Favorite

Funny money 

I tend to trust Richard Weiss. But that doesn’t mean the head of the state Finance and Administration Department is not a politician as well as a bureaucrat. You don’t work for Bill Clinton, Jim Guy Tucker and Mike Huckabee without survival skills. I’ll give Weiss the benefit of the doubt on his state revenue forecast for next year. But I have to note how very small numbers made a big difference, maybe even to the future of our state. This discussion begins with the special session of 2003, when the legislature enacted a 3 percent income tax surcharge. If your state income tax bill is $1,000, the surcharge costs you $30. The surcharge produces most of its income from the wealthiest taxpayers, a rare progressive measure in a state that keeps raising taxes on poor people’s groceries. The tax surcharge had a sunset provision. If state revenues were forecast by DFA to grow by more than $156 million in the year beginning July 1, 2005, the surcharge would expire. That put the survival of the surtax solely in the hands of Richard Weiss. (Legal question: Is it constitutional for the legislature to delegate to an executive branch employee the decision to end or extend a tax?) It was close, but Weiss delivered the call that his boss, Gov. Mike Huckabee, yearned for. Weiss said that the $3.629 billion “available for distribution” this year would rise by 4.4 percent next year to $3.789 billion, or by $160 million. That’s only $4 million more than the increase required for the tax to die. Had he forecast revenue growth a mere tenth of a percent lower, at 4.3, the tax would not sunset. To put it in layman’s terms, that’s a $20 difference in the price of a $20,000 automobile. Maybe Weiss didn’t stretch to cut it that fine. The Legislative Council has a similar forecast. But there’s another bit of math manipulation in Weiss’ forecast. The law says the increase is supposed to be calculated by comparing the forecast against revenue “available for distribution” this year. Weiss insists that money “available for distribution” does not include this year’s unappropriated surplus of more than $100 million. Others, including lawyer/legislator Jodie Mahony, see it differently. It’s a critical distinction. Had Weiss included the surplus — which indeed was part of state revenues this year and thus available for distribution if the legislature chose to distribute it — his forecasted increase in revenue would have been insufficient to sunset the tax. Forget arithmetic. Arkansas needs the surcharge and can’t easily bring it back once dead. Huckabee’s budget included no money for school construction required by the state Supreme Court in the Lake View decision. It included none of the additional money promised to expand pre-K education. All agree reaching kids in early childhood is one of the best things we can do to equalize learning opportunities. The governor’s budget coldly omitted these things, rather than admit the clear need for the surcharge. One thing seems clear. And it’s not measured in decimal points. Arkansas leaders are crawfishing from the court order to improve schools. They seem content as ever to limp along with half-measures until a court inevitably rules again that we’ve failed our children. Then it’ll be time to raise the tax on rice and beans again.
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

  • The Arkansas swamp

    The Arkansas Capitol is a fetid swamp of corruption and the bipartisan lack of concern tells you plenty.
    • Jun 14, 2018
  • The return of 'Freedom of Choice'

    A federal court in El Dorado soon will decide if unalloyed "Freedom of Choice" may be legal state policy, even when it encourages school segregation.
    • Jun 7, 2018
  • Election trends

    Items of interest that emerged from primary and "nonpartisan" judicial elections last week.
    • May 31, 2018
  • More »

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Hardened

    • Patriotism, said Samuel Johnson, is the last refuge of a scoundrel. He should have added…

    • on June 17, 2018
  • Re: Him, again

    • Quick, Ollie - answer your doorbell - it's Donald J. Trump!

    • on June 17, 2018
  • Re: Hardened

    • The belief in a "daddy in the sky" is irrational at its foundation, but then…

    • on June 17, 2018
 

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