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The gospel reinterpreted 

The media mythmakers have been working overtime, unquestioningly accepting the words of public officials and printing them as gospel.

Most of the myth-making has been spun, unsurprisingly, by Gov. Mike Huckabee's quarter-of-a-million-dollar media relations staff. A quick round of myth explosions, beginning with a non-Huckster item:

Myth: Little Rock Traffic Judge Bill Watt, according to a fawning account in the statewide daily, was driven from office by politics. "None of my actions in the last 10 years have anything to do with the public service, the quality or the fairness of this court," said the jurist.

Fact: Watt was shown the door by a state regulatory board that found he had, within the last year, unethically operated the truancy program for which he is so admired by the statewide daily; offered what looked suspiciously like a cash payoff to a state legislator in 1995, and admitted improprieties in the Whitewater matter, including recent untruths told the FBI.

Myth: Gov. Mike Huckabee proposes to remove the burden of the sales tax on groceries.

Fact: Huckabee proposes to distribute an annual Huckabuck check during election season to most Arkies (not the poorest). He deems it a rebate on groceries, though there is precious little direct relationship between the rebate and payment of the tax, in either the amount of the rebate (in the first year, it would equal, per person, the tax on only $1.52 a day worth of groceries) or who receives it. The food tax would continue--even more unfairly for the poorest folks--and would even increase under a new sales tax he favors.

Myth: Huckabee couldn't directly remove the sales tax on groceries because it would create headaches for retailers.

Fact: Arkansas grocers already separate food and non-food items at the register for food stamp users. In Texarkana, where food is exempt from the sales tax to mirror Texas law, all purchases are handled in this manner. Stores merely follow simple definitions of food under the food stamp program. In the days of computerized registers, it's a snap to change taxing schemes. Removing the tax on groceries would, however, deprive grocers of nearly $3 million in gravy that the state allows them to keep from tax collections. Huckabee happened not to mention that a reason to keep taxing food was to avoid economic fallout on the powerful retail grocers association.

Myth: Huckabee couldn't remove the state sales tax on groceries because that would imperil the revenue cities and counties receive from the sales tax.

Fact: None of the sales tax proposals ever contemplated exempting food from the local sales taxes, only from the state levy.

Myth: Huckabee favors efficient government.

Fact: His rebate plan would create a larger bureaucracy and millions in printing and postage costs. The rebates could be paid through an income tax credit at virtually no added cost.

Print headline: "The gospel reinterpreted" August 2, 1996.

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