The Democrat-Gazette’s Chelsea Boozer reported this morning on a dip of a tenth of a percent in city of Little Rock sales tax collections in 2016 compared with 2015, a decline that city directors seem to blame on the loss of commerce to the Internet.
If only it were that simple.
Don’t get me wrong. The Internet is hammering on-the-ground retail economy. Internet sales taxes SHOULD be collected (in theory they are owed, but court precedent to date has prevented forced collection by Internet merchants.) It would be a boon to local governments.
But, come on. The elephant in the capital city is tepid growth against exponential growth in suburban cities with increasing retail bases that keep bedroom community shoppers at home.
If the Internet is the villain, wouldn’t it reflect everywhere? Figures don’t show the sales tax decline across the board. State sales tax collections rose from $2.05 billion in 2015 to $2.14 billion in 2016. In Pulaski County, collection of the countywide sales tax rose from $84 to $88.8 million. Collections in Cabot rose from $8.6 to $9.1 million. They rose in Maumelle from $2.4 to $2.5 million. They rose in Benton from $15.4 to $16.8 million. They rose in Conway from $24 to $24.2 million. Bryant held steady at $13 million.
I am reminded of Mayor Mark Stodola’s recent boastful state of the city speech touting the growth in the Little Rock metropolitan statistical area. Alas, that growth is coming a whole lot more from Saline, Faulkner and Lonoke counties than it is coming from Little Rock. Where the main Bryant exit once featured a dairy bar as its primary commercial option, there’s now a sprawling shopping center with brands that once could be found only in Little Rock.
And still the Little Rock City Board of Directors wants to blame money problems on the Internet. It wants to further decimate downtown neighborhoods so people can get home to these suburban cities faster on a wider concrete gulch of a freeway. For decades, it has contributed to the degradation of the city school district — even today many of the directors won’t stand up for local control. The schools are a singularly important factor in the movement to the suburbs,
The Internet is a problem, sure. But think about this Director Kumpuris (chief bellyacher):
When all those people who work in Sheridan, Lonoke, Cabot, Ward, Benton, Bryant, Conway, Greenbrier, Vilonia, Maumelle, Jacksonville and North Little Rock go home at night after work in Little Rock and log onto the Internet to buy stuff — and should Internet sales taxes be collected — the taxes won’t accrue to Little Rock’s benefit either. They’ll stay where the buyers live.
Policy-making that builds the city, not the suburbs, is a smarter course.