- Brian Chilson
- Pulaski Tech
Pulaski Tech, the junior college on steroids, will seek general tax support from the community for the first time this summer.
Its board of trustees decided last week to seek its first property tax millage. The amount and date of the election aren't set, but a dog-days vote will be spaced well away from the general election, when anti-tax Tea Party Republicans will be storming to polls to vote against the black president.
One mill would provide more than $6 million for the college and cost the owner of a $100,000 home less than 40 cents a week.
I'm well disposed to Pulaski Tech. I participate in a foundation that supports single-parent scholarships there. Only the hard-hearted wouldn't mist up at the stories of deprivation, desire and achievement I've heard from students to whom money to get a clunker running or buy a job uniform was a small miracle.
Pulaski Tech, with nearly 12,000 students scattered all over Pulaski and Saline counties, is a huge feeder of students to UALR. It trains people for important jobs. Without Tech's supply of trained workers, Little Rock would be hard-pressed to support its private aircraft industry.
Tech isn't asking for a free ride for its students. Concurrent with the tax election, the college's board approved a whopping 7 percent tuition increase.
I won't vote blindly. I want to hear specifics, just as Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola said he wanted when I asked him weeks ago if he'd oppose a Tech tax because it didn't go along with his push to move its culinary school downtown. The downtown crowd is still fuming. A Pulaski trustee, Diane Bray, who's closely connected with the power brokers who pushed for the Main Street move, said she believed the school had lost a lot of support. I don't agree with the adjective "lot." But clearly, a small number of small people believe punishment is in order for opponents of the establishment.
Which reminds me: The Pulaski board will meet next month on choosing a political consultant to guide its tax campaign. Already mentioned as a candidate is the Markham Group, which, as I've written before, has become the poster child for money laundering of political issue campaign money. Under a now legally cleared practice, tax campaigns give money to the Markham Group and report only those checks as expenditures. All the specific guts of a campaign's spending are kept secret.
The Ethics Commission wants to correct the legal flaw that allows secrecy. In the meanwhile, the Pulaski Tech Board must insist on public accountability by whoever it hires. The Markham Group, to date, has opposed accountability. It argued before the Ethics Commission that disclosure of spending would reveal "proprietary" strategy, though it routinely makes such detailed disclosure for political candidates.
Reminiscent of the people they worked for in the city sales tax campaign — the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce and its puppet government — the Markham Group doesn't cotton to opposition. It has made clear it intends to punish my newspaper for my criticism of their practices. (Join the army.) When my complaint about non-disclosure was pending before the Ethics Commission, the Markham Group even considered bringing up a campaign in which I participated (proudly, by the way) — to oppose a state law designed to discriminate against gay people.
Nice guys, huh? But given where nice guys finish, they'll probably get the job. That still won't negatively influence my tax vote. Non-disclosure of campaign spending will.