Bart Hester and the myth of self-sustaining public services | Arkansas Blog

Friday, October 21, 2016

Bart Hester and the myth of self-sustaining public services

Posted By on Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 8:04 AM

click to enlarge SAVE THE STADIUM: Commission Chairman Kevin Crass at legislative hearing.
  • SAVE THE STADIUM: Commission Chairman Kevin Crass at legislative hearing.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson folded to Sen. Bart Hester in proposing to slash by half (and presumably eventually move to zero) state funding for War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock.

A further discussion of that topic at a legislative committee yesterday, covered by KARK,  illustrated Hester's animus to government spending and Central Arkansas. The Razorback football program's plan to forsake games in Little Rock will make War Memorial even more of a money-losing proposition. But, Hester fails to acknowledge, it will continue to serve as a venue for state band and high school competitions and dozens of other events with statewide appeal.

It's aggravating to hear economic lectures from Hester, who bullied into law — probably in an unconstitutional manner — legislation aimed at undervaluing property used for billboards (he owns some) for property tax purposes. It's aggravating to hear anything from Hester, who uses coercion frequently, such as threatening to cut money to the University of Arkansas for officials' support of the Fayetteville non-discrimination ordinance.

But the most aggravating part is cherry-picking publicly financed endeavors that Hester happens not to like (just about anything in Little Rock except his pay, perks and expense account) as being non-sustaining.

Legislators at yesterday's meeting pointed out to Hester that the state parks aren't self-sustaining, but woe betide a legislator who suggested cutting any of them off.

This, by the way, was the cry yesterday from legislators about medical marijuana. Sales won't produce enough taxes to cover new regulatory efforts, opponents said. David Couch, spokesman for the marijuana amendment, says that's not so, it requires revenue neutrality.

But do we demand revenue neutrality anywhere within the system of providing valuable health care? No, we pay a significant cost as a nation to provide health care to those who can't afford to pay themselves. Fire departments don't pay for themselves. Police departments likewise. Highway departments? Don't get me started.

We recognize some things have public value and pay taxes to enable them. We support them, even though they aren't and will never be self-sustaining. See some of the money funneled up to Hester's part of the state in unconstitutional pork barrel spending. Where's Hester on sending tax money to that Bible college in Springdale or to pay off food bills for a Missouri wholesale grocer? Silent is where. His corner of the state is ground zero for support for sending tax money to chambers of commerce through Issue 3. Why can't THEY be self-sustaining?

What's sad is that the governor is echoing Hester in talking of a plan for War Memorial sustainability. Stadium Commission Chairman Kevin Crass, a sturdy Republican who got blind-sided by the governor's budget ax, said it will create a crisis and that realistically there isn't a path to profitability for the stadium. That's the same for any stadium or arena. But we like our venues for bread and circuses and we've enacted a state law that sends money to them all over the state. The choice isn't a cherry-picked Little Rock football stadium versus foster kids, as Hester would have you believe. Truth is, Hester is an ardent foe of broader medical services for children and the needy. So he's also a hypocrite when he talks about War Memorial.

It occurs to me that Asa's currying favor with Hester on this is a payback for Hester's acquiescence to the sham by which the Medicaid expansion was continued by a bill that killed the program but provided a line item veto option for the governor to save it.

If only we could line item legislators.

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