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OPINION | JOHN BRUMMETT: Another session? Please, no

by John Brummett | April 12, 2022 at 3:36 a.m.


My main concern is that departing state senators would get to make farewell remarks again.

Jason Rapert would serve self. Joyce Elliott might take another swipe at me for objectivity.

Trent Garner, bless him, probably would spare us, as he did at the end of the recent fiscal session a mere month ago. It was an occasion for niceness. Trent might hurt himself.

On March 13, the Senate gave each of the 11 not-returning senators a plaque and invited them to try to salvage a few departing minutes of civility from the chamber's usual rattlesnake pit. The thinking was that the Legislature was likely done with special sessions and would not be back until newly constituted for the regular session in January after the election.

It was a pleasant thought, this prospect of months of downtime before Donald Trump becomes governor.

Now we confront a new proposition: The Legislature would assemble in yet another special session sometime in July or later for the purpose of sending you cash to offset the burden of inflation and particularly of gasoline costs in a rural state where you must drive the highways to work.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, acting spry for a lame duck, floated the idea several days ago. "Big legislative fight brewing," a source texted. Hutchinson told me it was just an idea and that all he was doing for the moment was testing legislative reaction.

He said a decision would need to await the end of the fiscal year June 30 to count up the full state general-revenue surplus, which probably will come to $600 million, enough for a few fill-ups.

Some legislators don't want to come back, or are weary. Others would love to return for the generous expense reimbursement and especially to vote to send cash to people in an election year.

Perhaps a few think as we shouldn't set a precedent of tapping state government's nest egg every time consumer prices go up. That's so-called one-time money that normally gets used for capital improvements and emergencies.

A few legislators--very few--might want to spend the money so that Trump and his local puppet wouldn't inherit it in January. Sarah Sanders seems to advocate eliminating or drastically slashing the state income tax, which fuels the general fund.

Kansas is a state much like a Delta-less Arkansas considering the conservatism, the less-than-modern economy, the letters in the name and college basketball excellence. There, the Democratic governor has proposed that the state send tax rebates of $250 per person and $500 per married couple to all state-income-tax filers to offset gasoline and inflationary hardships.

Some are saying the proposal amounts to buying votes. The Kansas governor is up for re-election.

At present, the Republican Kansas Legislature has tabled the proposal in deference to negotiations for broader long-term tax reductions combining 29 tax-cut proposals that could amount to more than a billion dollars.

So, the lesson from Kansas is to beware of bringing legislators together in a Republican state in an election year. Or ever.

What Hutchinson will not propose in Arkansas is a suspension of gasoline taxes contained in all that rapid cha-ching noise at the gasoline pump. That's wise. Those tax proceeds are dedicated to highways. Well-maintained state highways are integral to the vital economic activity the governor proposes to subsidize--farm-to-market and home-to-factory travel.

The available money will be in the general fund, mostly income and sales taxes, from a surplus resulting from reasonably healthy tax collections exceeding the spending amounts of deliberately tight budgets.

If all income-tax filers got a per-person relief check or direct deposit, would that relief efficiently reach the target, meaning those who drive a lot? Or would it amount to a simple general rebate going equally to people regardless of where or whether they drive to work? Conservative legislators don't like sending money to people who don't work. See Medicaid expansion.

Might there be a better way? Ought we to do it at all? Might it be better to let last month's farewell speeches suffice?

I'm leaning to the latter, but, then, I work at home. And, in terms of nest eggs, I think of that household economic advice I heard years ago: If you have some money, and if you use it for something, just know you won't have the money anymore. You'll just have that something.

On the other hand, you don't have the money in the first place if you can't afford to drive to work.


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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