The Little Rock Board of Directors has approved a resolution that lays out how the city would spend a one cent sales tax increase if voters approve it in a special September 14 election.
The vote was 6-4 with At-large Directors Dean Kumpuris and Antwan Phillips, Ward 2 Director Ken Richardson, Ward 3 Director Kathy Webb, Ward 4 Director Capi Peck and Ward 7 Director BJ Wyrick voting for the resolution, and At-large Director Joan Adcock, Ward 1 Director Erma Hendrix, Vice-Mayor and Ward 5 Director Lance Hines and Ward 6 Director Doris Wright voting no.
On June 15, after months of public and private debate among the board, it voted to call the September election, but the nonbinding resolution spelling out how the city would spend an estimated $53 million generated by the tax failed on a 5-4-1 vote with Richardson voting present. Had he voted no, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. could have broken the tie.
The resolution approved Tuesday mirrored the one that failed on June 15. Much of the money from the 10-year tax would go toward parks. Significant money would also go toward the Little Rock Zoo, road improvements, infrastructure and public safety.
Perhaps the most contentious planned allocation, for early childhood education, was overhauled in June. The plan has always sought to address access to child care and the lack of quality providers. Much of the planned $40 million in spending over 10 years was initially scheduled to go toward vouchers that would expand access for low and moderate income families to affordable child care. Director Kumpuris worked with Chief Education Officer Jay Barth to alter the plan, which now puts more attention on the lack of quality providers. The city now plans to work with local higher education institutions to set up programs that train child care workers. The city now will only spend money on vouchers beginning in 2026 and only with approval by the board. Significant additional federal funding for child care has come (or will come) to the state from pandemic relief legislation.
Kumpuris said he’d spent weeks deeply studying the issue and said it could be transformative for Little Rock and would be unlike any other program in the country.
Hines, a frequent opponent of the mayor’s, tried unsuccessfully to delay the vote and amend the resolution. He said he was very disappointed in his fellow board members for approving the resolution and bemoaned the mayor’s “divide and conquer mentality.”
Hendrix said after the vote that the city already had a school district and she didn’t agree with the child care component. She said she would be campaigning against the tax.