The chambers of commerce apparently have their vehicle to restore tax subsidies put in jeopardy by Circuit Judge Mackie Pierce’s ruling that the Arkansas Constitution forbids local tax money contributions to private corporations such as chambers of commerce.
Pierce ruled in a lawsuit supported by the Arkansas Public Law Center. He said contracts in Little Rock and North Little Rock were poorly disguised — “lipstick on a pig” — artifices to avoid the constitutional prohibition and enjoined them. Such contracts — some with more care to legal niceties than others — are commonplace around the state. A final version of Pierce’s order is still in the drafting process, but chambers apparently have been working behind the scenes
Here’s a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Jon Woods of Springdale, home to a chamber long a beneficiary of public tax dollars. It ppears aimed at legalizing these payments.
It purports to encourage economic development. I think this is the key phrase:
TO ALLOW PUBLIC ENTITIES TO FINANCE ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT ACTIVITIES WITH FINANCIAL INCENTIVES
What better incentive than to pay the salaries and benefits of local chamber of commerce officials, which Little Rock and North Little Rock and others have been doing in cumulative millions over the years? Of course, this language would have even broader application. It would allow direct contributions by cities to private businesses, to bribe them to locate somewhere — even merely to move across the Arkansas River from one city to another.
Cities already may enter legitimate — emphasis, legitimate — service contracts. They could request proposals from all comers to provide economic development consulting with specific parameters. They could require explicit performance reports. They could require specific disclosure of expenses. Here, the cities just provide a flat subsidy to operate the chamber, payments to support what the chamber was doing with private money in the first place. It is more offensive to the public because the chambers are political operations. They lobby against unions, workers compensation, universal health care, progressive taxation and any number of other issues on which strong public divisions exist. It’s legal, but taxpayers shouldn’t finance lobbying against their interests. (Here and elsewhere, taxpayers provide both direct subsidies to chambers and subsidies to regional development organization operated by chambers — same kettle of fish.)
A legislature soon to consider a law to prohibit public employees from lobbying, if it approves this, will approve of shipping money by the truckload to chambers of commerce for lobbying.
Sen. Jon Woods is the right man to tote this corporate welfare. He’s the mastermind of Amendment 94, the new “ethics” amendment. It allows Woods, who has no real job outside the legislature, to serve longer at the legislature, soon with a 150 percent pay raIse, and to draw full per diem, including for days not worked and including days where lobbyists have lined up to feed andwater him for free.
If you don’t think freebies don’t pay dividends, see corporate welfare proposals such as this.