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District 27 Senate rivals weigh in on jobs, taxes

by Michael R. Wickline | September 30, 2012 at 3:35 a.m.

— El Dorado Republican Henry Frisby is competing with state Rep. Bobby Pierce, a Democrat from Sheridan, for a state Senate seat, saying he would be a south Arkansas “voice for the common man” at the Capitol.

Pierce is touting his six years’ experience in the House of Representatives and what he describes as his ability to get things done “to get jobs coming back.”

They are vying in District 27, which includes Union and Calhoun counties and parts of Cleveland, Grant, Jefferson and Ouachita counties.

Control of the Legislature is at stake in the Nov. 6 election, and voters in the district have received mailers praising and castigating each candidate. The Senate has 20 Democrats and 15 Republicans. A majority is 18.

Frisby said he would be a better choice for the common man because about 52 percent of the district’s 76,000 people are from Union County, where he has lived his whole life and he “can better serve them here.”

Frisby, 36, is sales director for Sewell Oil Co., owns Frisby Land and Brokerage, and is part owner of H.L. Frisby Family Sauce Co.

Pierce, 62, is owner of Telebooth Inc., a utility contracting company, and owns Sheridan Lumber and Supply Inc., a hardware store. He spent 26 years on the Sheridan School Board.

He said Union County has the most oil wells of any county in the state and is the No. 1 timber-producing county and other counties in the district produce timber, too.

“I am not just serving one county. I am serving all the counties,” Pierce said.

Frisby said creating jobs in south Arkansas would be his top priority, and he wants to expand vocational programs, such as those at South Arkansas Community College, to give employers an effective work force.

He said he favors giving tax incentives to companies to locate in Arkansas on a case-bycase basis.

Pierce said he wants to help small-business people create jobs, and he supports creating a state fund to lend money to small-business people for such things as a log truck or a crosscountry hauling truck to get them started. He also supports continuing Gov. Mike Beebe’s Quick Action Closing Fund to help businesses expand and locate in the state.

He said he favors expansion of vocational technical programs.

Frisby said he wants to rein in what he considers to be some over-regulation of the oil and gas industry by the state Department of Environmental Quality, state Oil and Gas Commission, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, but he doesn’t want to cut inspectors from the agencies.

For example, he said, he wants to eliminate a Department of Environmental Quality regulation under which a truck that creates too much dust driving down a gravel road can be fined. He said he considers the regulation frivolous.

A spokesman for the department, Katherine Benenati, said the state agency doesn’t regulate that, though it encourages companies to spray down roads as a “good neighbor” measure when it receives complaints about dust.

Pierce said the state doesn’t need to add more regulations on the oil and gas industry.

Frisby said Pierce was “a big advocate” of the 2011 Legislature referring to voters a proposed increase on the severance tax for natural gas to raise more money for roads, though the Legislature didn’t do so.

But Pierce denied Frisby’s assertion.

“We pulled the bill,” he said, referring to a bill proposed by Rep. Tommy Baker, D-Osceola, to raise more money for highways by removing state severance tax exemptions for certain natural-gas wells.

“I didn’t push anything. The oil companies knew where I was on that,” he said.

Frisby said he signed the Americans for Tax Reform’s pledge not to raise taxes because “we are overtaxed already.”

Pierce said he hasn’t signed the pledge because “I am not going to lie to somebody, if we have a disaster in the state of Arkansas where we have to raise taxes or I am going to vote to save my school in my small school district with a millage increase.”

Pierce said he will vote in the general election for a proposed constitutional amendment to raise the state’s sales tax by a half percent for 10 years to raise more money for highways.

“We need the highways in south Arkansas, and the infrastructure, and the jobs,” he said.

Frisby said he doesn’t intend to vote for the half percent salestax increase.

“I believe the sales tax is already high enough. We need to look at other ways to pay for that,” he said.

Frisby said Pierce voted to raise the severance tax on natural gas in a special session in 2008 to increase funding for road improvements, but he would have voted against the tax increase.

“I haven’t heard anybody say it was a good thing,” Frisby said.

But Pierce said the severance tax on natural gas needed to be raised and the increase was enacted with the support of a super-majority of at least three-fourths of the House and Senate.

In 2008, Beebe proposed the increase as part of a deal with the major natural-gas producers in Arkansas to head off a proposed ballot measure by lawyer Sheffield Nelson of Little Rock, who had proposed a 7 percent rate.

The tax went from threetenths of 1 percent per 1,000 cubic feet of gas to 5 percent of the sale price, minus the cost of treating and transporting the gas. Reduced rates are available for low-producing wells and wells costing more to operate. The rate had last been set in 1957 and produced about $600,000 a year. The tax increase was predicted to raise $57 million in 2009 and $100 million in 2013.

Frisby said he would have voted for 2011 legislation that expanded the amount of a usedcar price that’s sales-tax-exempt from $2,500 to $4,000, but Pierce didn’t vote on the measure.

Pierce said he proposed an amendment to the bill that the House approved and became Act 753 of 2011. He said he voted for the amendment, and he’s not sure why he isn’t recorded as voting for the bill that he supported.

Frisby said he favors further cutting the state’s 1.5 percent sales tax on groceries. He said he also supports cutting the state’s tax on capital gains to encourage investment in Arkansas, and he believes the state could afford to do so.

In 2011, Pierce voted against a bill to exempt from the income tax certain capital gains that the state estimated would reduce state revenue by $44.5 million in the 2013 fiscal year and $68.5 million in subsequent years.

Pierce said he supports further cutting the state sales tax on groceries and “looking at what we can do” to cut the capital-gains tax.

He said he voted against the bill axing certain capital-gains taxes during the 2011 session when he voted for five other bills that cut taxes and were enacted.

Frisby contended that Pierce backs the proposal to expand Medicaid by about 250,000 people.

He said he draws that conclusion from reading state Democratic Party mailers that say Pierce “will continue the Beebe agenda.”

Thus, Pierce backs the Beebe agenda of expanding the Medicaid program by 250,000 people, Frisby said.

But Pierce said, “Beebe is Beebe, and I am Bobby Pierce. I haven’t made up my mind.”

Before he takes a stand on the Medicaid expansion, Pierce said, he wants to review correspondence from the federal government that says the state will be able to get out of the expansion if it later decides to scrap it for financial reasons.

Frisby said the state should hold off on making a decision on expanding Medicaid to determine whether the state can afford it, to see whether surrounding states expand the program and whether the expanded program works elsewhere.

“I don’t believe that the governor’s expansion is something that we need to do now,” he said.

Frisby and Pierce oppose abortions except in cases of rape and incest and when the life of the woman is in jeopardy.

The Arkansas Faith and Freedom Coalition, whose executive director is Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, is among groups that have distributed mailers in the Senate race, Gilbert Baker confirmed.

Gary Marx, national executive director for the Georgiabased coalition founded by Ralph Reed, said the Arkansas group will distribute issueoriented information aimed at ensuring that faith-based and conservative voters vote, particularly in Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District, where Republican Tom Cotton is vying with Democrat Gene Jeffress.

The group plans to spend in “the six-figure range” in Arkansas, but it hasn’t yet decided how many legislative races to distribute information in, he said. Last week, it aired a radio ad touting state Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Bigelow, in his bid to defeat Rep. Linda Tyler, D-Conway, in Senate District 35.

In their latest reports, Frisby reported $38,918.10 in cash, compared with Pierce’s $20,191.77, as of Aug. 31.

Arkansas, Pages 15 on 09/30/2012

Print Headline: District 27 Senate rivals weigh in on jobs, taxes

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