City Manager Bruce Moore, in last night defending renewal of spending $300,000 a year in Little Rock tax money to subsidize operations of the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, distributed to the City Board a list of jobs “created” and other economic development by the city’s “partnership” with the chamber since 2009.
Note that it includes jobs in 2015, 2016 and 2017, when the city was NOT making payments to the chamber on account of a lawsuit that held the payments an illegal payment to a private corporation — a sham “service contract” for what was and will remain little more than a subsidy of a political operation. A constitutional amendment voters approved in 2016 — the work of now-indicted former Sen. Jon Woods — has legalized the payment.
Note, too, the list includes some economic development by companies no longer doing business in the city (Hawker Beechcraft) and by companies that have laid off many of the workers claimed in the sheet (Dassault, LM Windpower and others). Note, too, that the sheet was used for broad claims of a return in jobs and investment by the city but there is no specific demonstration of that. Some of these businesses undoubtedly would have located in Little Rock regardless (see a shopping center in Otter Creek.) Some years Little Rock contributed nothing to the effort.
I note this merely for the record. As I said last night, this deal is greased. The chamber doesn’t pay for campaigns to raise city sales taxes (and to elect certain board members with support from its PAC) without expecting and getting a return on the investments.
I have asked the chamber if past and future dossiers on the area prepared for prospects will be public information, or be part of the confidential records protected by a new state law aimed at insuring a flow of tax money to chambers around the state. What do the chambers tell prospects about worker protection laws, environmental regulation, schools, taxation, corporate welfare incentives and the chamber’s participation in influencing these factors? On its own dime, the chamber is free to say and do what it pleases on these topics. With 3 million dimes from Little Rock taxpayers, it owes representation to interests other than those of corporations.
The list, by the way, is the meat of the quarterly reporting the chamber promises in the future, just as it has provided in the past. It provides no specific disclosure of expenditures, specific prospect contact or specific representations and promises about the city. Accountability it isn’t.
UPDATE: Amid all this rosy talk of economic development, perhaps a look at job figures would be instructive. The federal government compiles such data. The Bureau of Labor Statistics for Little Rock show that, for the period touted by Bruce Moore, job growth here has been, to put it charitably, flat, the last 10 years (actually less than 10 years ago, though it did rise in the two years the city was NOT paying the chamber any money).
Of course maybe the chamber would prefer a count on jobs in the metroplitan area, including those cities to which the chamber wants to speed access by pouring more concrete through the heart of downtown.