At-large Little Rock Director Antwan Phillips has shared an open letter to city residents on the sales tax increase proposal before the board. The board is set to vote Tuesday, May 11, on whether to refer to voters Mayor Frank Scott’s proposal to raise the city sales tax by 1%. The permanent increase would generate an estimated $53 million per year.
Along with the letter (and perhaps the real purpose of the letter), Phillips has appended the results of a poll conducted by Little Rock’s inVeritas Research and Consulting on behalf of the Arkansas Zoo Foundation. According to the poll, 69% of voters said they would support the tax increase. Among the categories the tax would fund, early childhood education received the most support with 76% of those polled in support. Board members have perhaps been most skeptical about the early childhood component, which would largely send money to the state to expand the vouchers for infants and toddlers to attend high-quality child care providers. The poll results Phillips attached don’t include detailed polling information, such as how many were polled or their demographics.
Scott provided an overview of the tax plan at his state of city address March 25 and offered a more detailed presentation to the board March 30. Board members offered little feedback until April 28 when the majority of them offered critiques. The board was expected to vote on the plan May 4, but instead Scott said the vote would be deferred until a special called meeting at 4 p.m., May 11, after he unveiled a revamped plan that he said took into account many of the suggestions of board members while maintaining the philosophy of the proposal.
City Attorney Tom Carpenter, serving as parliamentarian, ruled that after the ordinances related to the tax plan were deferred, board members couldn’t discuss the changes.
Phillips complained at an April 20 meeting that his board colleagues weren’t publicly providing feedback on the proposal. In his letter, he says he disagreed with Scott’s decision to defer the vote because it legitimizes his colleagues’ long silence on the proposal. Other board members have complained publicly and privately that there wasn’t sufficient public outreach in crafting the plan and too many of the planned allocations are vague. Phillips doesn’t see it that way: He thinks there’s been ample detail provided and time to consider it.
Phillips emphasizes in his letter that the board is merely weighing whether voters have a chance to vote up or down the tax plan.
But despite Scott’s recent changes to the proposal, it’s unclear if he’ll have the five votes necessary to send the proposal to voters Tuesday. Phillips says he’s going to vote for it, and Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix and Ward 2 Director Ken Richardson are expected to join him. At-large Director Joan Adcock and Vice-Mayor and Ward 5 Director Lance Hines are almost surely no votes. Ward 6 Director Doris Wright, despite some money going toward projects she requested in the amended version of the plan, is said to be unmoved and a likely no. At-large Director Dean Kumpuris is also a likely no. That leaves Ward 3 Director Kathy Webb, Ward 4 Director Capi Peck and Ward 7 Director BJ Wyrick. I’d put them all in the “leaning no” category. They’ve all been critical, variously: of the rollout, lack of specifics, the permanent nature of the tax and deviation from what Wyrick calls “nuts and bolts” issues.