by Max Brantley
The truck tax break repeal and the foreclosure law fix are still alive. UPDATE: Maybe not.
Each had been contained as special language in appropriation bills. They were stripped this morning and the bills passed.
Then the question became whether a compromise could be reached. It's basically a trade: the House gets one-year delay of the truck sales tax break (which truckers don't deserve because the diesel tax isn't going up) and the Senate gets the foreclosure law change, meant to release out-of-state banks from registration requirements that have slowed their foreclosures of Arkansas property (and, in the view of some trial lawyers, open up a box full of Pandoras.)
All along, the House had been willing to do both (though opposition from lawyers and consumer advocates is rising in the House to cutting out-of-state banks a hasty break that could harm consumers). The Senate Republican cadre has voted, with one exception, against the truck tax break repeal or one-year delay. But Sen. Michael Lamoureux was the chief advocate for the foreclosure law change. The question was whether he could round up two or three more members of his caucus for the 24 votes necessary to get the measure introduced.
If the deal happens, it will be in the form of independent legislation written specifically for the purpose, not special language in a larger bill. If the bills could have been introduced today, rules could have been waived by sufficient supermajority votes to finish action by Saturday, I'm told.
The deal had a third part, cleared for a vote in the afternoon by the House. It narrowed legislation favored by Democratic Sen. Percy Malone and Republican Rep. David Sanders to give the parole board more leeway to deny parole in certain crimes. It was reduced to just cover sexual indecency with a child. Mandatory parole for a Baptist preacher recently had prompted an outcry and legislation allow the parole board to block such releases.
After the parole measure was adopted, the House recessed for an hour. Speaker Moore said he needed to confer further with senators. Lots of moving parts to this compromise. None go unless all do.
The biggest hangup proved to be the truck tax break. Reports surfaced late in the afternoon that Senate Democrats wouldn't vote for a delay of the unearned tax break for truckers. They want repeal. A delay, after all, would only guarantee a repeat of the charade in the regular session. The same Republicans could be expected to again vow never to approve anything that could be construed, however inaccurately, as a tax increase. Dems are right on this. Hell, even the D-G editorial page is right on this for a change. Truckers promised a diesel tax increase for this tax break. No diesel increase, no tax break. Raise the diesel tax and then we'll talk about a sales tax break. It's already capped at a modest amount and truckers also already can register in another state to avoid property taxes. And they don't pay enough to pay to repair the interstates and county roads they're destroying.
So both houses adjourned today with nothing accomplished. A compromise now would require an extension of the session. Seems a long shot. Truckers reap $4 million in tax breaks effective July 1, for nothing. State, city and county road money will pay for it. There is the consolation that out-of-state bankers won't be getting a bailout on foreclosures in a hurryup, behind-the-scenes maneuver that deserved more attention than it has gotten.