With the city, county and state governments rolling in unencumbered cash, these are opportunistic times to improve the lives of Northeast Arkansas residents.
Not including the millions the City of Jonesboro and Craighead County and the billions the state are getting from federal pandemic giveaways, the state has collected nearly $6.1 billion in revenues over expenses as of April, Craighead County is sitting on about $4 million, and the City of Jonesboro has a whopping $26.8 million – $8 million of which must be kept on hand, according to city policy, in case of a natural disaster or other emergencies.
First, all three government entities need to have specific plans to fund capital improvement projects that directly benefit their residents – transportation, education, technology, public safety, parks and recreation, etc.
Specifically, Jonesboro needs more sidewalks and bike trails, as well as a park on the northeast side of the city. With only one public swimming pool – which isn’t anything to write home about – in a city of 80,000 residents, at least two more public swimming pools or an aquatic center need to be constructed.
If the city can spend millions of dollars on a shooting range, we can afford a couple new swimming pools and a park on the side of town that has none. Sidewalks and bike trails would go far in extending the life expectancy of Northeast Arkansans, who obviously don’t get enough exercise as obesity ranks as a major health risk here.
Stormwater drainage is another area the city needs to do more to remedy. Because of the city’s massive growth in recent years, more rooftops and parking lots have created more stormwater runoff, causing flooding situations in neighborhoods where that had never been a problem.
I’d also like to see each entity find more ways to cut government spending as well as look for opportunities to cut taxes. The county did a good job last year during the pandemic, tightening its belt by postponing some road projects, enacting furloughs and being more conservative with other spending.
Another “for instance” would be if the eight school districts in Craighead County consolidated into four, taxpayers would save millions of dollars annually in administrative costs. Youngsters would still go to the same schools with the same teachers and principals and mascots and school pride.
You’d think school board meetings are like attending a COVID-19 party; hardly anyone ever shows up. There’s little interest in what actions our school boards take – not that anyone could keep track because there are so many. Never mind school board elections where incumbent candidates seldom face opposition and, if so, maybe a couple hundred of voters (school staff, family members and friends) cast ballots.
Still, the first taxes that need to go are personal property taxes on vehicles and business inventory. These regressive taxes are a huge burden to lower-income folks and hamper the growth of local businesses. In a word, they are simply unfair. Why should someone have to pay hundreds of dollars each year on a used vehicle or outdated computers and old office furniture? And why is there sales tax demanded on a used vehicle when those taxes were already paid when it was purchased new? It’s a government rip off.
If Arkansas wants to do something to encourage business growth and get more broken-down vehicles off the streets, nixing personal property taxes would be a good place to start. I see more “antique” license plates on everyday vehicles here than at a car museum and “beaters” that have no business being on the road.
Sales taxes collections have soared during the pandemic, with each government entity stockpiling the excess cash like cordwood before winter.
These funds need to be put to work to generate more business growth in an economy that is booming here and in many areas across the nation. There are so many jobs available, there aren’t enough qualified candidates to fill them, and low-paying jobs with meager or no benefits will likely continue to go unfilled.
Believe it or not, that’s a good thing. It means the economy is chugging along at a faster pace than business and industry can keep up with, which means wages will climb and more boats will float out of this dreadful pandemic.
These days are a Roaring ‘20s repeat following the Spanish Flu pandemic without the speakeasies and mob bosses.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the state’s fiscal policies have generated enough excess tax revenues that the state can afford another cut in income taxes. How about cutting the state’s sales tax rate first? That would benefit more Arkansans considering sales taxes are also regressive. Instead of 6.5 percent, drop the state’s sales tax to 5.5 percent, putting more money into everyone’s pockets to spend. Cities and counties would continue to collect the same 1 percent sales taxes, so those revenues wouldn’t be affected.
Now is the time for local and state governments to act in the best interest of all Arkansans, not just those of means.