On thou shalt not kill, and meanness

Being real poor ain’t all that fair either

So poor beleaguered state Rep. Warwick Sabin of Little Rock got pounded down this morning on his bill to provide tax relief to the working poor in the wholly viable and bipartisan fashion of an earned income tax credit, embraced nationally by Presidents named Reagan and Clinton.


Sabin argued for the bill by saying this session would be judged on how it acted on his bill, which would define whether, all things considered, it was fair to everyone in its determination to reduce taxes.


The defeat of his bill in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee invites me to ponder thus the overall fairness.


1. Gov. Asa Hutchinson, admirably, I think, chose to grant tax relief first and only to the middle class, those making from $20,000 to $75,000. You have to hand it to any Republican who pushes through a tax cut that does not extend at all, much less inordinately, to the rich people.


2. In order to pay for his cut, Hutchinson first proposed reducing a capital gains cut passed two years ago. That was positively Obama-esque, and, naturally, it would not stand. The Legislature is now in the process of restoring the capital gains cut, meaning that the rich people realizing capital gains will be either held harmless or given a break, depending on how you choose to apply timing.


3. Poor folks get diddly now that Sabin’s bill to increase the tax credit they could qualify for by working went down to defeat.


Fair? It is if you think poor people are themselves to blame for being poor and are getting enough from us already and ought to stand alone in this state as persons worthy of no tax break from this legislative session.


If you have certain instincts for justice and humanity, then you know that what this session is doing, taken in full context, is of breathtaking proportion in unfairness.


An earned income tax credit is not a handout. It is a credit low-income people get toward their tax bill by venturing out to earn a meager paycheck with hard work.


A few Republicans on the committee objected to the fact that the earned income tax credit would be refundable. That means it can amount to cash if the earned credit exceeds the tax bill.


Getting more back from the rest of us than they even owe — what the hell is that?


It’s simple: These people are poor. If they work enough for a penance to get a credit exceeding their tax due, then they can use the overage for help with regressive taxes they pay just for the opportunity to get out and do hard work for pauper’s pay — the gasoline tax,  the sales tax, both most burdensome on the little people.


So a guy will get no tax on a capital gain exceeding $10 million, but these poor working folks can’t earn a meager refundable credit by paying regressive taxes to get to a job paying an unlivable wage.


If history doesn’t judge that harshly, then history lies.








Sounds like him

So on the front page today the Democrat-Gazette reveals new morsels from the apparently dictated journals of former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers in the 1980s and 1990s — journals in the sense that the now-ailing senator apparently dictated candid personal thoughts that his secretary transcribed on pages the Bumpers family now says should not have been included in a document donation to the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, and that the family has retrieved at least temporarily for review.

These were the musings that included the Mother Jones headline discovery that Bumpers had harsh words in 1983 for Bill and Hillary Clinton.

It turns out the Democrat-Gazette copied some pages before the family retrieved them. On the front page today, thus, Bumpers is quoted from decades ago talking about what a “charlatan” and “troglodyte” Ronald Reagan was, and ridiculing the substandard oratorical stylings of Bill Alexander and John Paul Hammerschmidt, former Arkansas congressmen, and calling Gary Hart a scary oddball, and saying he had found three Miss Americas of his acquaintance to be not all that, including one whose legs were, in the former senator’s estimation, larger that his own.

That last one is the big scoop. I knew all the other things already. But that a beauty pageant winner had . . . well, let’s move on.

The new information also has Bumpers praising his own oratory.

There’s something very sad about uncovering and making much of old private thoughts of a man now in cognitive decline and unable to speak to the discovery’s authenticity or context.

But since the thoughts are out there, let me say, as a great admirer of the senator and good friend of his family, that the musings sound like him in his heyday..

His tendency to ridicule Reagan’s intelligence and engagement and to lampoon colleagues . . . well, let me put it this way: It is conceivable that we would uncover someday the private thoughts of one of those colleagues and that colleague would say that Dale Bumpers was the most egotistical person he had ever encountered.

Bill Clinton had character flaws. Hilary Clinton has a bunker mentality. Ronald Reagan wasn’t all there. Gary Hart was eerie. Some other guys were boring speakers. And Dale Bumpers was always very keen on himself but not so much on others.

None of us is perfect.

On big legislative dinner — and a buried lead

It’s time to reactivate this long-dormant blog.

A good return-to-action post would be about lobbyists helping to raise money for last night’s speaker’s ball and the president’pro tem’s ball, long social staples of the state legislative culture, and harmless feel-good affairs.

But — thanks to the obsessive blog work of Max Brantley at the Arkansas Times — they’re kind of wrapped up in this whole matter of the voters approving Issue 3 to ban lobbyists’ gifts to legislators and of lobbyists and legislators finding a way around it.

It used to be — before Issue 3, or Amendment 94 — that the state Chamber of Commerce would bank these formal dinners late in session, by which I mean collect the money from corporate and lobbying sources.

That was bad, and the leading ethical purist of the Legislature, former state Rep. Duncan Baird of Lowell, now budget director for Gov. Asa Hutchinson, always wrote a hundred-dollar check to cover his part.

Issue 3 rather clearly banned the chamber-coordinated process.

While it’s true that the big loophole otherwise availed by lobbyists and legislators is that lobbyists may fete legislators under Issue 3 if they invite entire committees or the entire General Assembly to a “planned event,” the speaker’s ball and the president pro tem’s ball were mainly for those two individuals. Or at least it could be argued.

So to the rescue came the proud Arkansas Republican Party, which said it would raise the money to honor these two fine Republican legislative leaders  — Speaker Jeremy Gillam and President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang.

And they are, by the way, in my opinion, fine Republican legislative leaders. We could do way worse.

So it turned out the Republican Party prevailed on two leading lobbyists, Ted and Julie Mullenix, to help, specifically to hit up other lobbyists to cover sponsorships for the dinners.

That outraged me, both on principle and as an affront to the voter dictates of Issue 3. So I went on Twitter to call the process a cesspool.

So then Gillam and Dismang wondered if I could come out to see them at 2 p.m.

I could. I did.

They said (1) this is the same process governors have always used to raise money for their inaugural balls and (2) they didn’t know about any outside services the Republican Party was using and (3) they were not beholden in any to the Mullenixes or any other lobbyists.

But they said that, yes, there might be a better way to do it in the future.

I’d have members ante up to a dinner fund, especially now that members are in line for significant pay increases.

But Gillam and Dismang might not be in positions of authority after this session.

In that regard, I can now relate that I’ve buried the lead.

Gillam told me he has pretty much decided to seek re-election as speaker.

(ADD: I’ve complicated Gillam’s life. I apologize. He thought he was telling me that little tidbit for a Tuesday column, which was true.  But I got the wild hair to blog it, and now some of his pals are displeased that he hadn’t told them of his plan. Put that on me.)

Dismang? He says no to re-election as president pro tem, although he knows of no percolating candidacies as yet to succeed him. Gillam wondered if Dismang might accept a draft. The two good ol’ boys from rural White County have a good working relationship ,and it has enhanced the orderliness of the session.

Oh, and one other thing: Some lobbying cabals have kept open certain rooms and facilities for entertaining legislators in cynical finesses of Issue 3 by inviting all legislators to these standing “planned events.” Gillam and Dismang said those have been so poorly attended that they can’t imagine they would be continued. We can hope.


Slapstick with Ross, Asa and other oddballs

The comedy hits just keep coming in the governor’s race.

Just yesterday:

–Mike Ross said Asa Hutchinson may be the only lawyer in the history of the state to lose a trial with his brother on the jury, and Asa said that was snarky

–Ross assailed Hutchinson for being one of the House prosecutors in the Bill Clinton impeachment and putting his own partisanship over supporting a governor from Arkansas, as if the coincidence of birthplace had anything to do with morality or decency or law.

–A curious character seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, Curtis Coleman, whom I previously believed mistakenly to be the football coach at UAPB, unveiled a plan to cut state general revenue nearly in half with deep income tax cuts over eight years.

–Coleman said this tax cut should be our top priority, even higher than . . . well, educating our children.

–Then Coleman put out a followup statement that, oops, his plan would actually raise taxes on the poorest, and that he didn’t mean to do that and would fix it. Which was odd. Republicans favor lower taxes on the wealthy and higher burdens on poor people.

–Hutchinson put out a statement saying, well, uh, we really need to emphasize education. And the Ross campaign declined to respond to this Coleman character, perhaps wondering why the football coach at UAPB was proposing a tax plan.

–Dr. Lynette Bryant, surprise opponent of Ross in the Democratic primary, finally got up that website, the one she said she wanted to unveil before she entertained any questions from reporters. It’s pictures, mostly, including shots of her with Republican U.S. Sen. John Boozman and the Republican Huckabees, Mike and Janet. Odd.

So you’re up to date until the next one-liner or pratfall or pie in the face.

Asa calls, chortles, challenges, converses

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.








High drama on private option? Line in sand by Democrats?

With Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View continuing to say it’s not all up to her and that she is a “no” on re-upping the private option for which she fashioned an all-about-me dramatic “aye” vote late in the regular session — though it apparently is indeed all about her — I’ve had very recent discussions with insiders suggesting the prospect for high drama in the fiscal session beginning Feb. 11.

This is insiderly and procedural, but it raises the possibility of high-stakes brinksmanship, which sounds positively Washingtonian.

To begin: The Medicaid appropriation to be introduced in the fiscal session is a mere continuation of the existing Medicaid appropriation. This it contains the hundred-percent federal money for the expanded population under the private option.

Presumably, the Republican minority seeking to obstruct continued existence of the successful and popular program — nine or so voters in the Senate and 25 or so in the House — would need to excise the private option money from the appropriation, and then, by the requisite three-fourths vote, pass old Medicaid with the federal-state match for a tiny segment of the very poorest.

That would require amending the continuing-level appropriation with special language in the Special Language Subcommittee of the Joint Budget Committee. The special language would affirmatively excise the private option money.

Amending the measure that way would require only a majority vote, but I don’t readily see how a narrow extremist minority barely able to stop a three-fourths vote could be expected to get a simple majority vote to take out the program that nearly three-fourths of the Legislature favors.

By that scenario, the appropriation would proceed to the chamber floors in full private option form, starting in the Senate because the House went first last time and wants the Senate to go first this time. And Irvin votes no and we’re stuck.

Presumably, then, faced with that logjam, legislators would concede to the tragic reality of the know-nothing obstructionist minority and amend the measure to take out the private option money to get something passed and get on home.

But now get this: There are some infant discussions — just that, at this point — that the Democratic caucuses of the House and the Senate might declare preemptively that they will vote only for a Medicaid appropriation containing the private option.

That’s 48 votes in the House and 13 in the Senate and plenty to prevent a three-fourths majority.

High drama. Private option or no Medicaid at all. Private option or we go home without any appropriation at all for Medicaid.

Here’s the question:

Is that politically advantageous high ground for these Democrats, drawing a line in the sand for an innovative national program for the working poor and for hospitals and for the state budget’s money for prisons and higher education?  Didn’t that recent Talk Business-Hendrix College poll show a strong plurality of respondents favoring the continuation of the private option?

Or is it political quicksand for Democrats, introducing Washington-style apocalyptic politics like that? Would they get blamed for dysfunction rather than nobility?

That’s such a good question. I think I know the answer. But let’s let the idea percolate for a bit while we think on it a little longer.




Private option looking great except politically

There are developments regarding the state’s innovative Medicaid private option — developments beyond the potentially tragic political signals sent by the Jonesboro area in the special election Tuesday.

First: The state has compiled the demographics on the tens of thousands of persons below 138 percent of poverty who have been enrolled so far, and they show most of them are younger.

That is the full opposite of the state and nationwide experience in the non-Medicaid health care exchange — where few young people have enrolled so far, but plenty of folks my age have, leading to concerns about “adverse selection” and “death spirals” by which Obamacare rates might be expected to explode to unaffordable levels,  causing the entire reform to collapse under its own weight.

The remarkable thing in Arkansas, then, is that we are using our federal Medicaid expansion money to deliver poor folks to private insurance and produce a more actuarial credible risk pool for Blue Cross and Qual Choice. Our rates conceivably — conceivably — could remain at or near current levels in the second year if not beyond.

That is to say — just to put it in clear individual terms — that my own Obamacare options to be unveiled in October might remain relatively reasonable thanks totally to our state’s private option.

Furthermore, the preponderance of younger folks in this PO pool means they’ll pay relatively lower premiums — to the extent, it seems, that we are going to tap less federal money than previously estimated.

All of that is to say our private option is unfolding as a smashing success just in time for know-nothings to kill it in the budget session beginning Feb. 10.

Second: The Joint Public Health Committee will meet at 3 p.m. today to hear the state’s star consultant, former Utah Gov. Michael Leavitt, a Republican, testify about the personal health saving account component of the private option on which Sen. Missy Irvin of Mountain View insisted on the next-to-last day of the session before casting her vote.

I am advised to expect a bold proposal. It will require getting the federal government to approve an amendment to the waiver by which we’ve done the private option. It ought to be enough to hold Irvin’s vote.

Senate President Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux is quoted today as worrying about several more senators than Irvin.

One Republican legislator favoring the private option told me the only way it survives in February is if something really conservative is put into it.

Darr’s two minds, and the one he’ll follow

My best reading is that Mark Darr is currently of two minds and goes back and forth between these minds with great speed and dexterity and frustration.

One mind: Yes, I made errors and I was wrong. But, darnit, it’s not serious thievery and I could be given a hall pass to make amends except for this raw political partisanship that is at work against me. The best thing I can do is be strong and take a stand against this criminalization of politics. To resign would be to concede to that criminalization of politics, even encourage those in my party who tell me they resent what’s being done to me and will counterattack some Democrat for retribution.

The other mind: My resignation is the practical thing. It would save the state the nonsense of distracting impeachment. It would relieve those of my party of whatever burden my predicament places on them. What I should do is put my own interests aside and gracefully bow out. I should do so with a statement declaring my innocence of truly impeachable offense, but couching my action as a personal sacrifice for the sake of our state, and pleading with those of both sides to cease and desist this kind of politics of personal destruction.

I think he bounced from one mind to the other yesterday.

I believe he will bear the inconvenience of regretting following either mind, of taking either action, but will choose, at some point soon, to offer himself in sacrifice and resign while making that plea for a less toxic political climate.

It’s the better of bad options, and I think he knows that.

As soon as he takes it, he’s going to be mad at himself. But that’s the nature of his dilemma. A little time away with family might be good.


A Brummett Christmas. It was 1959 . . .

A request poured in that I rerun a Christmas column of years past, something about my dad.

But I don’t have a Christmas Day column this year and I’m wondering if the request confused a childhood Christmas remembrance with any of a half-dozen tributes I’ve made to the late J.T. over these decades of columnizing.

So I thought I would adapt for the blog the column of 15 years ago or so about the Christmas of 1959 in the little four-room house on Arch Street Pike due south of Little Rock nearly to Baseline Road.

It was a happy time. I was 5, 6 and 7 when we lived in that humble house, and those were vividly formative years.

I spent days studying the busy highway and memorizing the makes and models of the big-engined cars, the Chevys of 55, 56 and 57, the Fords, the Mercurys and the Pontiacs.

These were years my dad would always recall as his happiest. He singularly ran a rural garbage route by morning, worked at the Nabisco cookie-loading warehouse by night, and, in between, raised hogs and chickens. He never had so much money, he would recall years later, lamenting that the workload had proved too great and he’d given up the garbage business.

But he had some money for once, enough to grace our driveway with a gray-and-white 1955 Pontiac, which, upon purchase, he took screaming down the southern reaches of Arch Street at 95 miles an hour while mom pleaded with him to slow because “you’ve got those kids in the car,” meaning me and my younger sister.

Dad bought some boxing gloves and I knocked the neighbor kid plumb off the porch. J.T. was proud enough to tell about it over and over.

One afternoon while dad was working, of course, I was climbing along a clothes line and fell and gashed my skull on the corner of a wash tub. Mom and the neighbor lady wrapped it and I went on about my business — rendered by the blow the unique liberal in our Church of Christ clan.

I ran upon a rattlesnake coiled and noisy in the curve of the trail to the hogs, and my mom chopped it to near-death. A tarantula came up in the yard and my sister was coaxing it closer, calling it “birdie, birdie,” before my mom realized the situation. I had my tonsils taken out and came to post-operative consciousness in a children’s ward with the Three Stooges playing and I laughed so hard I wound up throwing up blood that night and nearly dying.

Good times.

So I wrote once about that Christmas Eve of ’59, when I’d just turned 6.

Excited, I lay half-asleep in the pre-dawn hours. Perhaps it was the noise that awakened me. A tent was being set up for me in the living room, by a Santa Claus who said a curse word or two over the project, my mother joked the next morning.

It occurred to me that Santa wouldn’t curse, but that a certain J.T., 15 years removed from Marine infantry duty on Okinawa, was bad about that.

What happened, as I wrote in that column, was that I could have sworn that, as I lay there half awake, I could feel the presence and weight of Santa Claus as he sat on the the foot of my bed. I was entirely too shy to sit up and actually confront him, but I could feel him there as sure as the world, and was as comforted as unnerved.

I wrote that this represented the power of a child’s imagination, and thus actually was Santa in a way, thus the magical spirit and essence of the holiday.

So a friend called that morning and said what I’d written had been so beautiful, explaining in such a clever way that it had been my dad sitting there at the foot of the bed, looking over me after finally getting the blankety-blank tent erected.

My friend asked: That was what I had meant, right?

It is now, I said.







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