Quote of the Week:
"I've never cast a vote I was prouder of."
— Bill Clinton, serving as an elector in New York, after casting a ballot for his wife in Monday's Electoral College vote. Despite calls in some quarters for a widespread revolt against Donald Trump, all but two of the nation's 306 electors pledged to Trump did indeed cast their vote for him, making him the official winner of the presidency. The two defectors voted for Ohio Gov. John Kasich and former Texas congressman Ron Paul; it would have taken 37 such "faithless electors" to deny Trump victory. To add insult to injury, an unprecedented five out of Hillary Clinton's pledged 232 electors broke ranks to vote for different candidates (one for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, three for retired Gen. Colin Powell and one for a Native American leader named Faith Spotted Eagle).
Governor Hutchinson said the state on Jan. 1 would take over management of seven juvenile lockup facilities after political maneuvering at the legislature held up review of a critical contract and threatened the possibility of "a government shutdown" (in Hutchinson's words) when existing contracts for running the facilities expired Dec. 31.
Two Arkansas-based nonprofit operators have held the contracts to run the seven lockups for many years. Earlier this year, they cried foul when the state Department of Human Services decided to hand over operations to another provider, an Indiana firm called Youth Opportunity Investments, for significantly more money on an annual basis — $22 million per year, as opposed to the current $13 million. The Arkansas providers convinced a number of legislators to decline to review the new contract with Youth Opportunity Investments, thus leaving the procurement process in limbo. After a legislative panel on Friday again did not review the contract, an exasperated Hutchinson announced late that afternoon that the state itself would manage the centers for at least the next six months while retaining their current staff. That means the lockups won't be left without funding come New Year's Day, at least.
A tax cut for the rest (finally)
The governor detailed his proposal for a $50 million income tax cut targeted toward low-income taxpayers, households making less than $21,000 annually. That income group was the only one left out of the previous $100 million cut pushed by Hutchinson in the last round of tax slashing, in 2015. Aside from basic fairness and decency, it makes pragmatic sense to focus any further tax cuts on the poor, since they're likely to put an increased household income back into the consumer economy. Nonetheless, some Republican legislators are still unhappy; they want the cut to be bigger. Americans for Prosperity, the anti-tax organization funded by the Koch brothers, complained in a statement that the governor should be focusing on lowering its rate on wealthier residents.
Hutchinson also wants to exempt military retiree income from the income tax, paid with effective tax increases for the unemployed and purchasers of mobile homes and candy and soft drinks (see guest column, page 9).
Voter ID again
State Rep. Mark Lowery of Maumelle has filed a bill to require a photo ID to vote in Arkansas. There is no evidence of voter identification fraud in Arkansas or elsewhere that necessitates this. The legislature passed an earlier voter ID law that was struck down by the Arkansas Supreme Court in an opinion written by the late Donald Corbin. High irony that Lowery would be back with vote suppression the day after Corbin's death. The law now allows election officials to request a photo ID — and voters must give a valid address and signature to vote — but they may not be denied a vote or given only a provisional ballot simply for refusal to produce an ID.
Why would this law pass muster when the earlier law did not? Three of seven justices said the last law could be struck down simply because it didn't have the required two-thirds vote for changes in constitutional rules on voter registration. That shouldn't be a problem with the overwhelming Republican majority now. Four other members of the court held that the law was unconstitutional on its face because it created new requirements for voting, but none will be on the court next year.
U.S. Sens. John Boozman and Tom Cotton and U.S. Rep. Bruce Westerman released a statement protesting the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' notification that it might use the former Ouachita Job Corps Center in Royal (Garland County) to house undocumented immigrant children who don't have adult caretakers. Children spend, on average, 35 days in such sites, until they are released to a relative or other sponsor. They don't attend school or get out in the local community. "This is irresponsible and against the wishes of Arkansans who were not consulted about this decision. HHS is unable to provide basic information about who may reside at this facility, where these immigrants come from, or how long this shelter will last, and the potential risk to public safety is enormous," Boozman, Cotton and Westerman said in their statement.