Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 19:01:00
On the day that Republicans in the House rejected Rep. Warwick Sabin
's proposal for an earned-income tax credit (EITC) to help low-income workers, here's a recommended read: The case from Arkansas Advocates
for the EITC as a superior policy to the governor's proposed tax cut.
Thankfully, Governor Asa Hutchinson
is putting some of his tax-cutting energy toward the the state's low-income working families after ignoring them in the previous rounds of tax cuts, with a plan that will help some who make less than $21,000. However, the Arkansas Advocates report notes that most of the state's poorest are still left out: Only 12 percent of the bottom quintile — those who make less than $18,000 a year — would benefit at all.
The report notes two major problems with the governor's approach. First, it is poorly targeted to help low-income workers, giving as much impact higher up the income scale as it does at the bottom. The governor cuts marginal income-tax rates for folks who make below $21,000 — but keep in mind that in practice that means taxable income
, even if folks make significantly more than that prior to deductions, exclusions, etc.:
Hutchinson’s plan does technically reduce the tax burden for people earning less than $21,000 a year, but that fact is misleading. If you ask any accountant, you’ll find that there is some fantastic breadth in the variations of what “making money” can mean. Hutchinson’s bracket changes are based on “taxable income,” not wages, salary, or even adjusted gross income. That means we would be cutting refund checks based on what your reported income is after subtracting itemized deductions, capital gains exclusions, business losses, etc. There are always going to be taxpayers with a lot of income and little “taxable income” for various reasons. You can “make” quite a lot of money, and still easily come in under $21,000 in taxable income.
Hypothetically, a tax filer with $100,000 in gross income could end up with a “taxable income” of only $15,000 a year after reducing their tax liability with various deductions. Those deductions include things like mortgage interest deductions, business losses from previous years, charitable contributions, IRA contributions, deductions for personal and dependent exemptions and deductions for business expenses and costs associated with working from home. This person could be within the “low-income” range, despite earning a gross income well above the median in Arkansas.
Second, the Hutchinson plan offers nothing whatsoever to very low wage earners who have no income tax liability. They already don't pay state income taxes, so the tax cut doesn't help them (however, it's important to keep in mind that even if they have no income tax liability
, they do pay all sorts of other taxes, so they're just as in need of relief):
The flip side of this “taxable income” flaw is that it leaves out a lot of people who actually do earn very low wages. Many truly low-income families making minimum wage or living below the poverty line will gain nothing because they already have zero income tax liability. This is due to 2011 tax code changes that amended the “low-income tax tables” and eliminated or greatly reduced income tax liability for most taxpayers in this income group. That doesn’t mean they aren’t paying a large share of their income to taxes, though. The lowest income pay twice the rate in state and local taxes as compared to the top one percent in Arkansas (as a share of income). That is because, although their income taxes are low, they spend a much higher share of their paycheck on other state and local taxes like the sales tax, property tax, the fuel tax etc. In short, it is hard to help people earning less than $21,000 a year by reducing their income tax. To efficiently reduce their tax burden we need to use a tax credit.
Because of these two factors, Hutchinson's tax cut isn't very well targeted if the goal is to help low-income workers. The Arkansas Advocates report notes that about half
of the savings go to the top 40 percent of earners in the state. Meanwhile, only 5 percent of the savings go to those making less than $18,000. So much for a low-income tax cut!
The result is an approach that is more expensive but offers less help to low-income families. This chart below from the Advocates report below is a little wonky, but it shows how stark the difference is between the EITC and the Hutchinson plan. The average tax break under the EITC for those making less than $18,000 would be $108.79, compared to $67.24 under the Hutchinson plan; for those making $18-32,000, it would be $159.38 compared to $111.77. The EITC is an approach that is simply much more heavily weighted toward helping those families most in need, whereas the Hutchinson plan gets a lot of its bang by giving bucks back to people higher up the income scale.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 17:27:00
The medical definition of a stillbirth, and the definition used under current Arkansas law, is the death of a fetus after the twentieth week of pregnancy. Some in the legislature would like to redefine it — although this would likely have little practical impact other than reporting requirements for medical providers.
The House Public Health committee today passed a bill sponsored by Rep. David Meeks
, which would define "stillbirth" as the unintended death of a fetus any time after 12 weeks.
The bill would require that miscarriages that happened at 12 weeks gestation or more be reported to the division of Vital Records within five days after the event. A similar law
was passed in Oklahoma in 2015. Under current law, such fetal deaths must be reported when the fetus weighs more than 350 grams, or at 20 weeks if the weight is unknown. (The reporting requirement falls on medical providers, not on women who miscarry.)
Meeks said that the purpose of his bill was to allow women who had miscarriages to get a fetal death certificate and what's known as a "certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth." He brought a woman to testify for his bill in committee today who had a miscarriage at 23 weeks but said she was unable to get official certificates from the state; the fetal death was not reported because of being below the weight requirement. I spoke with state Health Department attorney Robert Brech
, who told me that this was a legitimate issue: sometimes women wish to get the official certificates as part of their grieving process but are unable to because the miscarriage is not reported as a stillbirth under current law.
The elephant in the room here is that the way Meeks has gone about trying to solve this issue has strong anti-abortion symbolism. Redefining the word "stillbirth" and requiring the generation of a fetal death certificate for a fetus starting at 12 weeks (a gestational age nearly three months before the woman who testified miscarried) starts to sound like the sort of move toward "personhood" that legislators have used in various states to attempt to chip away at abortion and reproductive rights. That includes attempts to impose shocking requirements on women who miscarry, such as Texas requiring that fetal remains be buried or cremated (that law was blocked by a court).
The symbolic implications aside, however, it does not appear that Meeks' bill would impose additional burdens on women who miscarry and — although the bill mentions pregnancy terminations in its title — it has no impact whatsoever on abortion reporting requirements. It is already the case under current state law that all abortions at any gestational age must be reported to the division of Vital Records (terminated pregnancies are a different reporting category altogether than fetal deaths).
What would happen under Meeks' bill if a woman miscarries at home at 12 weeks? If she then goes to a medical provider, the provider would have to report the miscarriage as a fetal death to the state. If not, the law is essentially silent — according to Brech, it makes no explicit requirement on the woman herself. Technically, the reporting requirement if there is no medical provider would then fall on a medical examiner or a coroner — but in practice, Brech said, it would simply go unreported.
If the fetal death is reported, it's up to the parents whether they want to receive a fetal death certificate or "certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth."
Brech said that currently, around 200 stillbirths per year are reported in Arkansas. Based upon the experience in Oklahoma, Brech projects that an additional 300 per year will be reported if the new 12-week definition of stillbirth is adopted. Brech said that the Health Department is looking into ways to denote the change so it does not appear that there was a sudden jump in fetal mortality statistics.
I reached out to Meeks but haven't heard back.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 17:24:00
Here's the day's news roundup, courtesy of Brooke Wallace.
More Arkansas Blog
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 14:25:00
"Listening for the Country: The Shape of Daddy's Hurt,"
Zandria F. Robinson's essay from the Oxford American Magazine's 2016 Southern Music Issue,
is a finalist for the 2017 National Magazine Award in the Essays and Criticism category. Robinson is the author of "This Ain’t Chicago: Race, Class, and Regional Identity in the Post-Soul South" and the forthcoming "Soul Power."
a meditation on the music Robinson's late father loved, marks the fourteenth time the magazine has received a nomination for the National Magazine Award. Oxford American joined the likes of The New Yorker, National Geographic, Rolling Stone and The Paris Review when it won for General Excellence in 2016.
Kathryn Joyce, author of "Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement"
and of Arkansas Times'
"Children in Crisis" special investigation on the state's child welfare system, also received a nomination. Joyce's essay for the Huffington Post, "Out Here, No One Can Hear You Scream,"
examines sexual harassment and hostility in the U.S. National Park Service, and is up for an Ellie in the Public Interest category.
The 2017 National Magazine Award winners will be announced in a ceremony in New York City on February 7.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 11:25:00
Little Rock native Ben Dickey
will star in “Blaze,”
a feature film directed by actor and director Ethan Hawke
, Deadline Hollywood reports
. The movie is an adaptation of “Living In the Woods in a Tree,”
a memoir by Sybil Rosen
about her life with cult country songwriter Blaze Foley
, a Malvern native who spent much of his rambling life in Texas. Foley penned “If I Could Only Fly,” popularized by Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, and “Clay Pigeons,” perhaps best known for John Prine’s version. Dickey, who stars as Foley, released his debut solo album, “Sexy Birds & Salt Water Classics”
last year on Max Recordings and played in Shake Ray Turbine
, a beloved post-hardcore band that had its heyday in the late ’90s in Little Rock. This is his first film role. Hawke, a longtime friend of Dickey’s, directed two music videos
for songs from “Sexy Birds.” Hawke wrote the script with Rosen. Alia Shawkat
(“Arrested Development,” “Search Party”) co-stars as Rosen. “Blaze” is currently shooting in Mississippi and Louisiana, where Dickey now lives.
Tuesday, January 24, 2017 - 11:14:00
received a Best Actress Academy Award nomination for her portrayal of Mildred Loving in “Loving,”
the latest film from Little Rock director Jeff Nichols
. It was the lone Oscar nomination for “Loving,” which landed on dozens of critics year-end best films lists and was seen as an early Academy Award nomination. Negga and her co-star, Joel Edgerton, were previously nominated for Golden Globe Awards. Neither won.
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