Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
It took a football stadium to lay bare Republican budget hypocrisy in Arkansas.
It happened last week when KARK-TV, Channel 4, broke the news that Governor Hutchinson wanted to slash the state's contribution to operation of the state's War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock in half, from $895,171 to $447,647 beginning in 2018.
It's all about a more "efficient" state government, the governor said. He promised a coming plan for an envisioned new "sustainability" for the stadium, even though it faces a future without a Razorback football payday.
Kevin Crass, the Stadium Commission chairman, said he couldn't envision a day the stadium could operate profitably. None do. Verizon Arena, though vibrant, is a break-even operation thanks, first, to a building provided debt-free by taxpayers. That's the same for convention facilities all over Arkansas, which get millions in rebates from the tourism sales tax dollars they generate.
Those rebates and other spending put the lie to both Hutchinson and, particularly, Sen. Bart Hester, the Northwest Arkansas bully who pushed Hutchinson to cut War Memorial funding. Hester hates Central Arkansas. He thinks all the money should go to his part of the state.
Hester made no call for sustainability when the state sent a half-million dollars to a Bible college just down the road from him in Springdale. He's called for no cuts in subsidies to other arenas and convention facilities.
War Memorial Stadium also spurs sales tax dollars, with events that draw high school bands, high school and college football teams and many others from all over the state each year. But a state support cut and loss of Razorback revenue will leave a $1 million budget gap that no amount of flea markets, motocrosses and drum and bugle corps can cover.
The singular outrage is Hester saying the $449,000 War Memorial savings is about adequate state services for foster children.
It's a pittance for one thing, a drop in an ocean of needs.
It is also a stinky red herring that he could throw out on every budget bill. Do we really need to spend a million bucks at the Governor's Mansion? Think of the foster children.
And how about that Bible college his pals helped? Think of the children.
Or what about that whopping $5 million Hutchinson just gave to El Dorado for an "arts district"? Think of the number of foster children THAT could help.
That's not how you budget. You determine needs — including purely recreational amenities — and fund them. It can be costly and is almost never profitable. If you think a stadium that pays tribute to war veterans is no longer a justified public expense, just say so and defend. Don't use foster kids or soldiers or sewage treatment as a made-up justification.
Hester's claim of a bleeding heart for kids should be viewed against his record. He's a foe of the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, which brought health care security to more than 300,000 Arkansas men, women and children. Hester resents every dollar of it.
Obamacare might be the reason Hutchinson threw Hester a bone on the football stadium in the first place. Hester was a key vote in the legislative trickery that allowed Hutchinson to continue the private option Medicaid expansion, which in turn saved his budget and a major income tax cut. Hester voted against the Medicaid expansion, but the bill to kill the program was crafted so as to provide a pathway to a gubernatorial veto override that saved the program.
I wonder, too, how many dollars could be generated for children or other worthy causes by the unconstitutional law Hester engineered to reduce the property tax bills on people who own billboard property (as he does).
The War Memorial fight isn't football vs. foster kids. It is politics, of a particularly hypocritical and dishonest sort.
UPDATE: The words above were written before Hutchinson's announcement Tuesday that he wanted to take control of War Memorial Stadium and put it under his Parks and Tourism Department, while undertaking a study of future uses of the stadium. He did not retreat from his plan to cut state support, though he said the stadium could be positioned to benefit from marketing and grant access at Parks. Stadium defenders made nice about the governor's face-saving response to anger about abandonment of, yes, a "war memorial." They are hoping for the best, but the loss of independence is a loss. And people like Hester still hunger to cut it off completely. The politics that put this in play are unchanged.
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