Columns » Max Brantley

The Republican future in Arkansas

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The Arkansas Republican Party adopted a campaign platform Saturday, mostly a list of things it opposes or fears — abortion, gays, immigrants, universal health care, sex education, egalitarian public schools.

Then there's taxes. The original platform plank:

"Replace the state income tax with a more equitable method such as increasing the state sales tax. Everyone would pay the same percentage and would know they are paying their fair share for the government services available to all citizens. The maximum increase in state sales tax would be limited to no more than 2 percent."

Though edited to avoid the damaging sales tax alternative, it's still voodoo economics. Slashing the income tax would be nothing but a windfall to the rich.

In the year ended June 30, the individual income tax produced $2.9 billion and the corporate income tax produced $435 million. (Yes. The people bear far more of the income tax burden. Republicans say Arkansas is unfriendly to business, though it favors business in tax filing gimmickry, assesses no estate tax and gives away untold sums in corporate welfare.)

So, eliminate $3.3 billion in income taxes. Simple arithmetic shows why they decided to not talk specifically about using sales tax as a makeup. The existing sales tax — 6 percent on most purchases, 1.5 percent on groceries and 2.75 percent on manufacturers' utilities (another one of those business-friendly Arkansas tax features) — produced about $2.1 billion last year. To raise an additional $3.3 billion would mean a 150 percent increase in the existing rate, to 15 percent on blue jeans, cars and refrigerators; 3.75 percent on groceries and almost 6 percent on manufacturers' utilities.

In the original version, Republicans would have held the sales tax increase to 2 percentage points, not even a fourth of what's required to maintain current revenues. That means a budget cut of more than $2 billion annually.

Kansas is about to live the dream. Republican Gov. Sam Brownback and the Republican legislature slashed the income tax and eliminated many deductions. A non-partisan analysis says Kansas is going to have to reduce spending by $4.5 billion over the next five years to pay for this soak-the-poor tax cut. Brownback insists Kansas will come out ahead as a job creators' paradise. But skeptics say this would require more than a half-million new jobs. It's folly.

Republicans want to slash government spending. If they win a legislative majority in November, they'll start with medical care for children, pregnant moms, the elderly and the working poor. State employee pensions will soon follow. Until the Republicans can get better judges in place, the constitution might preserve education spending at the grade school level, but college students can expect whopping tuition increases. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who fired up the Arkansas Republican platform conferees last weekend, is currently presiding over the mortal wounding of the LSU health system in the name of Tea Party-style governance. Think UAMS.

Voters might think they want this. Wait until grandma gets kicked out of her nursing home and college becomes an unaffordable luxury.

Arkansas's graduated income tax was a model when it was adopted in the 1970s. But inflation obliterated the differences in the income brackets and the current top bracket of $32,600 isn't high income. The solution is to widen the brackets and add a higher step at the top, but that's not going to happen, no matter which party controls the legislature.

In today's climate, Mike Beebe-style status quoism passes for a brave progressive agenda. With a mere 51 percent vote necessary to override a veto, he might as well head for the golf course if the reactionary Republicans do take control in November.

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