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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: More craziness on tap

by John Brummett | October 12, 2021 at 3:00 a.m.

Why in the world would Gov. Asa Hutchinson invite these legislators to turn right around and come back for a special session Oct. 25?

Hasn't he--haven't we--suffered enough?

That's not a rhetorical question. It's an actual question. I posed it to the governor. He provided this response:

"Yes, there is an argument that we should not risk all the craziness that could happen if bills are introduced beyond the call.

"I thought long and hard on this and I concluded that tax cuts should not wait another year. If we lower the rate for calendar year '22, then there is a fairly narrow window to get that done. There are workers who could use an extra amount in their paycheck and they need it sooner and not later. If I just wanted to coast to the finish line, then your argument makes sense. But coasting is not my plan."

I had four instinctive reactions to the governor's statement.

The first was to verify he'd really sent it because he referred to legislative activity as "craziness." That's a boldly true statement, but it's uncharacteristically candid for a man noted for chronic caution and modulating euphemism.

Apparently right-wing craziness at the Capitol is now such a commonly accepted condition that even Hutchinson can utter it.

And anyone thinking he might have just been called crazy probably had no regard for Hutchinson already.

The second was to doubt that persons making more than $80,000 a year so urgently need tax dollars back in their pockets that it's worth the risk of reactivating Trent Garner, Bob Ballinger, Dan Sullivan, Jason Rapert and their cowering colleagues to try to put more Confederacy-worthy policies into our law books.

The third was that I hadn't meant simply to invoke the threat of these flame-throwers trying to extend the session for introduction of other bills on other subjects. That would require an extraordinary majority vote.

More worrisome to me is that, if you call a special session and put in a bill cutting the top income-tax rate from 5.9 percent to 5.4--or, as I've heard, possibly to 4.9 by a trigger mechanism only if revenue flow shows it to be affordable--then an amendment or separate bill cutting it more, even to zero, would be germane.

The greater threat, then, is less-responsible tax-cutting and the chronic cowering of garden-variety Republican conservatives who know better. Confronted with deeper cuts, these enablers might fret about seeking re-election in a Republican primary in a district not even yet drawn while having voted against giving constituents more of an income-tax cut than they're getting.

Conceivably we could wind up with a bankrupt state government for the privilege of keeping wingnut fear in the Legislature. To be precise, state government wouldn't be bankrupt, but rural hospitals, nursing homes and small-town schools would be.

The extremists aren't the problem. They're the fringe. The real problem is cowardice among others who yield to the fringe.

For that reason, the best thing to happen in the Capitol last week was that House Speaker Matthew Shepherd stepped down from his perch to the well of the House to argue against an anti-health, anti-business, anti-reason bill and pronounce that it was time--though it was well past time--to say no more.

My fourth reaction was that coasting is what I thought Hutchinson was mostly doing in this year of chairing the National Governors Association and waiting by the phone for the producer of a Sunday national talk show to call.

Yet he says he "tentatively" sees Oct. 25 as the date to convene this special session for the latest increment in his drawdown of income taxes.

I asked if he'd achieved consensus on his proposal. He said that he had reached it with the legislative leadership.

That's about a half-dozen votes, meaning the speaker, the Senate president pro tem and the respective House and Senate chairmen of the Revenue and Tax Joint Budget Committees.

No one in that group has any control over these extremists.

Nonetheless, we should expect soon a news conference by Hutchinson to reveal details of what apparently will be more than a top-rate cut. Apparently, tax-code changes will be proposed that will deliver tax cuts to lower incomes.

Most of the lost cash from the state treasury will wind up in the hands of the richest people, because that's how income taxes work. The numbers are bigger for rich people--in what they pay, in what they deduct and defer, and in what they reap from rate cuts.

But, by promising a few dollars back to lower-income taxpayers, the governor and legislative leaders probably increase the likelihood of enactment, particularly since this bill's array of changes only will cut taxes and thus require only a simple majority vote.

So, ironic and ominous though it be, I warn that extremism will reconvene in Little Rock with lawmaking authority in a couple of weeks.


John Brummett, whose column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, is a member of the Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame. Email him at jbrummett@arkansasonline.com. Read his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.

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