LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas Community Organizations said Thursday it opposes Issue 3 on the state ballot, saying the measures would sanction unlimited “corporate welfare.”
A ballot question committee formed to support the measure said it would help Arkansas compete with neighboring states for jobs.
In a news conference across the street from an early voting location in downtown Little Rock, the grass-roots community-organizing group said it is urging Arkansans to vote against the multi-part ballot issue, which was referred to the ballot by the state Legislature in 2015 and has been endorsed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the state Chamber of Commerce and numerous local chambers.
Jim Lynch and Toney Orr, both of Little Rock, told reporters they believe the measure is in part a response to a Pulaski County circuit judge’s 2015 ruling that Little Rock and North Little Rock had to stop providing taxpayer dollars to local chambers of commerce because the practice violated the state constitution. Lynch and Orr were plaintiffs in the lawsuit that led to the ruling.
“So what the chamber did, they did an end run” around the judge’s ruling,” Orr said, noting that Issue 3 would amend the state constitution to allow cities and counties to appropriate funds to private entities like chambers of commerce that promote economic development.
The public funds that would go to private entities if Issue 3 is approved would be diverted from the traditional beneficiaries of public money, such as schools, the group said.
Neil Sealy of Little Rock, the group’s executive director, said there is limited transparency for such projects. He said that in August, when he requested information from the Economic Development Alliance of Jefferson County about applications it received from businesses for state-funded incentives, he was told that some of the information was exempt from the state Freedom of Information Act.
“Shouldn’t taxpayers have access to all of the records regarding a company’s plans for development using taxpayer dollars?” Sealy said in an email after the news conference.
Issue 3 also would would remove a cap on bonds the state can issue for large projects, or “super projects.” The current cap is 5 percent of the state’s general revenue from the most recent fiscal year.
Without a limit, the Legislature could “put the public treasury into poverty. It’s a bad, bad idea — nothing but corporate welfare,” Lynch said.
Jobs for Arkansas, a ballot question committee that supports Issue 3, said in a statement Thursday, “Right now, our state is at a disadvantage when competing with our neighbors for major economic development projects. Issue 3 will enable our cities and counties to fully participate in efforts to bring employers to our communities. It will also enhance the state’s ability to recruit the kind of large-scale projects we all want in our backyard — the kind that creates hundreds of good-quality, high-paying jobs for Arkansans.”
The committee said Hutchinson and dozens of other individuals, organizations and communities across the state “have endorsed Issue 3 because they know it will move our state forward and help create more and better jobs for Arkansas.”