Quote of the Week
"This bill is what I called it this morning from my pulpit: It is blasphemy. It is an abomination, and it is an affront to the gospel of Jesus Christ."
— Rev. Robert Lowry of First Presbyterian Church in Clarksville, remonstrating against HB 1228 at a rally held by Human Rights Campaign at South on Main on Sunday afternoon.
Arkansas Republicans versus the world
The news last week was dominated by HB 1228, the "conscience protection bill" that would make it potentially easier to discriminate against LGBT people in Arkansas under the auspices of religious freedom. Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville), the bill's author claims HB 1228 is not intended to allow discrimination, but the bill has sparked outrage from quarters near and far and filled the halls of the Capitol with hundreds of protesters, led by Human Rights Campaign and a group of Presbyterian ministers ardently opposed to discrimination. As this week's paper was going to press, the House of Representatives gave final approval to the measure and sent it to Gov. Asa Hutchinson's desk. The governor has said in the past that he'd sign HB 1228, but there's reason to think he may now have his doubts. Business opposition to the bill, which was slow to rally at first, began building after a similar measure in Indiana earned that state the wrath of major companies and events; it looks as if the bill cost will end up costing Indiana tens of millions of dollars in economic activity. Aside from a chorus of denunciation from outside Arkansas, establishment opposition within the state has included Acxiom, Walmart, the Little Rock Regional Chamber of Commerce, Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola and former House Speaker Davy Carter, a Republican. They know just how bad this bill makes Arkansas look to the rest of the nation and the world. Your move, governor.
Trade war dies on the vine
It was the sort of bill so dumb that the anarchist inside us hoped it would pass, just for the spectacle. HB 1934 by Rep. Dan Douglas (R-Bentonville) would have allowed Arkansas to stop the importation of wine from California in retaliation for that state's rules that eggs sold in California grocery stores must come from hens provided with enough space to extend their wings and turn around. Many Arkansas egg producers do not meet those animal welfare standards. "Any state that imposes agricultural standards on us — we do not want their wine!" Douglas declared to the House, which passed the bill easily. Its success surprised even Douglas, though, who said the bill was supposed to simply deliver a symbolic message. He pulled it down before it reached the Senate.
Republican Jana Della Rosa of Rogers forwarded an ethics bill that would have required all candidates to file their campaign finance reports online, a change that 40 states have now instituted. By making such records easily searchable, it would have shone a light on who controls the money behind Arkansas politics. Republicans, and a shameful number of Democrats, voted it down. Rep. Dave Wallace (R-Leachville) said, "I may not be smart enough to be able to do this online." Rep. Jeff Wardlaw (D-Warren) said he was voting no because his district included "a huge paper industry." And in an earlier debate in committee, Rep. Bob Ballinger (R-Hindsville), said he was concerned that using the Internet would be too difficult for his "old accountant." Uh huh.
Budget priorities, by the numbers
$7.7 million – The eventual cost of pay increases for state elected officials, including legislators and judges, as finalized by an independent citizens commission earlier this month.
$11.8 million – The eventual cost of reinstating the full capital gains tax break, as approved by the legislature in the last days of the session. The benefits of a capital gains tax cut accrue mostly to the wealthiest taxpayers in the state.
$40 million – The amount of General Improvement Fund money that the legislature and governor will be setting aside to spend on earmarked projects (some worthy, some not), despite having promised to end such pork barrel spending.
$350,000 – The estimated fiscal impact of a failed bill by Rep. Clarke Tucker (D-Little Rock) to grant six weeks of paid maternity leave to state employees. It gained some Republican support, but other GOP lawmakers blocked it and the bill died in committee.
$1 million – The cut to state library funding this year, which represents a drop of 18 percent. The decreased funding will help pay for the capital gains tax break.
$40 million – The eventual revenue impact of a bill by Rep. Warwick Sabin (D-Little Rock) to offer an earned income tax credit to some 279,000 low-income working Arkansans, most of whom received no tax cut this year.