Asa Hutchinson called this morning to chortle, challenge and converse on the matter of Mike Ross’s tax plan, and we covered several points that I want to share.
Let’s get this out of the way: Hutchinson said he had met with officials of the Finance and Administration Department on the Beebe administration assertion he had publicly questioned — that ending the private option would leave an $89 million hole in the state budget — and, well, now is willing to accept that number or something in that vicinity as reasonable guesswork for budgeting purposes.
Meantime, he remains in the position of neutrally studying the private option, which is to say he still has no position.
A fully developed view of the issue, he said, needs to look long-term both to the eventual 10 percent cost to the state and the effect on existing Medicaid policy if the private option is scrubbed. He has not personally satisfied himself on those matters, he says.
He did admit that ending the private option — and producing that budget hole the amount of which he is no longer actively questioning — has potential implications for his ability to cut middle-class taxes by $100 million in his first year as governor.
But he said his cut could still be afforded through the existing surplus, which is an entirely different debate for which I can refer you to my column this morning.
Now, about Ross’s plan:
1. Hutchinson chortled that I have had to admit today on Twitter something I should have caught previously, which is that Ross used bogus math in saying his eventual $575 million income tax cut was barely half the size of Mike Beebe’s more than trillion-dollar cut in grocery taxes.
Ross’s cut, if ever made fully, would be in one year, and would recur year-after-year, while Beebe’s grocery tax amount as cited by Ross is a cumulative one that adds one year’s cut on top of another year’s.
2. Hutchinson challenged Ross’s tax plan on so many conflicting or cumulative grounds — that it would take too much money out of the treasury for higher education and other things, and that it was a “hollow promise” that would never be kept and that it provided no tax-relief for the “job-creating” incomes in excess of $75,000 — that I asked him to please pick one.
He obliged, picking the “hollow promise,” meaning that Ross would never actually cut all those taxes to the tune of $575 million a year every year.
“If you really believed he was going to do it, a liberal like you would be screaming to high heaven,” Hutchinson said.
I’m a moderate. I’m a pragmatist who understands tax cuts are coming to the state Treasury.
I’m a pragmatist who squeals more at present about a candidate’s unwillingness to stand up for the private option and its savings while proposing to take a hundred-million dollars all at once out of the treasury.
And I like Ross’s underlying purpose of modernizing our antiquated and regressive income tax brackets.
But, yeah, $575 million in someday-money is a lot of someday-money.
Should be a good governor’s race. I’ll try to keep up with it for you.