Ethics/Government TransparencyReadTaxes/Government Spending

Passing Local Taxes in Special Elections:

The abuse must be ended

What do you think about cities, counties, and school districts calling a special election to pass tax increases, because they know in a special election it is much easier to pass a tax increase when there will be a much lower voter turnout?

There is normally NO emergency requiring a special election. It is all about increasing the chances of the tax passing.

Many citizens never even notice there is about to be a special election to approve higher taxes.

Special elections give local politicians a big advantage in passing their higher taxes.  This is what we wrote in 2017 when the issue came up in the legislature.

“Cities, counties, and school districts have special elections at random times throughout the year to raise taxes. It costs taxpayers an average of $200,000 per year to hold these elections. Taxpayers spent over $7.4 million on special elections from 1981-2016.     Voter turnout for these special elections averaged 19% for local sales tax elections, with a 77% pass rate of these tax increases on the people. When held at the general election the pass rate was just 45%.”[i]

State Representative David Ray (R Maumelle) filed House Bill1368 to limit such special elections. His bill was considered twice by the Arkansas House of Representatives and defeated both times.  The bill needed 51 votes to pass. The last vote was 46 FOR, 46 AGAINST, 7 DIDN’T VOTE, and 1 voted PRESENT.

The bill needed only five more “yes” votes to pass. Far less than the eight state Representatives who stood on the sidelines and let the bill fail.  Check this list to see if you are being represented by a politician who prefers to stay on the sidelines and not vote “for” or “against” (which has the same effect as a “no” vote.)

THE EIGHT SIDELINE POLITICIANS

  • Ken Bragg (R- Sheridan) [voted “Present”]
  • Les Eaves (R- Searcy)
  • Jack Fortner (R- Yellville)
  • Spencer Hawks (R-Conway)
  • Lane Jean (R-Magnolia)
  • Reginald Murdock (D-Marianna)
  • Speaker, Rep. Matthew J. Shepherd (R-El Dorado)
  • Dwight Tosh (R-Jonesboro)

You may want to talk to your Representative on how he or she voted (or didn’t vote) on this important issue. Here is a link to how all 100 Representatives voted (or failed to vote) – [HB1368 second vote]

Why is it so HARD to curb local special elections used to raise your taxes with low voter turnout?

State legislators usually rely on the support of their city, county, and school board officials to get elected.  AND, if local politicians are unhappy with their state legislators there could be an opponent for the legislator in the next election.  That doesn’t mean a legislator will always do the bidding of local politicians … but it will make them think twice.

If that wasn’t enough, each group of local governments are represented by big statewide organizations that have many lobbyists.

  • Cities have the Arkansas Municipal League.
  • Counties have the Association of Arkansas Counties,
  • Schools have the Arkansas School Boards Association, Arkansas Association of Educational Administrators, and the Arkansas Education Association

And you? You only have a state Representative who may be listening to these powerful groups instead.

How do you feel about these big local government associations working to keep voter turnout low by using their lobbyists to influence legislators – lobbyists funded by local governments that use your tax money to do it?

Arkansas legislators have been trying to end the abuse of local special elections for years.  The last time was in 2017. That year it almost passed. In the House of Representatives it initially received enough votes to pass.  When the vote was challenged and each Representative who voted yes had to verbally confirm a “yes” vote, Representative James Sturch, now a state senator, looked at his phone and immediately got up out his seat and quickly walked out of the House chamber just before his name was to be called to confirm his “yes” vote.  Once Sturch skedaddled out of there, it made the bill one vote short, and it failed.

There have been some rumors that Representative Ray’s bill will come up again.  That would be good.  However, it would be difficult because the House adopted a “Clincher” motion which means that the vote by which it failed would need to be expunged before the bill could be considered again.  That is a big hurdle.

Have the lobbyists of local government won again?

Perhaps the bill could be reconsidered or a similar bill filed.  But that is unclear.  And most legislators don’t want to buck the wishes of local governments.  Unless something changes, expect to see local governments continue to abuse special elections to pass higher and higher taxes. What does your state Representative say?


[i] https://conduitnews.com/how-rep-james-sturch-killed-special-election-reform-by-walking-out/

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