Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Little Rock voters approve sales tax increase

Posted By on Tue, Sep 13, 2011 at 9:48 PM

It's a win for the editorial page of the Arkansas Times. Both Little Rock sales tax measures pass — roughly 53.1 to 46.9

Let's go back to the start of the evening, because it's important.

Early votes showed a solid 2-1 preference (roughly 2,000 to 1,000 in early votes) for the Little Rock sales tax increase — a penny jump through two measures over the current half cent tax to raise $500 million over the next 10 years and increase the city's operating budget by 26 percent annually.

There's hardly a difference between votes for the 5/8ths of a cent operational tax and the 3/8ths of a cent "capital" tax, which wrapped some police and fire needs around a $38 million economic development slush fund demanded by the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce leaders who control city government.

The early vote was designed to be pro-tax. Poll voting wasn't so favorable. But the tax still emerged victorious.

Mayor Mark Stodola and the chamber will tout this as a ratification of their vision, but they are clearly wrong. These results show a marked change from polling by the Arkansas Times. Our polling showed broad support for the tax (62 percent for operations), but a 12-14 point swing between support for the tax and support for City Hall and the mayor. The city needs more money. I've never argued otherwise. I think they sought too much and for some dubious purposes, but voters put any doubts about city government aside in the interests of larger interests — police, fire, streets. The actual election-day polling put the margin much closer and I think city officials should take note.

FOR EXAMPLE: The Bess Chisum Y, a racially mixed neighborhood, voted against the tax about 60-40. That's not the type of margin that could overcome the early voting (there was only one poll, located in the heart of city government country), but it defied the polling that showed black support for the tax.

It will be the first sales tax increase in, what?, 17 years. In theory, a growing city doesn't need tax increases. Growth brings ever more money through the elastic base of a sales tax. But Little Rock's real growth is negligible and it has lost shopping power to suburbs and the Internet.

The city can't plead money any more with this tax windfall. Surely prosperity will rain down on us in a mighty stream with the corporate welfare money built into the tax plan.

Vigilance is in order, however. The city callled these operating and capital millages, but the ballot speciified no guaranteed spending purposes for the tidal wave of new tax money. It's all fungible. It could be a huge wasted pot of new money if voters don't keep close tabs on city government. Past practice suggests that would be in order.

OBSERVATIONS: Pitiful turnout, about 22,000 of 111,000 registered voters — 20 percent. This is by design of the proponents. It was a special election on an obscure Tuesday with no major media spending, only targeted spending to people identified as likely tax voters. The city spent more than $112,000 at last report and that figure could double in post-election reports. Opponents will spend under $10,000. The city wouldn't even disclose how the money was spent specifically, but you can be sure street money went to a lot of those people waving professionally produced signs in recent days. We must await passage of time to learn what the mayor gave the real estate lobby for a huge infusion of cash to the campaign, including $20,000 from the National Association of Realtors. The only way to explain a national presence in a local campaign is a belief it would be rewarded with policies friendly to the national lobby's interest — that is, in opposition to development impact fees, which Little Rock has always been loathe to raise.

FASCINATING: Though I've talked to a lot of people who felt, like me, that splitting a vote on the two tax proposals made sense, that just didn't happen. The votes on the two proposal were virtually identical.

NOTE: The tax succeeded by about 1,730 votes. The early votes (constricted by city design to City Hall neighborhood and not citywide as in most elections) gave the tax a 1,000-vote margin. If the city had allowed early voting to be citywide, they might have lost. They knew that. That's why the election was constructed this way. It was a cynical, dishonest effort by cynical, dishonest people who do not want democracy to prevail when it comes to their money.

PS — Some of you might not have known I was joking a bit with my opening sentence. The Times endorsed the tax increases. But I don't believe much in the vote influence of editorial endorsements. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette recommended "no" votes, for example. I've said all along that I favored the operational increase, but not the capital increase. But, what the heck. Let's say the Times passed this tax increase. I'm always for getting in front of a parade.

Tags: ,

Favorite

Speaking of Little Rock Sales Tax, Little Rock Government

Comments (23)

Showing 1-23 of 23

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-23 of 23

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

Readers also liked…

  • Fan happiness over Hogs' win over LSU costs UA $25,000 UPDATED

    The University of Arkansas will be fined $25,000 by the SEC because Hog fans stormed the football field after Saturday's victory over LSU snapped a long SEC losing streak. It was a second offense by the UA of the conference's "access to competition area" policy.
    • Nov 17, 2014
  • Charter review panel approves school for Little Rock, disapproves Redfield proposal

    The panel of Arkansas Education Department officials that reviews charter school applications gave its approval today for the Rockbridge Montessori School in Little Rock but disapproved another try by organizers of a charter school in Redfield.
    • Nov 19, 2014
  • Who's dysfunctional on the Little Rock School Board?

    Little Rock School Board member Jim Ross has sent me a copy of the letter sent by six of the seven members of the board to the state Board of Education Committee deciding what to do about the district, which has six schools judged in academic distress.
    • Jan 6, 2015

Most Shared

  • Lawsuit filed over settlement in forum-shopping class action case

    The lawyers facing disciplinary action by federal Judge P.K. Holmes in Fort Smith over their settlement of a class action lawsuit against the USAA insurance company have a new legal headache.
  • Cherokee tribe backs the casino amendment

    NOW, I get it. The group circulating petitions for a constitutional amendment to establish casinos in Boone, Miller and Washington counties reveals that the deal anticipates operation of the casino in Washington County by the Cherokee tribe that now has casino operations in Oklahoma.
  • Highway Department: Key parts of new Clarendon bridge installed upside down.

    The future of the old Highway 79 bridge at Clarendon is uncertain, but it's a good thing the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department jump the gun on demolishing it.  That's because the new bridge at Clarendon — or at least the western approach, which is elevated over U.S. Fish and Wildlife wetlands — is snakebit.
  • A modest proposal for charter schools

    It was just a little over a year ago when Baker Kurrus was hired as the superintendent of the Little Rock School District. With new Education Commissioner Johnny Key there was a strong concern that the Little Rock school system would be converted to all charter schools and the entire public education system would disappear.
  • Mansion wars

    It has never been as consequential as Versailles, which helped trigger the French Revolution, but the royal palace of Arkansas's First Family has always been an object of political intrigue.

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments

Blogroll

 

© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation