Favorite

Car service 

Arkansas Autogate. It's this year's $750 toilet seat.

I refer to the burgeoning controversy about the free cars provided state employees.

It began with a Democrat-Gazette report on the free cars given to statewide elected officials. Of them, only Lt. Gov. Bill Halter reported the perk as taxable income, as the IRS seems to require. Gov. Mike Beebe got a pass thanks to a Huckabee-era law that required the State Police to provide governors with security — AKA a chauffeur-driven SUV.

Perhaps the story would have died had Attorney General Dustin McDaniel not grandstanded. Before it was over, he'd given up his car, paid taxes and apologized for gigging Halter. Treasurer Martha Shoffner, at first indignant about being questioned, later capitulated, too.

Through it all, I had a broader interest in the thousands of state vehicles controlled by other state employees. In time, a couple of attorneys followed through. They filed a taxpayer's lawsuit for refunds from state employees who have state cars used for personal purposes.

The lawyers argue that state law prohibits any use of state property for personal benefit. Agree with that or not, it's hard to argue with their secondary claim, that where some state employees are "reimbursing" the state for personal car use, the amount is inadequate.

The IRS allows a taxpayer to deduct 42 cents a mile for business use of a personal vehicle. If you use a state car for personal use, however, you must reimburse the state only 15 cents a mile. The taxpayer subsidy is a heckuva deal for suburban commuters. You can find them in every branch of government, including the courts, from agency heads to legislative branch satraps and university officials.

I know a $100,000-a-year bureaucrat who lives in Conway and uses a state sedan for his daily commute. He's mostly office-bound. The law makes him pay only 15 cents a mile for miles driven in excess of 10 miles each way to and from his house. So his Conway commute costs him roughly $3 each way or well under $1,500 a year given his generous state vacation, holiday and leave time. The IRS figures the real cost at almost three times that amount.

Multiply that bargain by hundreds, maybe thousands, of commuters and you can see where there might be a payday in store for lawyers Gene Sayre and Chris Brockett.

Defenders of this auto perk claim it would cost the state much more to reimburse drivers for using their personal cars. I don't buy it — particularly not for the desk jockeys who qualify for a car on account of elevated title, not traveling duties. Suppose, for example, an employee drives 50 miles a day on business, which would be a lot for most car-equipped state employees. That would cost the state $105 a week in reimbursement at 42 cents a mile, or less than $5,000 a year counting holidays. It'd take seven years before the state would spend the equivalent of one SUV, five to six for a bureaucrat-worthy sedan.

Working people get it. They buy their own cars. They pay for their own commutes. Lots of them even blow off the small mileage driven in town for work. Many of these workers, unlike state employees in Little Rock, also pay for their own parking places. They have no state pension plan, no generous health benefits that extend into retirement.

Then they read about free (and tax-free) SUVs. And, worse, they hear petulant state officials bitch about press questions. It reinforces their worst suspicions about government. Bad year for that.

Favorite

Sign up for the Daily Update email

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Max Brantley

  • We have met the enemy: The open line

    The open line with a dose of Trump and other unhappy news.
    • Jul 15, 2018
  • Welcome to the United States, children

    Recommended reading: The New York Times' report on the conditions for the hundreds of children being held in detention since they arrived at U.S. borders seeking asylum. There are many rules and they included no touching of other children, not even a hug for a little brother or sister.
    • Jul 15, 2018
  • Bills arrive for petition campaigns, including term limits

    Filings are expected next week on the campaigns to put a minimum wage increase and casino gambling expansion on the November ballot. One other campaign reported financial information last week
    • Jul 15, 2018
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Double-talk

    A couple of instances of doublespeak cropped up in Little Rock over the weekend.
    • Jun 29, 2017
  • Along the civil rights trail

    A convergence of events in recent days signaled again how far we have come and how far we have yet to go in civil rights.
    • Jan 18, 2018
  • The Oval outhouse

    One thing all Americans finally can agree upon is that public discourse has coarsened irretrievably in the era of Donald Trump and largely at his instance.
    • Jan 18, 2018

Latest in Max Brantley

  • Let's vote

    The potential for exciting November elections grew last week with filing of petitions for three ballot initiatives to add to two already cleared by the legislature.
    • Jul 12, 2018
  • Corrupt Arkansas

    Arkansas jail blotters last week added a couple more names of so-called public servants.

    • Jul 5, 2018
  • Who's coming for dinner?

    Thousands of children, stripped from their families at the border, remain hostage to a U.S. government using them to coerce illegal-entry guilty pleas from their parents. The U.S. wants to make criminals of many seeking legal asylum.
    • Jun 28, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Let's vote

    • And while we're at it lets get a vouchers for private schools initiative on the…

    • on July 14, 2018
  • Re: Punishing the poor

    • Then maybe the congress will give up on the unsustainable socialized medical insurance fiasco that…

    • on July 14, 2018
 

© 2018 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation