Earlier this month, the Pine Bluff City Council voted to divert a big chunk of money — $2.1 million — from Go Forward Pine Bluff, the city’s downtown revitalization effort, and apply it instead to city departmental budgets.
This is a bad move, and it seems as if Mayor Shirley Washington now may recognize that. She said in a statement that she had “significant reservations” about the council’s resolution and planned to offer a new proposal at the City Council meeting tonight.
Washington said that shifting the money would be breaking faith with the city’s voters, who in 2017 overwhelmingly approved a seven-year, 0.625% sales tax to fund the Go Forward Pine Bluff initiative.
Redirecting the money would be legal because the ballot title never explicitly stated that the sales tax proceeds would be used only for the revitalization effort. However, “legal” and “right” are two very different things, as Washington recognizes. “At the heart of the 2017 proposal was a promise, one some elected officials are now attempting to break,” she said.
Other Pine Bluff officials also recognize the diversion for what it is: a bait and switch. As council member Glen Brown Jr., who voted against the resolution, noted: “Certain things were promised to the voters. To reallocate that, to change it, is to basically be going against the voters of Pine Bluff.”
Citizens will vote to tax themselves when the money goes toward something they believe in, in this case the reinvigoration of their city. Pine Bluff is just now gaining real momentum in that effort, what with construction underway on the $350 million Saracen Casino Resort, as well as on a new library downtown and the recent completion of a public aquatics center.
Failing to honor voters’ clear wishes will only further erode trust in democracy. And that’s the last thing we need.