Columns » Max Brantley

Season of sacrifice

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The Little Rock Board of Directors finished a painful round of budget cutting last week in response to a drop in tax revenue.

Cuts of 25 percent in support of the Museum of Discovery and the Arkansas Arts Center undoubtedly will mean fewer children will be delighted by arts and science. Youth programs were cut back. A popular ballfield lost money that operated a summer program. But the toll was even more personally painful.

Wish a Merry Christmas to people whose city jobs were sliced from the budget in 2010 (not vacant positions that won't be funded):

• A tobacco prevention worker, pay cut by $17,996 to make the job part-time.

• An assistant city attorney, paid $60,454.

• A senior revenue collector paid $49,053.

• A court cashier, paid $35,598, to be replaced by a credit card machine.

• A plumbing inspector, paid $43,022.

• An electrical inspector, paid $42,576.

• A neighborhood alert center worker, paid $33,790.

• A community services supervisor, paid $33,089.

• Two parks maintenance foremen, paid $41,678 and $46,507.

• A park truck driver, paid $35,000.

• An East Little Rock Recreation Center program supervisor, paid $38,535.

• A concessions supervisor, paid $45,870.

• A zoo administrative assistant, paid $44,205

• A zoo café supervisor, paid $38,768.

• A zoo special events coordinator, $49,623.

• A zoo visitor services assistant, paid $42,917.

• A zoo laborer, paid $28,850.

These laid-off workers should sleep soundly Christmas Eve. It should be a comfort to them that they've sacrificed their livelihoods for a better Little Rock. You see, without their firings, the city wouldn't have been able to continue paying $200,000 each year to the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, which also takes public money from water and sewer ratepayers, the taxpayer-financed Port Authority and UALR. The public money subsidizes an economic development team, once financed by Chamber member dues, but increasingly viewed (by the Chamber) as something taxpayers should finance. The Chamber is lobbying governments for still more tax money.

Who's on the team? What, precisely do they do? How, precisely, do they spend their money? The Chamber won't reveal details routinely demanded of public entities and the city demands no accountability of the money either.

I was able to learn that five people are employed on the economic development team. In 2008 (the most recent figures available), they received $368,294 in salaries, or an average of better than $75,000 in taxpayer-subsidized pay. They received group medical insurance at a taxpayer-subsidized cost of $23,050. They received $2,400 worth of disability and other employment benefits, again with significant help from tax and ratepayers.

When the 2009 figures are released, I'm guessing pay and benefits will not show a decline. With added money from water ratepayers next year, they might even receive a pay raise in 2010. It's been a busy year for the Chamber after all, what with fighting unions and health care for all Americans.

So, thanks, fired workers. You've helped make the Chamber's New Year comfortable. A  Merry Christmas and good night to all of us  who elect the people who finance and protect Little Rock's secret shadow government.

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