Columns » Max Brantley

Back to work

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After two weeks of vacation, I prepared to go back to work with a speed reading of accumulated newspapers. These stories stood out:

• Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola's desperate defense of his $500 million sales tax proposal. Tens of millions are being sought to pay for services required for western reaches of the city annexed in the last 20 years or so. Yet Stodola, in answering criticism of the city's failure to charge meaningful development impact fees, claims developers pay an impact fee by installing streets and sewers.

That's at best misleading. Stodola is parroting the tired growth-pays-for-itself baloney long served up by city leaders. If that were true West Little Rock would already have a fire station, adequate parks, sufficient police coverage and all the other city services taxpayers are now being asked to finance.

This latest tax proposal takes developer-friendly sophistry to a new level, however. Now taxpayers must pay for growth not only after the fact, but also beforehand. Stodola is asking taxpayers for a $38 million slush fund, much of which will essentially be controlled by the unaccountable Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce. Free market capitalism is passe in Little Rock. Now taxpayers must pay bribes to entice businesses here. Build the Little Rock economy? Stodola could start by insisting that only local vendors be used in the work on the pro-tax campaign.

• Tyson and Walmart money will support the University of Arkansas's new Center for Food Animal Well Being. It is to be a "voice" on animal production issues.

The new leader of the center stressed that the program would be "pro-agriculture." What she meant was that the university will serve as an advocate for the industrial food supply business against those working, if not for an end to the killing of animals for food, for laws requiring more humane treatment before and during slaughter. It doesn't seem to have occurred to the university's Tyson-endowed expert that more humane practices and being pro-agriculture need not be mutually exclusive.

Perhaps the new Center will surprise me with scientific research endorsing, for example, more room for penned livestock. But I expect it to be more like the Walton-financed School of Education Reform, where nearly all the faculty enjoys enriched pay courtesy of Walton endowments. I've been assured that tenure (something the Waltons hate in public schools) allows this faculty to research and report without fear of angering Waltons should the school's research discover fallacies in the charter school/school choice/anti-teachers union agenda the Waltons favor. But the fact is that this rarely happens. There, as with the new agriculture researcher, faculty members make it clear their thinking is in line with their benefactors and they are at work to validate it. You'd be hard-pressed to learn from their public pronouncements, for example, that national research has yet to prove the superiority of alternatives to conventional public schools. Similarly, I don't expect the new food experts at UA to be issuing stinging reviews of Tyson animal practices. I'm just saying: We don't allow judges to hear cases involving parties from which they receive financial benefits. I'm not sure tenure cleanses the practice for academics.

• Tell me again how we justify paying $326,000 to Ernie Passailaigue, director of the Arkansas Lottery. Did Ernie P. really say that the IRS misunderstood its own deadlines for paying taxes, deadlines which the lottery has missed for two years running? Couldn't we hire someone of equal competence for about half the cost?

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