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The Insider Feb. 17

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Good bill needs sponsor There’s still been no bill introduced in the legislature to save the Arkansas estate tax, legislators apparently fearing the wrath of the handful of super-rich Arkansans who pay the tax. The estate tax is perhaps the fairest tax in Arkansas, paid only by those who can most afford to pay (only 0.9 percent of Arkansans are affected by it). The estate tax produces $20 million a year in badly needed revenue for the schools, Medicaid and other essential programs. But it will be phased out along with the federal estate tax, part of President Bush’s program to shield the wealthy from taxation, unless the legislature votes to “de-couple” from the federal tax. A spokesman for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families said that no legislator willing to sponsor an estate-tax retention bill has been found. “We’re still trying,” he said, “but the sentiment seems to be against any tax.” Back to the drawing board Plans to build an 8,700-square-foot residence to the east of the Governor’s Mansion have been scaled back, with a home of 4,000 to 5,000 square feet now envisioned. In response to questions e-mailed to him by the Times, Don Bingham, Governor’s Mansion administrator, provided that and a few other details this week on the non-profit Mansion Association’s progress toward building the home. Bingham said he believes the Association’s construction budget is $1.5 million — half of which has been raised from private and corporate gifts and the other half from a Donald W. Reynolds Foundation matching grant. Plans have not advanced to the point where a groundbreaking date can be set, and no funds to furnish the new residence or gifts of furniture have been obtained, he said. Bingham said he did not know if the plan would require approval by any state agency or the legislature, nor did he know if upkeep would require an appropriation by the state. Bingham also said that an April 21 fund-raiser at the Mansion will raise money for new landscaping. The Times reported last week that Bingham didn’t reply to e-mailed questions on the new residence. Bingham did not receive the Times’ inquiry, he said Friday. Fordyce students censored Fordyce High School administrators are clamping down on the school newspaper, the Fordyce Hi-Times, by requiring all articles to be approved by the principal or assistant principal before publication. They enacted the new policy after they objected to an editorial about a new semester test schedule and a quote in a story about students’ Valentine’s Day plans. According to the Pine Bluff Commercial, senior Debbie Rainey told the Hi-Times, “I plan on spending it with my ‘Big Baby’ Brian Dailey. Probably cook for him and watch a few love videos. Maybe a little later on something special will go down.” Fordyce School Board member and local attorney Tom Wynne raised the issue at a board meeting on Monday. He thinks the school district should adopt a policy that is more in line with Arkansas law, which specifically protects students’ right to free expression. However, the board postponed action until next month, which means that, until then, school administrators have veto power over the content of the Hi-Times.

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