BCN Staff – Sept. 15, 2021 – Little Rock voters soundly rejected Mayor Frank Scott Jr.’s Rebuild The Rock initiative in a special election on Tuesday, causing the city’s first Black mayor to go back to the drawing board to revive his “New South” agenda.
According to the preliminary results of 72 precincts from the Pulaski County Election Commission, 13,025 or 61.99% rejected the one percent sales and compensating sales tax, while only 7,987 or 38.01% backed the mayor’s sales tax extension.
Before the election, Pulaski County Clerk Terri Hollingsworth said there were approximately 128,000 eligible registered voters for this election. Early results show that only 21,046 or about 16.4% showed up at the polls, something that the mayor’s campaign staff had feared after early voting began on Sept. 7.
The referendum made it on the ballot after the Little Rock City Board of Directors approved a resolution on June 28 to put the proposed one-percent sales-tax hike before Little Rock residents in Pulaski County. Scott’s proposal was an extension of an earlier decade-long sales tax under former Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola that will sunset on Dec. 31, 2021.
That one penny sales tax included a permanent 5/8 cents “operations” tax hike and a 10-year temporary 3/8 cents “capital investment” tax levy that went into effect in January 2012. Annually, it generated over $45 million for the city, funding several mayoral priorities and capital improvement projects such as the Little Rock Technology Park and Twelfth Street Police Station.
In an interview on the fast-growing BCN Headlines radio show and podcast on KABF FM with BlackConsumerNews.com’s Chief Creative Officer Angel Burt and guest co-host, Osyrus Bolly, Scott noted Little Rock’s status as Arkansas’ largest city, which new Census data shows recently topped 202,591. He said his plan would raise more than an estimated $53 million annually in new sales tax revenue over the next 10 years, but openly admitted that the city’s sales tax code is regressive but offered there is no other way to raise revenue for fund growth initiatives and ongoing needs.
“That’s the reason we are pursuing it because we know Little Rock is a growing city …,” Scott said of the sales tax that would have added five-eighths of a penny to the county’s 9% sales tax rate. “
Among many things, the sales tax measure includes public safety reforms to decrease police response times, technology investments, and community policing enhancements that are data-driven to reduce crime. Scott’s proposal, first introduced in his virtual State-of-the-City address on March 25, also includes a new fire station in west Little Rock, neighborhood revitalization improvements, Little Rock Zoo enhancements and expansion, and a first-of-its-kind new senior center.
The mayor’s plan to raise more than an estimated $53 million annually new sales tax revenue over the next 10 years also includes revitalization plans for the former War Memorial and Hindman Parks golf courses that will connect both parks with a state-of-the-art trails system and create new recreational options at both parks. It would have also provided funding for early childhood education access for toddlers and infants, critical improvements to the remainder of the city’s park facilities, and a new city-owned trust to acquire, develop, and rehab affordable housing.
In accepting defeat late Tuesday evening, a conciliatory Scott released the following statement regarding the results of the penny replacement tax election.
“While this election did not turn out as we’d hoped, I’m grateful for the members of the City Board who placed this proposal before the voters and the people of Little Rock who campaigned with me for a stronger, more vibrant city,” said Scott, the city’s first duly elected Black mayor. “Your commitment and sacrifice to help Rebuild The Rock is to be applauded. I’m deeply appreciative of each of you and look forward to a day when many of the proposals that were part of Rebuild The Rock come to fruition.
“We always knew this would be a difficult journey-the pandemic has caused a great deal of uncertainty about the future,” Scott continued.
The Little Rock mayor first elected in the historic 2018 race to replace former Mayor Mark Stodola, Scott said in the weeks and months ahead he would continue to work closely with city board and local residents to make the necessary adjustments for the expiring 3/8 cent sales tax, which will expire at the end of the 2021.
“Together, we will keep fighting for quality early childhood education, amenities for our seniors, enhanced parks and recreation, affordable housing for hard-working families, and innovative policing and modernized fire operations to protect all residents,” Scott said, adding, “We’ll keep fighting to Rebuild The Rock.”
Little Rock businessman Baker Kurrus, who lost a runoff for mayor to Frank Scott Jr. in 2018 and served on Scott’s transition team, led efforts to defeat the sales tax initiative. In a column on Tuesday on the opinion page of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette called “Refuse Bad Deal,” Kurrus made the case against the sales tax initiative.
“Little Rock is home. My children and grandchildren live here, and I want the best for our city. I have voted for just about every tax increase that has come up in my 41 years as a resident in Little Rock,” said Kurrus, who is white. “I am voting against the 41 percent increase in Little Rock’s city sales tax.”
Kurrus reasoned in the opinion piece that there was no assurance that the additional money collected “will be spent on anything in particular.”
“The (city) board passed a non-binding resolution, which can be changed, or ignored. Much of the money is planned for facilities and programs that will require additional paid personnel,” said Kurrus, who is rumored to make another possible run against Scott in 2022. “The proposed tax will expire in 10 years, leaving the city with higher fixed costs and no way to pay them.
Further, Kurrus encouraged Scott and the City Board of Directors to consider extending the sales tax initiative first put in place in 2012 by Stodola, the white Democratic mayor that Scott defeated.
“City money ought to be spent by the city-on-city business, like public safety, good roads, and parks. This is the hard work that the city should be about doing, and we have the money to do it. Little Rock should not raise taxes on food and utilities, especially when we are already the highest-taxing city in the state,” said Kurrus.
“Let’s vote no on this tax, and then ask our city board, in public, to talk about the specific projects which the voters might consider as we decide whether to renew the three-eighth-cent capital improvement tax which expires at the end of 2021,” he added.
Little Rock voters agreed and soundly rejected the new tax. To see the full results, go here.
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