The Arkansas Federal Credit Union, having gotten nowhere with complaints to the publicly financed Little Rock Technology Park Authority, has complained to the city board of directors that they were unfairly cut out of a lending consortium for financing of construction in the downtown project because banks don’t like credit unions.
They are correct.
The credit union was originally announced as part of the $17 million financing. Then it was gone. The bankers association, which hates credit unions because of their preferential tax treatment under federal law, objected. The credit union was replaced by other banks.
Tech Park officials distance themselves from this. It was the banks’ decision, not the Tech Park’s, they say. The bank consortium happens to be led by the banker father of the executive director of the Tech Park. I know Authority Chair Mary Good well enough to know if she didn’t like the way one of her employees handled a situation, she has the force of personality to change things.
I wrote about this several weeks ago. It was less about the long-running bank-credit union conflict (misrepresented by bankers in several ways, including the omission of the fact that there’s going to be tax advantages in work for the tax-free, publicly financed tech park.) Rather, I focused on the business insider clubbishness of this project from the first. The Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce was rewarded for running a city sales tax campaign by getting a big item on its wish list — $21 million in poor folk-financed corporate welfare to pay for a tech park that has yet to find a significant private contribution such as those that have distinguished tech parks elsewhere. Some private businesses are going to score nifty profits on selling property to the tech park. My point was that if insiders get to dictate who can play in financing, what other things will they dictate? It struck me as an inauspicious start for a project financed by pennies paid by poor people on their chicken nuggets.
My conclusion in a Sept. 3 column seems still applicable:
The tech park is a public enterprise. I’ve never thought it was a good idea for government to get into private business. Better to let the free market work, except to the extent that we build a city people want to live in. But if it must participate, it should treat all would-be participants equally. Members of the chamber of commerce shouldn’t hold a veto on who qualifies.
It would surprise me to see the City Board aggressively enter this fray, not with a majority of the board owing their positions to an election plan devised and financially controlled by the same business establshment that decided which lending institutions should profit from the public’s business and which should not. Strong Mayor Stodola, now’s your time to speak up.