Columns » Max Brantley

A Christmas respite

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I’m burning to bore what few readers remain with more TIF news. That’s tax increment financing if you’re late tuning in, but I’ll only take a minute. It’s a complicated subject and I don’t think I’ve done much in three straight weekly rants to explain it. But I do have good news to report. The Pulaski County School District has issued a stout legal opinion objecting to formation of a TIF in Sherwood. The school district has real lawyers from the Wright firm behind the opinion. A key argument remains one I’ve made previously. The constitutionally required 25-mill base school tax is a state tax, not a local tax. That means no revenues on it can be applied to build things to aid private developers. It can only go to schools. More attorney general opinions have surfaced supporting this point of view, as well as other legal complications. Sen. Jim Argue is on the case. We can hope he’ll find a way to stop the raid on school money, but powerful forces in Fayetteville, Rogers and Bentonville believe they’ve found the proverbial gold-laying goose. They won’t give up the riches easily. Better to tax the state than themselves for city streets. Again: Wealthy places — the only places where big new development is possible — create TIFs. They then capture the increases in school taxes to aid private developers with infrastructure. The state, to the detriment of taxpayers everywhere else, is making up the lost school money thanks to a little-known 2003 law. It’s that simple and that outrageous. But this is a season of peace, love and brotherhood. Enough TIF. Though I’m known as the house grinch, I was secretly happy to learn that my wife will continue Santa gifts for one more year, even though the younger of our two kids is nearing 20. She confesses she gets as big a charge out of putting the array of unwrapped, “surprise” gifts under the tree as they do seeing them. Me, too. All is in order. A real tree is up; evergreen boughs, nutcrackers and time-worn shepherds festoon the mantels. I buy the tree, erect it and wrap it in lights. As usual, I’m told, the tree is deformed and the lights inadequate. The kids will get their annual laugh at my mutant fir when they get home. Last weekend, the ornaments went up — a collection good for recalling Christmases past, family trips, kindergarten projects and ancestors gone. It never fails to choke me up. With the ornaments comes a spin of Charles Brown, the bluesman who wrote my favorite Christmas tune, “Please Come Home for Christmas.” (The correct version begins with three strikes of a chime.) It’s another family joke that I play it — repeatedly — at tree-trimming time. It’s a bittersweet tune, as is Christmas itself. No matter how good the day, I’m always reminded of the gentle faces no longer at customary places at the dinner table. As you might guess, I excel at the eating part. We do Noel in the French fashion. Nothing is too extravagant. Champagne. Shrimp cocktail. Prime rib. Potatoes au gratin. Burgundy. Trifle. An honest-to-goodness flaming figgy pudding with hard sauce. Stilton. Calvados. Chocolates. Coffee. Groans. I know I’ve been self-indulgent. But maybe it turned your thoughts to your own favorite memories and customs. As Charles Brown sang, “Friends and relations/send salutations.” Merry Christmas to all.

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