Early voting is underway for Little Rock’s proposed sales tax increase. If passed next week, starting January 1, the city’s sales tax would increase from 9% to 9.625%. The tax increase is the only item on the ballot for next Tuesday’s special election.
On Tuesday, the first day of early voting, Mayor Frank Scott Jr. cast his ballot at Sue Cowan Library.
“I voted for it,” Scott told reporters afterward. “I want to make sure that everyone knows that we’re voting for our city, how we rebuild our city for its future.”
The sales tax initiative would support Scott’s 10-year plan which he says would improve the quality of life in Little Rock. Branded as “Rebuild the Rock,” the program would prioritize infrastructure, parks, economic development, early childhood education, public safety, affordable housing and the Little Rock Zoo. All the capital projects would take place within 10 years if the sales tax passes.
Hindman Park and War Memorial Park were highlighted as opportunities to create revenue through creating a disc golf course, expanding the fishing pier, creating playgrounds and bike paths, along with expanding trails.
The mayor envisions War Memorial Park being positioned to become the equivalent of New York’s Central Park with these improvements, according to a PowerPoint presentation proposal.
Little Rock Chief Education Officer Jay Barth joined the mayor at the library and said he’s most excited about part of the proposal that would help create education opportunities for pre-kindergarten students. The investment would include partnerships with the Arkansas Division of Child Care and other entities for child care, working with private providers to give them technical assistance that would improve the quality of care and expand places for children in need, focusing on those living south of Interstate 630 and in southwest Little Rock.
“This is a major investment in early childhood,” Barth said in an interview with KUAR News. “It’s exactly where the city needs to go. It will really help the city stand out compared to other cities in this region and indeed across the country. We’ve got a great chance to transform early childhood opportunities for our kids.”
Opposition to the sales tax increase includes a group called the Vote No Tax Committee. Greg Moore is co-chair of the committee, which was formed last month and advocates for lower-and middle-income residents.
“We believe that we should not be raising the price of food, gas, water and other necessities during a pandemic,” Moore said, “We agree with many parts of what this tax proposes to fix. We like the childhood education [improvements] and childcare. However, we feel that many people’s number one priority is their overdue rents and their debts.”
Moore says he would like to wait for the COVID-19 pandemic to subside, suggesting that the raising taxes would burden Arkansans who are already struggling financially.
“Get out of this pandemic, help the people that need it right now, and give us a stronger proposal on how this actually helps the communities that need it,” Moore added.
Scott acknowledged many families have been struggling since the pandemic began, but said, “There’s never really a perfect or a good time to tax anything.” He said the city is limited in ways to raise revenue and understands it would be a regressive tax.
“We need this revenue to ensure that we focus on how we unite, we grow, we transform our city for its betterment. That’s the reason why we’ve chosen to do it at this time,” Scott said.
The improvements are aligned with Little Rock’s population growth, the mayor said. For the first time ever, the latest census data showed that in 2020 the city surpassed 200,000 residents.
Scott said the city continues to see expansive growth and that resources are needed to continue improving and transforming Little Rock.
The special election is open to registered voters in the city, with early voting to continue through Monday. The deadline to turn in absentee ballots is Friday. On Election Day next Tuesday, polls will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.