only taught by every religion. Sensible parents understand that the neediest members of a family deserve and should Inclusive, Progressive, and Welcoming Followers of Jesus Christ September 2, 2012 Pastoral statement AGAINST September 11, 2012 Little Rock ballot measure receive the greatest attention. Who among us has not heard it said that "the squeaky wheel gets the grease?"
The same group that promoted the 2011 vote to raise the sales tax in Little Rock and give millions of dollars in revenue to the Little Rock Technology Park Authority is promoting the September 11 election. They plainly hope we will narrow-mindedly think about lowering our individual property taxes. They hope that people who live in privileged areas of the City will imagine new street and drainage improvement projects even if they already have adequate streets and storm drainage. They hope we will vote based on self-interest.
We can rise above their low expectations by voting AGAINST the millage measure. In doing so, we will make a different and better statement about the meaning of community. Voting AGAINST what they have proposed for the September 11 election will not raise property taxes for anyone. But it will prevent our leaders from using street and drainage improvement funds to favor privileged areas of our community while under-serving our neighbors who live in areas that plainly have urgent and more pressing needs.
Speaking the truth about power, how it should be used, and how it is misused is one of the continuing challenges and duties for people who lead followers of Jesus and other faith communities. As a Pastor, I remind you that we have the power to cast votes on September 11 that will affect the way City officials distribute funds for street and drainage improvements. Our votes will determine how our more vulnerable neighbors are treated.
I hope you will vote on September 11 AGAINST the millage measure. Let's show by our vote that we believe in using more resources to protect our neighbors who are most vulnerable.
Grace and Peace,
Wendell L. Griffen