Quote of the week
"Y'all have some fun and everybody enjoys it. We have to be careful not to be too politically correct. I think everybody knows the good spirit that it is in." —Governor Hutchinson on KABZ-FM, 103.7, "The Buzz," talking about the radio station's annual "Babe Bracket," where female TV journalists advance in a tournament bracket based on listener calls. The bracket has been in the spotlight after Austin Kellerman, news director for KARK-TV, Channel 4, and KLRT-TV, Fox 16, called on the station to end the sexist relic. Hutchinson later issued a clarifying comment: "I believe the hosts of the show are well-intentioned and their long-running contest was always done without any malicious intent. My comment this morning wasn't an endorsement of any contest that is based upon looks. All women should be treated with respect, and any measurement of workplace success should be based upon talent and performance."
Guv wants to cut taxes more
The governor opened the 2018 legislative fiscal session with a State of the State speech, where to applause he announced his desire to cut the top marginal income tax rate in 2019 from 6.9 to 6 percent. That rate kicks in at $35,000 (the same as a couple making $70,000 filing separately on the same return.) He said it would be a $180 million tax cut, the biggest ever, something approaching a 3 percent cut in state revenues. The tax cut, if approved, would be an enormous windfall to a tiny handful of the rich while giving nothing to anyone reporting taxable income below $35,000.
In 2013, the most recent year the Arkansas Times has been able to get from DFA, about 670 returns reported taxable income of $1 million or more. They paid cumulative state income taxes of about $170 million. Reduce the top tax rate to 6 percent on those earnings, and you're talking a savings of $22 million for those 670 people, or about $32,000 each. Less than 1 percent of taxpayers would get 12 percent of the tax cut.
Something like $100 million in tax cuts would go to those making more than $100,000 — though they account for only about 39,000 of more than 1 million tax returns. Middle income? Not exactly.
Another former legislator pleads guilty
Eddie Wayne Cooper, 51, who served three terms as a Democratic state representative from Melbourne, has pleaded guilty in Springfield, Mo., to participating in a conspiracy to embezzle more than $4 million from a nonprofit health care agency.
Cooper had been identified in December as an uncharged co-conspirator.
In the plea deal, Cooper admitted that he conspired with executives of Preferred Family Healthcare to use its money for unlawful political contributions and lobbying, as well as benefit the executives. Cooper received at least $387,501 from a lobbying firm and $63,000 in kickbacks. He must forfeit that money.
Cooper served in the legislature from 2006 through 2011, and then became a registered lobbyist. In 2009, he was hired as regional director for Preferred Family Healthcare and worked there until April 26, 2017.
Big bills at the court
The justices of the Arkansas Supreme Court have racked up almost $136,000 in pending legal bills in defending a suit against them by Pulaski County Circuit Judge Wendell Griffen over his removal by the court from all cases related to the death penalty, which Griffen contends is a violation of his constitutional rights. Chief Justice Dan Kemp wrote the Joint Budget Committee to say the court had used a $25,000 budget allotment for professional services and had $135,000 in additional bills outstanding. He asked, too, for $250,000 in spending authority for each of two years. He said it might not be needed.
A recap of the billing: Cooper and Kirk, a Washington, D.C., law firm, represents Justice Courtney Hudson Goodson. Its bills so far: $86,610. Brownstein Hyatt Farber Shreck, a Denver law firm, represents Justice Rhonda Wood. Its bill so far: $39,862.26. The Barber Law Firm of Little Rock represents Justice Josephine Hart. Its bills: $1,150. Hart also was represented by Murphy, Thompson, Skinner, Arnold and Castleberry of Batesville, which charged $19,176.65 at rates of $250 an hour. The Center for Constitutional Litigation, based in New York, represents the court as a whole and Justices Kemp, Robin Wynne and Shawn Womack. Its billings so far: $11,798.21. Tim Dudley, a Little Rock lawyer, represents Justice Karen Baker. His billing so far: $2,140.