Corporate Arkansas, through its lobbyists at the chambers of commerce, just can’t stop grabbing at tax dollars (even as they preach at the rest of us about the beauties of the free market).
Here, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel comes through with the latest iteration of the corporate line, an opinion saying a sham “services contract” between local governments and chambers of commerce is a good way to launder tax money into corporate pockets. (OK, I’m embellishing his language a tiny bit.) McDaniel doesn’t, of course, review any of the specific sham contracts in which cities supposedly farm out economic development activities. He just pronounces them valid if they are for a “public purpose.”
Problem is, in its prohibition on spending money on private organizations, the Constitution says not a single word about that prohibition being lifted for “public purposes.” Indeed, if that were so, cities and counties could cobble up any number of “public purposes” to throw tax money at private entities. The chambers of commerce could think of plenty of them, you may be sure, if all first self-serving. It is their stated intention to have a dedicated source of tax revenue to fund all of chambers, thus putting on taxpayers the primary burden of meeting the chambers’ stated objective of increasing members’ profits.
Nice timing. Little Rock City Attorney Tom Carpenter advised me formally today that, based on talks with Little Rock Regional Chamber of Conmerce’s executive director Jay Chesshir, the chamber can’t (which isn’t true) and won’t provide the city an accounting of how the city’s $200,000 is spent. The sham services contract between the chamber and the city says explicitly that the state Freedom of Information Act will be observed. If the chamber won’t do something, far be it from Mayor Mark Stodola or one of his subordinates to insist that the contract be followed.
McDaniel’s opinion today went to Rep. Mark Perry of Jacksonville, where the chamber wants hamburger tax money to print visitor guides and other material. McDaniel said you take that hamburger tax money and go, chamber.