Contributed by Patricia May
Arkansas’ personal income tax system needs reforming but the General Assembly must first cope with ObamaCare, House Speaker Davy Carter said.
Carter, a Republican lawyer from Cabot, addressed Conservative Arkansas at its regular monthly meeting held March 9 at the Rogers public library. He was flanked by fellow Republican Charlie Collins, a representative from Fayetteville and chairman of the House Revenue and Taxation Committee.
The legislature is dealing with the hand it was dealt from the health care law, Carter said, and it’s important to get it right. He and Collins agreed that expanding Medicaid to cover uninsured residents was not an option, despite federal authorities’ initial claim it was the only choice.
“Expanding Medicaid is dead on arrival in Arkansas,” Collins said.
Under the current proposal, Arkansas would shift 780,000 low-income people – those earning 100 percent to 138 percent of the federal poverty level — from Medicaid to private insurance plans with the help of government subsidies. That move and an aggressive plan to wring all fraud and abuse from the system could actually reduce Medicaid in Arkansas, Collins said. “So when the federal money runs out, we’re out. We sunset it.”
Carter talked about the need to foster job creation. With more than 35 percent of Arkansans living at 138 percent or less of the federal poverty level, “That’s unacceptable,” he said. “We need to provide an atmosphere, the opportunity to work and live a prosperous life … the American dream.”
“We spend more money on Medicaid in Arkansas than the entire general revenue budget,” a condition that “didn’t happen overnight,” Carter said. “We have to get this health care deal right.”
Carter, who is serving his third and last term in the House because of term limits, praised Collins, who is in his second term.
“I love Charlie Collins,” Carter said. As chairman of the House Revenue Committee, Collins “has gotten us to a point where we are ready to have debates over various tax proposals.” That includes setting the stage for income tax reform. It won’t be easy because “over the last hundred years, the state has made its bet on general revenue with income tax revenue.” The state collects more than $2 billion in personal income tax, Carter added.
Collins said the legislature – with Republican majorities in both houses for the first time since Reconstruction – is changing after 138 years of Democratic control. “It won’t be perfect … [or] everything we dreamed of in one day.” But, he continued, “We can make a lot of changes and progress.”
Carter was asked about the proposed “super project” that with tax breaks would put another steel mill in northeast Arkansas. An independent review has been commissioned and should be ready within weeks, Carter said. “I want to know how we get our money back” if the project goes forward.
Asked about term limits, Carter said it would be “self-serving” to discuss change but he acknowledged “the learning curve is so steep … it’s unachievable” for newly elected representatives. “You cannot do it.”
Several other elected representatives attended the meeting, including Rep. Randy Alexander from Springdale, Rep. Bob Ballinger of Hindsville, Sen. Jim Hendren from Gravette, Rep. Sue Scott from Rogers, and Sen. Cecile Bledsoe from Rogers.
Ballinger extended praise for Carter. “I don’t agree with Davy on everything but it’s so great” to have diversity of ideas in the legislature, he said. “We need to recognize the ability he brings” to government. Ballinger cautioned, “Be careful beating up on [Carter when he takes a different viewpoint]. He’s on the right side of many issues.”
Alexander asked the group to support his proposal, House Bill 1897, which he said would give parents greater choice in choosing where to educate their children. Instead of being tied to the public school district where the child resides, tax money would go where the child is schooled, even if it’s a magnet school or a private school. “It puts parents in charge,” Alexander said. He warned its passage would be “an uphill battle” as it’s opposed by teachers and administrators. The bill was referred to the House Education Committee on March 11.
Scott urged constituents to contact her about any issue. “I’m not afraid to stand up and run” whatever the people of Arkansas want, she said.
Hendren talked about his SB367, which he said would protect private landowners from overreaching government agencies by ensuring they’re compensated if their land is devalued as a result of government action. “This bill is very fair” and allows compensation only after a jury decides compensation is due, Hendren said. “It is not a moratorium on zoning.” The bill barely passed the Senate with just 18 votes and in the House was referred to the Judiciary Committee.
Bledsoe spoke of several pending proposals including one to allow vehicle registration for three years at a time. Another would disallow disability benefits for employees injured on the job who refuse other employment.