Look who's talking about fairness 

Arkansas Business reported recently that because of bankers' objections, the Arkansas Federal Credit Union has not been allowed to participate in a lender consortium financing $17 million in initial property acquisition and development for the Little Rock Technology Park.

Bankers have long feuded with credit unions, which enjoy a tax exemption. Said the article:

"Bankers also object to a tax-exempt credit union earning interest from a borrower supported by taxpayers via a sales tax approved by voters.

"Arkansas banks paid $258+ million in taxes in 2014," [Bankers Association CEO Bill] Holmes wrote. "AFCU and 80 other Arkansas credit unions paid $0.00 in taxes. An individual taxpayer pays more in taxes than all credit unions combined."

Bankers said the Tech Park couldn't be a member of the credit union because credit unions are supposed to serve groups of people with common bonds. The bankers may or may not have a technical point on the lending activity. But they walked into a minefield when they started talking about public subsidies of private outfits.

The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce is a tax-exempt organization (no taxes on $2.8 million in revenue, according to the most recent tax report available). It nonetheless got hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer subsidies annually until a judge ruled the practice unconstitutional this year. More pertinently, it ran the 2011 campaign to increase the Little Rock sales tax and, in return, got its wish for $21 million plus in taxpayer money to subsidize the Tech Park, a dream of chamber leaders.

The Tech Park is a municipal agency that so far hasn't received a dime except from taxpayer financed sources: the city, Children's Hospital, UAMS, UALR. The chamber refused, by the way, to reveal how it spent money raised in the tax campaign. I object to giving public subsidies and control over big pots of money to an opaque organization with a political agenda that happens to often vary with that of the public at large. Think workers compensation, unions, health insurance, tax policy.

So, there was at least a little irony in hearing bankers objecting to a tax-advantaged organization benefiting from public tax dollars, since the taxpayer-subsidized, tax-advantaged chamber has been engineering this tech park train from day one. I'd be willing to bet the Arkansas Bankers Association will support Sen. Jon Woods' proposed constitutional amendment to reverse Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce and again allow tax money to be shipped to chambers of commerce such as the one in Little Rock.

But of larger concern is the evidence that political considerations are already having an impact on Tech Park operations. I won't speculate too much on the other possibilities, though they are easy to imagine. Would Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) and others of his stripe allow the tech park to provide a taxpayer-subsidized home for companies that do stem cell research? Would legislative forces prohibit the tech park from having a policy against doing business with people who discriminate on account of sexual orientation? If a willing lender can be excluded from loaning money on account of an old business feud, it seems reasonable to worry about other possibilities.

The tech park is a public enterprise. I've never thought it was a good idea for government to get into private business. Better to let the free market work, except to the extent that we build a city people want to live in. But if it must participate, it should treat all would-be participants equally. Members of the chamber of commerce shouldn't hold a veto on who qualifies.


Speaking of Little Rock Technology Park, Little Rock Regional Chamber Of Commerce

  • 'Comfortable' with interest in Tech Park leases, board chair says

    August 10, 2016
    Interest in leasing space in the Little Rock Technology Park under construction in the 400 block of Main Street is a "comfortable amount" for this stage in the project, Authority board chair Kevin Zaffaroni said today at the board's monthly meeting. He declined to say how many floors of the first building to open, at 417 Main St., that comfortable amount might include, since no leases are final. /more/
  • City Year joins chamber to focus on Hall High School

    May 25, 2016
    City Year, the Americorps program that has put volunteers in Little Rock schools since 2004, will join city business leaders today in a partnership to be based at Hall High School in the 2016-17 school year. /more/
  • Another yes for the Wide Misery. UPDATE: Make that two ayes

    April 27, 2016
    The Little Rock Technology Park board today endorsed the Arkansas Highway Department's split-diamond C/D design for Interstate 30 contingent on a change in the design of Capitol. /more/
  • Stephens maintains rights to Metrocentre asset

    April 21, 2016
    Now that the Stephens properties on Main Street and Fifth have been sold to The Little Rock Technology Park, what is Stephens' share in the Metrocentre Improvement District assets, I wondered as I wrote yesterday's item on the potential sale of  Henry Moore's "Large Standing Figure: Knife Edge." /more/
  • LR Chamber praises Kurrus, but silent on the outrage

    April 19, 2016
    I don't guess I should have expected better from the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce than "concern" on the Hutchinson administration's undeserved ouster of Baker Kurrus as Little Rock school superintendent. /more/
  • Another endorsement for bus tax: NLR chamber

    February 12, 2016
    The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce has been mum on the public transit tax to be voted on March 1, but not the North Little Rock chamber: It announced today its support for the 0.25-cent increase for Rock Region Metro operations, saying it would "provide the agency the autonomy needed to make the current transit route system more efficient and responsive to our community's changing mobility demands and support more, better and modern bus service to central Arkansans." /more/
  • Tech Park chair Mary Good to step down

    February 11, 2016
    Dr. Mary Good, who has been the chair of the Little Rock Technology Park Authority board since its formation as a nonprofit in 2011, informed UALR Chancellor Joel Anderson in a letter Jan. 20 that she will step down March 15, it was announced at Wednesday's tech park board meeting. She said she would stay longer, if needed, until her replacement is named. /more/
  • Tech park to buy first property on Friday

    February 3, 2016
    The Little Rock Technology Park plans to close Friday on its first purchases of real estate: 5 Main Place at Fifth and Main streets, the Annex Building at 417 Main, the Mays Building at 415 Main St., the parking lot between the Mays Building and the KATV-Ch. 7 building (referred to as the Center Theater lot, because that is where the theater stood before Stephens interests had it demolished), the parking lot on the west side of Main between Fourth and Fifth, the old Stephens Inc. offices on Fifth Street, and the Keith parking at Scott and Fifth Street. /more/
  • Smart growth? Not in LR

    January 21, 2016
    The Highway Department is one thing. It builds freeways. Alternative roadways, bike lanes, pedestrians and mass transit are low on its priority list. But you'd hope for better from Little Rock leaders. /more/
  • Freeways: Widen them and traffic moves slower

    January 5, 2016
    More research on the futility of widening freeways to speed traffic . In Houston, they've more than doubled the width of a major freeway and commuting times are slower. /more/
  • More »


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