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Editorials Dec. 2

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Farewell to fairness One little bit of fairness creeps into the Arkansas tax structure, and Governor Huckabee and members of the legislature can’t wait to root it out. At least they’re not calling their support of inequity “tax reform,” the way President Bush does. Two years ago, the legislature enacted a 3 percent income tax surcharge to cover a projected budget shortfall in the Medicaid program, which provides medical care for the poor, including children. Give the lawmakers credit for that. Do not praise them, or Huckabee, for allowing the surcharge to die in the upcoming legislative session, as it appears they will. If retained, the surcharge could provide desperately needed revenue not only for Medicaid but for school facilities, pre-school education and higher education. The governor and some legislators seem oddly indifferent to funding educational improvements that the courts have ordered. Beyond that, the surcharge is the most progressive tax change enacted by the legislature in recent years, as the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families point out. The Arkansas tax system, over-dependent on the sales tax, places a disproportionate burden on low- and middle-income taxpayers, letting the high-income taxpayers off with paying less than their fair share. (This is not entirely unrelated to the fact that the high-income taxpayers, corporate and individual, employ high-income lobbyists to influence the tax laws.) The surcharge does exactly the opposite, as good tax policy should. Only the top 1 percent of taxpayers, those with incomes of more than $237,000, felt any real impact from the surcharge. Their average surcharge was $704, hardly devastating to the richest people in the state. Sixty percent of Arkansas taxpayers paid a surcharge of $18 or less. The bottom 20 percent, those with incomes of less than $13,000, paid no surcharge. Still, we expect the surcharge to go. Taxation based on ability to pay is a concept embraced in states that have better schools and better health care. Arkansas’s leadership has never really warmed to it. Years ago, when Arkansas’s Wilbur Mills was among the most powerful and famous members of Congress, a local fringe candidate with the same last name ran against him. After he was swamped, the challenger explained that people who thought they were voting for him had cast their ballots for Congressman Mills by mistake. We were reminded of that unlikely rationale on reading Jim Holt’s, which is that socialists, communists and atheists in the news media caused him to lose to U.S. Sen. Blanche Lincoln. He promises to “bypass” the media in his next political race. (He bypassed the Arkansas Times effectively in this election.) There are about as many socialists, communists and atheists in the Arkansas news media as there are nudists and Rosicrucians. Liberals are almost extinct.

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