LITTLE ROCK Apparently there are people, some rich and some poor, lined up anxiously on the borders of Arkansas. They are itching to come in.
All they need is for us to make a couple of small policy adjustments first.
That’s according to two of the leading Republican thinkers in our state Legislature.
State Rep. Charlie Collins of Fayetteville believes that rich people-job creators, he calls them-will flood the state as if drawn by a magnet. He thinks it will happen as soon as we reduce our top income-tax rate from 7 percent to 6 percent.
Why these job creators boycott us at 7 percent, but would happily come here at 6 percent-apparently the answer is commonly known if closely held in corporate boardrooms.
Why an employer wouldn’t stay in Texas or Tennessee if income taxes were the only things that mattered to him, considering that those states charge zero percent-again,we’re apparently venturing here into the unknowable secrets of the rich and famous.
So now we have Sen. Jason Rapert, who is locked in a big Senate race in Conway. He describes others at our border.
He told an audience the other night that poor people will move here if we stand alone in our region in choosing to expand Medicaid to people within 133 percent of the poverty level as provided in federal health-care reform.
We’ll be “candy land,” Rapert said.
He assured me later that he did not mean to trivialize health care for sick and disabled poor people as something akin to a Snickers treat.
You know, of course, that there are professionally itinerant poor people. They’re kind of like gypsies. They deliberately deny themselves any semblance of middle-class self sufficiency. They prefer to hitchhike around the country looking for the best Medicaid deal.
We simply must head them off by keeping our Medicaid stingy.
I’m joking. I guess I need to say that.
There are two serious factors here.
One is that Arkansas happens to have regressive neighbors, places like Oklahoma and Texas and Louisiana and Mississippi. They can be counted on to do the least they can for their abundant poor every time.
We’ll always be tempted to be as regressive as them. It’s peer pressure.
The other is that conservative Republicans tend to see government as best constricted. Their intent is to spare those with money from having to part with much of it in taxes.
It also is to avoid pandering to, and presumably perpetuating, a low class of people they believe to be living, by choice, off the hard work of honorable people.
This general thinking has put Republicans on the historically wrong side of Social Security and Medicare, and now universal health care.
If the virtue of constricted government is the prism through which one sees the world, then one believes lower taxes will lure or foster growth. But there isn’t any evidence, either that lower taxes consistently fuel a stronger economy or that higher taxes consistently weaken an economy.
Through that prism, one sees the essential premise of federal health-care reform-that affordable care for everyone is to be desired for the individual and common good-as something entirely problematic or burdensome.
So when the U.S. Supreme Court says that states may opt out of the Medicaid expansion of the health-care reform law, Republicans want their own states to reject it.
In fact, they want so many states to opt out that all of federal healthcare reform will crumble under its own weight.
Meantime, people live where they live for reasons transcending marginal income tax rates and the levels of eligibility for Medicaid.
They’re not excited in the Dallas area country clubs about Charlie Collins’ tax plan for Arkansas. They’re not excited in the homeless shelters of Dallas about a better Medicaid deal that might be percolating up here.
We need to make our own excitement.
It is self-serving and exciting for us to take three years of full federal funding, and 90 percent federal funding after that, to put a quarter-million more of our desperately poor people on Medicaid.
That would funnel new federal dollars into our struggling hospitals. It would put more money into our circulation.
It ought to make our people ultimately healthier and more employable.
What you’re going for is an improved quality of life. It helps the individual. Then the general economic and cultural climate begins to draw the admiring or covetous attention of people elsewhere.
It will turn out that people actually weren’t bunched up in Texarkana; Sallisaw, Okla.; and Springhill, La., shopping for our low tax rates and our generous Medicaid.
Arkansas is not a clearance sale.
John Brummett is a regular columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com.