This column is kind of a difficult one for me, and I will tell you why at the end. I have written some things that I believe would make Arkansas a better and more prosperous state.
I believe that North Little Rock and other towns in Pulaski County ought to join Little Rock. Consolidation has recently become very popular in many states. Why? It brings in more tourists, workers, companies, factories, buyers, fine medical services, entertainment, national conventions, professional sports and money coming from Washington.
One of the newest consolidations is Louisville, Ky., which had a population of 256,231 in 2003 and now has a population of 556,429, going from the 66th largest city in the country to the 26th. Consolidation had been voted on three times and failed, but it was won three years ago. None of the small towns were forced to consolidate, but most of them jumped at it, thanks to Louisville’s mayor, Jerry Abramson.
Little Rock and North Little Rock are separated only by a short bridge ride. The others towns should join except it might not be good for Jacksonville and its huge Air Force Base. But North Little Rock, Sherwood, Maumelle, Cammack Village, Alexander, Wrightsville and unincorporated places would be better off being Little Rock. Think of having to pay only one mayor, police chief, fire chief, city attorney, treasurer, etc.
Today Little Rock, our state capital, isn’t even in the list of the 100 largest cities, but the cities of 17 state capitals are on the top 100 cities list. If North Little Rock and the other county towns consolidated (except Jacksonville) it would make our capital city the 52nd largest of the American cities and surely attract more people to us.
Little Rock used to call North Little Rock “Dogtown” in the early 1900s, but you almost never hear it now. Except, strangely enough, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called it that in an editorial Saturday.
Here are some other things that I think would also improve Arkansas:
• Laws should be made to require everyone in a car to wear a seat belt and that the driver could not use a cell phone when the car was running. This year in Arkansas, as of last week, there have been 57,602 car wrecks, and 574 people in those cars were killed. Cell-phone calls and no belts were the cause of many of those hurt and killed.
• The legislature should attempt to reduce the number of state officers who have to be elected. Arkansas has six, which is ridiculous. Only Kentucky and Iowa have that many. Five states — Arizona, Georgia, Montana, New Jersey and Oregon — have only four, and 17 only elect five. If our legislature would write an amendment to the Constitution to reduce the number, surely the people would pass it.
• Arkansas land owners should be made to pay higher taxes, which are next to the lowest in the nation. Example: Little Rock will have to pay more than $3 million to buy 75 acres of empty land west of the city to build a much-needed school. The land owners are probably paying about 50 cents per acre for taxes.
• The Little Rock National Airport Commission should forget spending millions to build a new airport and pay attention to the many little things that upset travelers. Example: If you either pick up or take someone, you are now confronted with parking meters that are 25 cents for 15 minutes. Guards run you off if you put in more than one or two quarters. Unloading people from cars at the airport is almost impossible — taking the travelers and bags into the airport, getting them to the airline’s counter, carrying the luggage to be checked before loading on the airplane and saying goodbye cannot be done in 15 minutes. To pick someone up is even worse because the airplanes often don’t land on time, and when they do there’s no way you could get bags off the carousels in 15 minutes.
• We must encourage our new governor, Mike Beebe, to quickly make true his promise that every school district in the state will give pre-school education to all youngsters. It will produce smarter kids who won’t think about leaving school as so many do now.
• In 1993, many Arkansans got mad that a few legislators were filling their pockets, so we adopted what is called term-limits — senators can serve only eight years, representatives, six. It was a mistake. Now we have too many lawmakers who have won a seat just to get the salary, the reputation and the fun. Let’s go back to those serious lawmakers who can stay in office as long as their voters want them.
I’ve seen a lot in Pulaski County. Because most men were away at World War II, I got hired to take pictures and write police stories for newspapers when I was 15 years old. I used to own the North Little Rock Times, I worked long years at the Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette and have been with the Arkansas Times since it started. Because most 77-year-old men do more reading than writing, I thought it was time for me to quit. However, the editor said I should write an occasional piece, and I might.