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Legislators learn early that giving money away is fun. Raising money is work. That's why you see legislators who boast of never having voted for a tax increase grabbing at the tax revenue other people voted for.
It's also why certain legislators, the more audacious, flout any rules that might hamper them in obtaining state funds for their pet projects. Sen. Gene Jeffress, D-Louann, has audacity enough for a roomful of senators.
Jeffress has been trying to strong-arm the state Athletic Commission into giving $100,000 of state money to Boys and Girls Clubs in his district, at El Dorado and Camden. He says that's what he intended when he persuaded the legislature to appropriate money for the commission to spend on (unnamed) Boys and Girls Clubs.
More scrupulous than the senator, the commission has been planning to divide the money among all 33 Boys and Girls Clubs in the state, not just those in Jeffress' district. In so doing, the commission would comply with an Arkansas Supreme Court decision that Jeffress is trying to evade. The court said legislators can't constitutionally give state money to a local entity that's unconnected to a state function. The appropriation must go to a state agency, for distribution as the agency sees fit, the court said, and Attorney General Dustin McDaniel will so advise the Athletic Commission when he responds to the commission's request for a legal opinion. There's no real doubt about the law; Jeffress probably understands it himself. He just thinks the law shouldn't apply to him. That's a serious deficiency in a lawmaker.
Rep. Keven Anderson, R-Rogers, is seriously deficient in the will to raise taxes on special interests. He holds back even when the increase would produce badly needed state revenue and make the state tax system more equitable, as an increase in the severance tax on natural gas would. Neighboring states derive substantial revenue from the severance tax; Arkansas's tax is piddling.
But raising taxes on industry is not a way to attract industry, Anderson says, to which we'd respond that Arkansas is already overpopulated with low-tax, low-wage industries, and they're the only kind frightened away by modest tax increases.
A man so determined to shield from taxation those who are most able to pay taxes probably shouldn't be a member of the Revenue and Taxation Committee. Anderson is not only a member, he's chairman, and thus in a position to damage any severance-tax bill. It appears that tax reformers will have to take their case directly to the people in the form of an initiated act. The people will approve it, and representative government will slip a little further in the public esteem.
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