by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Senate today didn't vote to allow consideration of a measure to repeal a sales tax break for truck rigs set to take effect July 1. That may mean the death of the measure for this session, which would likely mean death for eternity.
By a simple majority vote, the Senate could still suspend the rules to consider the legislation, though a two-thirds vote still would be necessary on a resolution to clear the way for a vote on the bill. Pasage requires only a simple majority. It takes three days for approval of legislation and the session is currently scheduled to close Friday, so time has grown very short. The biggest problem is that the Republican caucus has firmly decided now to oppose the repeal. A handful had been willing to consider the repeal, but refusal of the House to take up a parole bill sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Dismang and the loss of efforts to modify the state budget bill with some small cuts apparently soured those few Republicans. I'd take it to those lavishing money on the behemoths that tear up the roads and demand a roll call, but I don't have to run for election against a GOP message machine ready to lie about tax increases for those who cast what would be only a symbolic vote.
The truck lobby is crying crocodile tears after what looks more and more like a bait and switch.
As I wrote this morning, the 2011 legislature authorized an election on a diesel tax increase and also passed a sales tax break that was supposed to take effect only if the diesel tax was approved. Truck lobby later said it saw no point in working for the diesel tax because polls said it wouldn't pass. They said they'd like the sales tax break anyway, though they ultimately wrote a belated grudging letter saying half-heartedly that the tax break should be repealed because that was the deal.
A financially strapped state is now set to take a $4 million lick for a gift to truckers who tear up roads faster than we can repair them. Was this the plan all along? Easy to think so.
The weird series of little amendments to budget bills lately leaves a tiny bit of a possibility that a deal could still be worked out, such as a swap for that parole stiffening bill some senators want for sex offenders. The House has voted, with Republican support, to repeal the unearned truckers cash bonus.
PS — Not to worry about a loss to the state's general services from this tax break. The law provides that the Highway Department must transfer the lost sales tax revenue from its highway money to general revenue. They're rolling in it, right? They act like it. No highway commissioners pitched in on the fight to repeal the unearned truckers windfall.