Panel on sales tax at Clinton School
The UALR Clinton School of Public Service hosted a panel discussion Tuesday on the City of Little Rock’s upcoming one cent sale tax special election to be held Sept. 13.
Panelists included Molly McGowan, a student at both the Clinton School and the UALR Bowen School of Law; Bobby Roberts, executive director of the Central Arkansas Library Institute; Bill Vickery, a Republican political strategist; and Carol Willis, a Democratic political strategist.
The purpose of the panel discussion was to shed light on the issues surrounding the city’s two ordinances that are on the ballot. The first is a temporary three-eights (0.375) cent sales tax increase for capital improvements for a ten-year period. The second is a permanent five-eighths (0.625) cent sale tax increase for essential services like police, fire, sewer, and roads.
The panelists all agreed with Mr. Roberts’ assessment that while the city conducted a “masterful” and “surgical” campaign that awakened their supporters without necessarily arousing their opponents, the city failed to thoroughly educate its citizens as to how the sales tax increase would directly impact their individual neighborhoods while guaranteeing the stated usage of the raised revenue through what Vickery called “complete accountability and transparency.”
While there has been much discussion, especially from opponents of the sales tax increase, about the temporary three-eights increase that will raise funds to build a new midtown police station on 12th Street and to acquire land for a new research park to be run by both UALR and UAMS, little is mentioned about the $28 million that will be raised to improve all of the city parks, including the zoo.
All of the panelists also agreed that the most important factor in this election is the citizens under the age of 40, as they will be the ones that will benefit the most from this sales tax increase if it passes. Yet, very few of those same people can even articulate what the election is about and why they should or should not support it.
Vickery, the only panelist who said he is convinced that neither of the sales tax increases will pass said one of the big problems that the city faces is “Citizens have things backwards these days. They spend a lot of time and energy focusing on national issue and very little to none on local issues, ” he said. “So, everybody knows what is going on in the White House and no one knows what is going on at city hall. Change this dynamic and the sales tax will pass.”
Little Rock is the state’s largest city per capita. However, it currently ranks 49th on the list of the top 50 cities in Arkansas as far as sales tax revenue is concerned, behind Fayetteville, Fort Smith, Conway, Hot Springs, Jonesboro and Arkadelphia.