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Pulaski County wastes taxpayer dollars to ask taxpayers for more dollars

Just say NO to more taxes
Just say NO to more taxes(Google Images)

On March 11, 2014, Pulaski County in central Arkansas will be holding a special election asking the voters for a tax increase. The tax increase will be in the form of a special tax district levying a 1.9 millage rate on property for the benefit of Pulaski Technical College. The ballot reads:

The establishment of a technical college district to be composed of Pulaski County, this includes authorizing the levy of a tax not to exceed 1.9 mills on the dollar of the assessed value of the taxable property of the district to be used for the support of Pulaski Technical College and to provide additional funds for one or more of the following: (a) acquire, construct, reconstruct, repair, expand, operate or maintain facilities of Pulaski Technical College; (b) to retire bonds issued by Pulaski Technical College to finance facilities for Pulaski Technical College; and (c) for general operating purposes of Pulaski Technical College.

In essence, the special tax district will create a glorified slush fund for Pulaski Tech to spend in any manner they please.

Pulaski County already has the highest millage rates in the state, with the city of Little Rock having a millage rate exceptionally higher than any other city in the state. According to the Arkansas Assessment Coordination Department, the average millage rate per county in 2013 was 46.85, while Pulaski County’s rate was 58.56. Pulaski Tech draws their students not only from Pulaski County, but also the surrounding counties of Faulkner, Lonoke and Saline, which have millage rates of 48.70, 49.42 and 50.52, respectively. Why then, when a portion of the student body of the school comes from the surrounding counties, is only the home county of the school going to be burdened with an extra tax to support them?

Jason Davis, a candidate for Justice of the Peace in Pulaski County, wrote an excellent op-ed article calling the proposed tax increase unnecessary. In his piece, he shows how the Pulaski Tech Board of Trustees actually voted on proposing this tax increase more than two years ago. Despite the fact that the state of Arkansas has had a primary and general election, not mention several special elections, within the span of those two years, voters in Pulaski County are now facing yet another special election with only one issue on the ballot.

The state of Arkansas has their primary election in May. Why couldn’t this proposed tax have been included on the ballot then, when a good portion of registered voters and taxpayers will already be at the polls? Davis’ opinion, which is most likely true, is that this election is being held separate in a deliberate attempt to drive down voter turnout, in the hopes that special interest groups in favor of the tax increase will prevail.

How much does a special election cost in Arkansas? It is difficult to find any numbers on that, but looking at a different story we can get somewhat of an idea. Our Lt. Governor recently resigned due to a scandal. Arkansas law requires that a special election be held within 150 days to fill the vacant seat. But our General Assembly, with backing from Governor Beebe, passed a bill allowing the seat to remain vacant until the general election in November. The main reasoning behind this is that the state wanted to avoid incurring the costs of holding a special election, which was estimated at over $1 million, when the issue could be addressed at a regularly scheduled election. Obviously, a county-wide election will not cost as much as a state-wide election, but it will still cost the taxpayer's money unnecessarily.

Furthermore, a mistake was made on the printing of the ballots for this special election, which prevented the vote-counting machines from properly reading it. This mistake cost taxpayers $12,800 to reprint the ballots, which comes out of the Election Commission’s printing budget of $400,000, the remainder of which is returned to the county's general fund at the end of the year. How much more of the taxpayer’s money is being spent on this March 11th election?

Does Pulaski Tech really need to impose this extra burden on the taxpayers of Pulaski County? We return to Jason Davis’ op-ed piece:

The Bureau of Legislative Research shows that Pulaski Technical College received $17 million from the general revenue fund for the 2012-2013 year, along with $52 million in cash funds and $148 million in federal funds. In addition, Pulaski Tech has increased its tuition from $77 a credit hour to $95 a credit hour over the past five years. While enrollment at the college has decreased 12%, the funding from tuition increases, general revenue and other sources is more than adequate to cover its existing budget. The extra money this election would take from the taxpayers is unnecessary.

It is indeed unnecessary. Taxpayers in Pulaski County are taxed enough already. There is no need to impose anymore of a burden on the citizens of the state that already make up the bulk of the general revenue through property taxes, sales taxes, income taxes, gas taxes and numerous and varied licensing and permit fees.

If Pulaski Tech really feels that they are having issues with their budget and need more money, perhaps they should ask their long list of donors, fellows and alumni for a handout. Or maybe they should take a long, hard look at their budget first, and do some cutting or rearranging of expenses, much like the vast majority of the taxpayers in Pulaski County have had to do for their own personal budgets. Either way, they should not be asking the taxpayers for more money.

I intend to vote NO on this proposed tax increase on March 11. If you are a voter in Pulaski County, I would ask you to please do the same.

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