Columns » Max Brantley

Tax-and-spend Mike

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The message blares from Gov. Mike Huckabee's AETN series, his talk radio gig, abundant commercial TV news time and red-type treatment in the Democrat-Gazette. Our leader's a tax-cutting, government-slashing dynamo.

But, just for fun, consider the contrary--that Huckabee's a tax-and-spend bureaucrat lover.

Tax-cutter? Nah. At the wheel of his bass boat, the governor led the campaign for a sales tax increase (on groceries and everything else). He also was out front on an idea worthy of Scandinavia and its pinko neighbors--the new state-mandated minimum property tax. It's paid to the central government and returned only to school districts that submit to central government rule.

He has declined to rule out a sales tax increase for highways. He backs an increase in the cigarette tax. He declared DOA a proposal to remove the sales tax on groceries.

OK, you say, but what about his rebate on the sales tax on groceries?

First, it's not a sales tax cut or food rebate. The state sales tax, on groceries and everything else, will remain, as now, at 4.625 percent. But the governor wants to SPEND more than $1 million on a new bureaucracy to pass out annual checks of $25 or so to every Arkansan, taxpayer or not. It has no more claim to be a grocery tax rebate than a brine tax rebate. As columnist Ernest Dumas has suggested, it's more like "AFDC for everybody."

The rebate would require spending an additional $180 million over the next two years so the governor can play Santa. Also on the expense side of the ledger: Huckabee increases for state agencies, possible spending of past and future surpluses (not counted in his budget comparisons) and a possible windfall from underestimated revenue growth. Add it all up and you've got the potential for Huckabee to be the biggest spender in years.

So what about government slashing? The governor is more deserving here than he wants to admit. He protests, for example, that only inefficiency, not services, will be sacrificed in his efforts to slow the growth of human services and education.

For political reasons, Huckabee has arbitrarily decided Medicaid growth should not exceed the inflation rate, even though Republican budget hawks would agree that medical costs are rising faster. To do this, Huckabee wants poor folks to pay more for Medicaid (effectively a tax increase on the poor to pay for tax rebates to the rich). He also wants to make it harder for the poor to get special Medicaid services (the resulting reduction in services would, again, free up money for rich folks' rebates).

In education, Huckabee wants to cut the successful summer school program begun by Jim Guy Tucker, the early childhood initiative, a program to teach English to foreigners and training for teachers of at-risk kids. He proposes to reduce education's percentage share of budget and seems willing to give tax money to private schools.

These are facts, admittedly skewed to my way of thinking. Just don't think Huckabee doesn't play the same game.

Print headline: "Tax-and-spend Mike" December 13, 1996.

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