Public comments on tax proposal:
* From one speaker: Raising a half-billion dollars over 10 years is a vote “against the working poor.”
* From a firefighter: “This tax will help public safety.”
* From a central Little Rock residence: Residents will be displaced by the research park in an area near UAMS and UALR. She was concerned about relocation value for displaced homes, not appraised value. “We want what we have now,” she said. She complained the city wouldn’t reveal where the park was to be built, though they undoubtedly knew. People are still “reeling” from airport displacements, she said.
* Dr. Joel Anderson, chancellor of UALR: He said a sales tax was a means of getting financial help from people who work in Little Rock, but go home to other cities. He said the research park would produce home-grown jobs. It’s a “marvelous bet for a community that wants to improve itself over the long run.”
NEWS: Anderson said his two appointees to the authority that would govern the research park — the mayor and UAMS chancellor would also make two appointments — would be retiring Dean Mary Good and, grab hold of your chair, Death Star Bob Johnson, the former state senator from Bigelow whose involvement will chill those who remember his work to despoil the Lake Maumellle watershed and other self-interested governance.
The Little Rock National Airport land purchases were much on the mind of black members of the board — Erma Hendrix, Kenneth Richardson and Doris Wright. They’re concerned about fairness in land acquisition for the research park. Doris Wright said she supported the proposal — and had seen projects in other cities that were examples of the good the project could do — but she said once the power was in the hands of an autonomous board, it would be beyond the city’s control.
* Mildred Killingsworth, a central Little Rock resident, made an impassioned plea that the city not acquire homes in her neighbrhood. Buy out west, she said. The mayor said there was still no fixed plan on property to be purchased, but it wouldn’t be east of the Pine-Cedar corridor, where she lives.
* Paul Latture, director of the Little Rock Port, said the port had been instrumental in creating 2,500 jobs and it was now short of land for continued expansion, primarily west and south of the port “It’s time to look at reinvesting,” he said. He said the $10 million would purchase land and provide some seed money for infrastructure. Director Richardson asked Latture how many jobs at the port were held by Little Rock residents. He didn’t know.
* Hugh McDonald, chief of Entergy Arkansas (also a former board member of the anti-labor, anti—tax, anti-health care reform U.S. Chamber of Commerce), supported a taxpayer handout for economic development. He also singled out as “essential” the need for the city to have $6 million to give away to close deals with new businesses. He referenced polling that showed when voters were “educated” about purposes of the money they’d become more supportive. Yes, and if they could be educated by abuses of this money and the secrecy that surrounds it and the kinds of anti-worker sentiment propagated by local, state and national chambers of commerce, they might be “educated” to a slightly different view.
“We need to help ourselves,” McDonald said. By that, he means, taxpayers must help business. After two hours, I”ve yet to hear a word about private investment in the research park, a key element in successful research efforts in other cities. Here, a public/private partnership means the public pays, the privates benefit. Or sometimes not, as at Yarnell’s.