Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott Jr. issued a formal statement last night after the City Board, on a 5-4 vote, turned down his plan to balance this year’s budget. More travail lies ahead, but Scott deserves thanks for blocking a symbolic piece of corporate welfare that said a lot about who drives city government.
First, his statement:
Our City’s budget must be amended to ensure our financial integrity as well as ensure those elected remain good stewards of taxpayer dollars. I am disappointed that tonight our City Board of Directors voted against right-sizing the 2019 budget that it passed in 2018, which has led to a $7 million shortfall and use of $5 million in one-time funds for reoccurring expenditures. Tonight’s vote was not in the best interest of the people of Little Rock.
By voting down the budget amendment, we prolong our fiscal issues and risk a lower bond rating, among other financial repercussions. More importantly, by failing to act, we are keeping City employees and their families in limbo. Delaying a decision is not fair to our employees, and it’s not fair to our residents. I will continue to choose people over politics as we navigate these tough issues.
No one likes budget cuts. However, we were elected to make the hard decisions to make certain Little Rock reaches its full potential. We can get there if we work together. I look forward to working with the Board of Directors to get this amendment passed so that we can position Little Rock for a better future.
Not sure where this heads. Something will have to be done in the short term. The plan for 2020 holds even more interest, however. A new contract with police and fire? The mayor’s promise of more cops? Faltering sales tax revenue? Stagnant growth? A decline in park revenue that could affect money pledged to the Clinton Presidential Park bonds? “Repurposing” golf courses with what money? The looming expiration of a 3-8th cent sales tax for capital projects? Burgeoning infrastructure needs? The city needs more than exhortations about unity. It needs money.
Mayor Scott deserves praise for providing the crucial vote Tuesday night to nix the proposal by Directors Dean Kumpuris, Gene Fortson, Capi Peck, Joan Adcock and Lance Hines to hold harmless — of all people — the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce from a budget cut plan that will cost 44 working people their jobs. Out of the blue, these five proposed continuing the full $300,000 corporate welfare payment to the chamber, rather than making them share the pain by shouldering a $50,000 reduction.
The $300,000 chamber subsidy helps pay salaries up to six figures for people who lobby against the public interest when it comes to workers compensation, minimum wage, comprehensive health insurance and workers rights. They advocate highway and economic development policies that build suburban cities at Little Rock’s expense. They helped the state takeover of the local school district. They get money that once was paid illegally until a lawsuit stopped it. Voters got gulled to legalize the corporate welfare in 2014. Since then, this putative golden-egg-laying goose has presided over a city with a declining population and revenue. Its big success recently was giving free land, city cash for road improvements and a reduced property tax rate to a Czech gunmaker that will produce no revenue for the Little Rock Port and is under no obligation to make any purchase or hires with direct economic benefit in Little Rock. It also will get tens of millions in loans, grants, tax rebates and tax credits from the state. Yes, you can give it away.
A vote for full subsidies for this corporate lobby in the face of city job and service cuts would have sent quite a message to working stiffs and taxpayers about priorities and political power. Layoff parks workers but don’t let the Chamber’s good suits suffer!
Shame on the five who voted for full funding. Thanks to Mayor Scott for saying no to restoring $50,000 in Chamber chump change.