by Max Brantley
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross told it straight to the Political Animals Club yesterday about Republican Asa Hutchinson's grand talk of reducing, even eliminating, the income tax.
You've read it here before. You can do that. But you must be ready to either 1) cut state services dramatically or raise other taxes dramatically.
“One of the candidates seeking the Republican party nomination stood here and promised you he was going to cut the income tax, possibly eliminate the income tax,” Ross told the Political Animals Club, less than a month after Hutchinson addressed the same group.
“He didn’t say how much and he didn’t say how he was going to pay for it,” Ross said. “I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I’m going to cut your taxes and not tell you how much and not tell you how I’m going to pay for it just because some pollster out of Washington, D.C., told me I need to say that to get elected.”
Ross went some of the same math I went through the other day when Lt. Gov. Mark Darr talked about how easy it would be to cut the state budget by 13 percent. Ross noted that about half of state revenue comes from the income tax and about 65 percent of it goes right back to public schools and higher education, with lesser spending on the poor and disabled (though much of this money is multiplied by federal matches and prisons).
“So when you start talking about cutting taxes, unless you’re talking about shifting the burden to other taxes, you’re talking about laying off teachers, you’re talking about kicking seniors out of the nursing home and you’re talking about letting murderers and rapists out of prison. It’s pretty simple math,” he said.
Ross said the income tax structure needs to be reformed. No doubt, it's essentially flat now. And he also said that tax cuts need to be targeted. In other words, not merely be a windfall to the rich as Republicans customarily propose.
Hutchinson responds that Ross's talk of fair, targeted and smart tax cuts balanced against state needs is just the same old "tired rhetoric." Fresh to Hutchinson is pie-in-the-sky talk of the prosperity that will roll down on us if we'd just do away with the income tax.
BY THE WAY: Ross will get Gov. Mike Beebe's endorsement for governor at a 10 a.m. news conference today at the Capitol. The former governor who endorsed Asa Hutchinson the last of three times he lost a statewide race in Arkansas now lives in Florida.
UPDATE: About 100 people turned out to cheer Beebe's endorsement of Ross on the east side of the Capitol before a rainbow coalition of supporters and an array of flags.
3) Helping the less fortunate.
Overarching message: Mike Beebe has done a good job. Mike Ross will continue in the same vein of leadership. Beebe spoke warmly of his time in the Senate with Ross. Ross spoke warmly of Beebe's accomplishments and took a few digs at Asa Hutchinson as he talked of targeted tax cuts and the need for government investment, whether in STEM education or in early childhood education to offer a promise of success even those less fortunately born. Good cheers from the crowd when Ross talked of his work on Congress on legislation to protect women against violence and to guarantee them equal pay for equal work. These have not been popular pieces of legislation with Republicans.
Below is a brief clip of Mike Beebe sounding a Democratic populist note after talking of education as the No. 1 priorty and job creation as 1A.