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Polling on new city tax

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We reported on the Arkansas Blog recently about receiving a call from an opinion research firm on an expected proposal to renew a Little Rock property tax millage for roads and drainage. The questions centered on Mayor Mark Stodola's idea to reduce the millage rate from 3.3 to 3 mills. The drop in bond interest rates means the city could still have more money for bond issue-backed work.

Questions also focused on opinions about the mayor, city board and Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

The same sort of polling preceded the formation of a committee housed and run by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce in support of a recent increase in the city sales tax. Though the mayor and chamber later disputed that this was a chamber operation, it clearly was. Chamber CEO Jay Chesshir even testified before the state Ethics Commission in defense of the secrecy in reporting of campaign expenditures and financial expenditures by the Chamber. He exploited a poorly drafted law that the Ethics Commission hopes to correct in 2013, the chamber willing (which it isn't.)

So we asked the mayor about the polling. We also asked Chesshir and a representative of the consulting firm through which all the sales tax campaign money had passed so as to shield how it was spent. Only Stodola responded, saying that none of the questions were considered by him or anyone else in City Hall and that he didn't know who had paid for the poll, but guessed that members of the business community were likely behind it.

Stodola did promise in his note that there'd be no money for the Little Rock Technology Park in the property tax millage. The question is important because the $22 million in tax dollars the city has committed to the park is only a down payment on an estimated $50 million-plus to get the park off the ground. So far, apart from token sums from the UAMS, UALR and Children's Hospital, the only real money on hand is the flow of tax pennies from grocery, clothing, car and utility purchases and restaurant meals.

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