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Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thursday roundup: Football, junkets, schools, prayer

Posted by on Thu, May 9, 2013 at 3:46 PM

Over to you early. Finishing up:

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* PRIORITIES: Great graphic from Deadspin with a story on the highest paid public employee in each of the states. Arkansas, like many others, puts the football coach in the No. 1 slot. Don't tread on New Hampshire just because the hockey coach gets top billing there. Eight states put a higher ed official on top — med school, college prez, even a law dean. And standing alone with a plastic surgeon at the top of the heap is the showgirl capital of the western world, Nevada.

* DARR TO TAIWAN: It's not Nixon to China, but Lt. Gov. Mark Darr to Taiwan will just have to do. The endless junketeering provided by Taiwan to lower level American officials as PR continues with what will apparently be a group visit by Darr and state legislators. Precise details not yet firmed up, Darr says in confirming the June trip is in the works. Such trips will NOT be hampered by the so-called ethics amendment legislators approved for the ballot because it won't be "lobbyist" provided. That amendment also was favored by legislators because it will provide a pathway to higher pay and more years in the legislature for them. Travel tip to former pizza man Darr: There's some fine eating in Taipei, dumplings particularly. He probably knows this. Darr has junketed to China previously.

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* CIGAR SMOKING GETTING CHEAPER: Did you know that the tax breaks extended in the recent legislative session included a tax break on higher-priced cigars? Yep. Check out Act 510, authored by Rep. Andrea Lea and Sen. David Sanders. It caps a portion of the wholesale excise tax on cigars at 50 cents per cigar. This presumably is to discourage people from buying cigars out of state. Gotta love the misleading language come up with to comfort the stogie chompers —An Act to Ensure the Long-Term Funding of Certain Health Care Programs by Encouraging In-State Purchases of Certain Tobacco Products. This will have no impact on the life of Philly blunt and Swisher Sweet consumers because no tax break was given to 'gars wholesaled for less than 75 cents each. The change means a cigar sold at wholesale for $3 will see a 56-cent tax reduction. The cost to the state will be $134,000 a year. Wonder if that savings will be passed on to consumers or pocketed by retailers?

* TAX ANGER LEADS TO CRIMINAL CHARGE: A Conway dentist has been arrested for terroristic threatening for allegedly threatening to kill a state employee attempting to collect delinquent taxes.

* TRUST KOCHS TO GRADE YOUR SCHOOLS? Kochhead organizations have been touting the so-called research of another Koch proxy, the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has passed out some poor grades for the states on education. The research is junk, says the National Education Policy Center. As if facts matter.

* SPEAKING OF SCHOOLS: A news conference is scheduled tomorrow by the Arkansas Research Center on research purported to show that pre-K education is closing the gap in achievement between affluent and economically disadvantaged kids. Pre-K funding has been and will be in peril in times made lean by tax cutting against a lukewarm economy. Not that anyone's counting anything but savings in rich folks' pockets, right Rep. Charlie Collins?

* ENTHUSIASM LACKING AMONG BLACK VOTERS: There've been reports recently that black voter turnout was higher than white turnout in 2012, a break from custom and perhaps a backlash to Republican efforts to disenfranchise black voters with Voter ID legislation. Maybe Arkansas will learn in 2014. Because the new anti-voting Republican Voter ID legislation will be in effect. And, in 2012, Arkansas was among four states with the lowest black turnout numbers.

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* IF WE DON'T GET OUR WAY, WE'LL TAKE OUR BIBLE AND GO HOME: Another church-state dispute in Arkansas, with a new wrinkle from those intent on imposing religion on others. After a parent objected to the prayer normally included in "graduation" from the 6th grade in the Riverside School District in Lake City, the school district just cancelled the ceremony entirely. Unhappy parents planned to have a rump "graduation" at a church. Said one of them:

"We're not trying to be pushy or ugly to anybody, we just want them to know there is a God who loves them," she said.

But not enough to let them have a school event without praying to Him first. The mom also said people in the "mainly Christian town" felt like their "rights" were being taken away.

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