Favorite

Look whose hand is out 

More this week on creeping socialism in the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce.

I lamented last week the news that the city of Little Rock, while bloodying employees and public services to meet a budget shortfall, will not reduce by even a thin dime its $200,000 outlay to the private Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce to recruit new business.

Economic development is a good thing. The Chamber has worked on it for years with dues of its members. But government subsidies bring problems. Lack of accountability is one. Another is use of taxpayer money to pay for work taxpayers don't want or need.

It turns out Little Rock is not alone in subsidizing the private organization, which lobbies, among others, to make it hard for unions to organize; against public health insurance; against fair compensation for workplace injuries; for tax subsidies of economic development, and a raft of other not-so-popular causes.

It turns out the public Little Rock Wastewater Utility gave the Chamber $25,000 this year. The Port Authority, a taxpayer-financed agency, gave $7,500. The Central Arkansas Water board voted 4-2 last week to give $100,000 over four years (forgetting, apparently, the Chamber's conspicuous non-involvement in efforts to protect the city's main water supply, Lake Maumelle). UALR chipped in $350.

So at least a third of the Chamber's development fund comes from the public. If you ask how the money is spent, you'll get, if you're persistent, a one-page letter from an accountant saying the account was audited and a one-page statement reporting expenditures in broad categories.

If you ask Chamber CEO Jay Chesshir who, by name, received the $368,294 in salaries, $33,972 in retirement and $23,050 in health benefits from the fund, he won't tell you. If you ask how $84,000 was spent on “minority business,” he won't tell you. The same for publications, travel and auto expenses, etc. He'll tell you, as he told me repeatedly to every specific question, “We have complied with the contract and provided audited financial returns.”

City officials show no inclination to require more information, though the city contract with the Chamber argues that they should. It says the chamber agrees to “comply strictly” with “the laws of the state of Arkansas” while performing under the contract. Ever heard of the Freedom of Information Act? It says anything supported wholly or in part by public money is subject to its terms, even without a contract calling for strict law compliance.

Chesshir did acknowledge, after a fashion, that chamber employees wear different hats. It's a near certainty, though he won't admit it, that employees paid by taxpayers also lobby. Chesshir calls the team's lobbying work advancement of economic development. I suspect you wouldn't be far off in also calling it union busting and opposition to health care reform.

This political angle makes County Judge Buddy Villines somewhat reluctant to pitch into the chamber's kitty. The Chamber has asked him for a county handout, too. It even touted the business lobby's political positions as one of the attractions of giving money. Villines says he told the Chamber those positions would be a disincentive in some cases to him and several JPs. Let us hope.

There's some contradiction (hypocrisy?)  in a promoter of free enterprise seeking government subsidies. But voters should be outraged that taxpayer money is allowed to be spent in secret. And that it may be spent in ways detrimental to the public interest — if you happen to believe better working conditions, universal health care and workers rights are in the public interest.

Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments (3)

Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

 
Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-3 of 3

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • Where's the outrage?

    Am I the only person, apart from federal prosecutors, outraged about the criminal enterprise that inveigled itself into a privileged position as an Arkansas taxpayer-financed human services provider to the tune, today, of $43 million a year?
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Where's the outrage?

    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Rutledge opponent hits her socializing with corporate interests

    Mike Lee, the Democratic candidate for attorney general, has criticized Attorney General Leslie Rutledge over recent reports of her participation at private meetings where corporate interests make big contributions to a political group she heads for access to state legal officers.
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Where's the outrage?

    Am I the only person, apart from federal prosecutors, outraged about the criminal enterprise that inveigled itself into a privileged position as an Arkansas taxpayer-financed human services provider to the tune, today, of $43 million a year?
    • Jun 21, 2018
  • Where's the outrage?

    • Jun 21, 2018
  • The Arkansas swamp

    The Arkansas Capitol is a fetid swamp of corruption and the bipartisan lack of concern tells you plenty.
    • Jun 14, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Where's the outrage?

    Am I the only person, apart from federal prosecutors, outraged about the criminal enterprise that inveigled itself into a privileged position as an Arkansas taxpayer-financed human services provider to the tune, today, of $43 million a year?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Him, again

    • That's why it is better to bag babes at the bigger libraries. You get a…

    • on June 20, 2018
  • Re: Legislative boodlers

    • The U6 unemployment rate is still at 8%, partly because they can get benefits and…

    • on June 19, 2018
  • Re: Him, again

    • Regardless of my success or lack of it, I've been way ahead of Trump all…

    • on June 19, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation