Bird in hand 

In the days leading up to the opening of the new legislative session this week, the big debate was about tax cuts.

On the one hand, you had the incoming governor, Mike Beebe, who was elected decisively in November on a platform that included a firm commitment to cut the sales tax on food.

“The people of Arkansas followed this race pretty good,” Beebe said on Jan. 4. “They knew what they were getting. I don’t think we need to underestimate their interest in this issue. I think that I was pretty clear throughout the campaign, and I think they’ve spoken.”

On the other hand, you had the leaders of the state House and Senate peddling vague objections and unspecific alternatives to Beebe’s proposal.

Senate President Pro-Tem Jack Critcher simply doesn’t want to lose the tax revenue — a legitimate complaint rarely heard when tax breaks are handed out to industry and special interests.

At the same time, House Speaker Benny Petrus says he wants to do more for poor families than merely reduce the 6 percent tax on their groceries.

Arkansas News Bureau columnist John Brummett on Dec. 21 wrote that Petrus would rather “carv[e] out personal income tax cuts from the lowest incomes upward until you’ve granted as much monetary relief as you’d bestow with grocery tax removal.”

Only five days later, Brummett conveyed Petrus’ increased ambition to “better help the low-income working man and his family by giving him strategically designed income tax breaks. You could raise the minimum income level for paying income taxes. You could reduce the rate applied to the lowest taxable incomes. You could create an earned income tax credit whereby a working man gets a direct tax credit for wages up to a certain level, and, if the credit exceeds his tax obligation, then he gets the overage in cold cash. Or, you could put a line for a food tax rebate on the state income tax form for persons below a certain income level.”

Those are fine ideas. And the legislature should consider them — after it adopts Beebe’s grocery tax cut, not before.

Intentionally or not, Petrus is taking something simple and making it complicated. Beebe made cutting the sales tax on food a signature part of his campaign for governor, and he got elected by a large margin. And from a purely practical perspective, Petrus’ seemingly altruistic agenda is less likely to pass than an initiative backed by the incoming governor and a majority of the state’s citizens. Therefore, there is no reason to suddenly cast aside Beebe’s promise for the remote possibility that we may get something better.

In fact, by filling our minds with sugarplum visions of what we could get if we let go of the grocery tax reduction, Petrus is already causing us to take for granted what an achievement that reduction would be.

As you can see in the chart provided by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy (page 3 at this link), the sales tax burden as a share of total income falls disproportionately and overwhelmingly on the backs of lower-income Arkansans. What do you think most people are purchasing when they make less than $12,000 a year? My guess would be life’s essentials — like food — and right now they are forfeiting over 5 percent of their meager incomes on sales taxes.

By comparison, income tax relief that amounts to less than 1 percent of total income seems a lesser priority.

So let’s respect the will of the voters and take care of first things first. If Petrus is really serious about becoming the champion for the lower-income families of Arkansas (and his record up to now is inconclusive on that point), there will be plenty of chances for him to introduce his ideas after the grocery tax is reduced.


From the ArkTimes store


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

More by Warwick Sabin

  • Helena's disappearing buildings

    Preservationists hope to slow demolitions.
    • Mar 22, 2007
  • Trailers headed to Dumas

    Gov. Mike Beebe issued the following statement earlier today: Although this decision by FEMA to deny emergency funds to Desha County defies common sense, Arkansas will take care of its own people.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • Youth Ranch robbed, vandalized

    According to a press release we just received: The Donald W. Reynolds Campus of the Arkansas Sheriff’s Youth Ranches (The Ranch) located near Fort Smith was vandalized overnight Thursday.  Items stolen during the break-in included all of the children’s saddles, food, tools and supplies from The Ranch’s carpentry shop and all equipment from its auto shop.  An investigation is underway with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Office.
    • Mar 9, 2007
  • More »

Most Shared

  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • Former state board of education chair Sam Ledbetter weighs in on Little Rock millage vote

    Ledbetter, the former state Board of Education chair who cast the decisive vote in 2015 to take over the LRSD, writes that Education Commissioner Johnny Key "has shown time and again that he is out of touch with our community and the needs of the district." However, Ledbetter supports the May 9 vote as a positive for the district's students and staff.
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Latest in Warwick Sabin

  • Trickle-up theory

    Through thick and thin, there has always been one group of dedicated Americans whose support for President George W. Bush has been unwavering: The wealthy.
    • Mar 8, 2007
  • Time to go

    Tough questions face us in Iraq and it's time to confront them directly.
    • Mar 1, 2007
  • Plugged in

    One reason why the South remained solidly Democratic during the mid-20th century was the enduring gratitude to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who brought electricity to the poor, rural parts of the region. According to one historical account, “Althou
    • Feb 22, 2007
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Fishing the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Arkansas angler and fishing expert Billy Murray shares his extensive knowledge of the Diamond Lakes of Arkansas

Event Calendar

« »


2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29

Most Viewed

  • Intracity tourism

    The issues that tug at my heartstrings are neighborhood stigma and neighborhood segregation, which are so prevalent in Little Rock. In my opinion, the solution to those problems is "intracity tourism."
  • Workers stiffed

    How is it going with the great experiment to make the Republican Party the champion of the sons and daughters of toil instead of the oligarchs of wealth and business?
  • O'Reilly's fall

    Whom the gods would destroy, they first make TV stars.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: O'Reilly's fall

    • O'Reilly should run for president. He's already cleared one major hurdle by proving he's a…

    • on April 27, 2017
  • Re: Intracity tourism

    • I love being a tourist in my own backyard. One of the advantages of being…

    • on April 27, 2017

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation