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

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

  • Are you being served?

    These aren't good times for confidence in public servants.

    • Mar 22, 2018
  • Send in the segs

    The state Board of Education last week rejected requests from Camden Fairview, Hope, Lafayette County and Junction City to be exempt from the state law requiring students to be able to freely transfer between school districts.
    • Mar 15, 2018
  • Rich get richer

    Arkansas State University heard from a paid consultant last week about ways to become more efficient — make more money, in other words — and perhaps even serve students better.
    • Mar 8, 2018
  • More »

Most Viewed

  • Redefining candidate quality

    Despite what national party organizations like the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and the National Republican Campaign Committee say, conventional definitions of candidate quality are not leading to progressive wins in 2018.

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Redefining candidate quality

    • "It's the grassroots fire that ignited in the days and weeks after President Trump's election…

    • on April 20, 2018
  • Re: Week That Was

    • I saw James Comey interviewed by Stephen Colbert. When Stephen asked if trump was mentally…

    • on April 20, 2018
  • Re: Trump and Comey

    • Oh, so now it was the Comey release of the e-mails before the election to…

    • on April 19, 2018
 

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