As predicted here, the Little Rock City Board last night approved a tax increment finance bond issue supported by diversion of property tax dollars from schools and local government to help developer Tommy Hodges build infrastructure to serve the already-built Bass Pro Shops and the Gateway Town Center.
You’d have thought they’d have had the decency for a little discussion. None. This is the extensive and complicated deal approved without a single peep, according to the D-G account.
City Manager Bruce Moore could have explained what changed from when he told me the project would be built WITHOUT a property tax subsidy.
City directors could explain why they require other developers to pay their own road improvement costs.
City directors could — and ominously did not — say they don’t intend to make a habit of stealing school property tax money to benefit private developers.
Cty directors did not say how they think the giveaway squares with the state constitutional prohibition against taking school tax money for any purpose other than that for which it is voted — schools.
The new development with increased property values that normally would produce additional revenues for local governments and schools will instead funnel much of that money into the pockets of the developer. It’s a margin other private businesses would enjoy. It is nothing but a raid when the benefits come from a project already built and thus demonstrably not in need of this handout to succeed.
A consultant hired by developer Hodges has already said the developers have dramatically overstated the benefits of sales taxes from the new developments. But the consultant did find that the revenue should be sufficient to offset the income from 5 mills in property tax that the city and county are giving up, among others. Sales taxes don’t benefit schools. The Little Rock School District will lose income from 9 mills on property tax on millions of dollars worth of new development. It will get no offset and no other tangible benefits from this subsidy.
Arkansas Community Organizations wrote a letter to the board objecting to the handout of school money from a district soon to give up a significant chunk of money in state desegregation aid. No one commented on their complaint either.
It is the way of the Little Rock City Board. Private business and the Chamber of Commerce will be served. The rest of you: Meh. The easy disregard of the school district comes at a moment when the desegregation case is coming to an end, with few victors in sight. The Little Rock City Board played a pivotal role in segregating the schools through zoning and urban renewal decisions and through a ceding of city territory to a white flight suburban school district. It reaps a harvest of a deteriorating core city and again demonstrates its utter lack of concern for voices like members of the Community Organizations who live there.
In time — whether by court action or the inexorable march of demographics — the City Board will become democratic with ward representation. Then, maybe, silence won’t greet voices who object to the persistent favoritism of private business, a pattern that hasn’t exactly rained prosperity on the city so far. (Stagnant population and revenue growth as suburbs prosper, in part with taxpayer subsidies Little Rock business leaders supported, such as the overblown Hewlett Packard operation in Conway.)
The go-along to get-along posture of the Little Rock School District also should be noted. It should have had a representative present Tuesday night to object to the theft of its tax money. I suspect silence is part of a plan to win support for a coming tax millage necessary to build a middle school to serve upscale white western Little Rock. I doubt it will be tribute enough for the billionaires who continue to intently pursue strategies like multiple charter schools to wreck the good left in the state’s largest school district.