What that “phhhbtt!” sound means

LegislatureBy Steve Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

That “phhhbtt!” sound you may have heard is the air coming out of the State Capitol dome. After nearly three months of being separated during the week from their families, and in many cases, their full-time jobs, legislators are ready to go home.

The plan is to recess April 10, and then reconvene for cleanup work in May.

It’s wrap-up time. And last Wednesday, a big item was crossed off the to-do list when legislators approved funding for the agency administering Arkansas Works, the program that purchases health insurance for about 234,000 Arkansans as of February 1. There’s usually much drama associated with this, but it only took two House votes to pass the funding measure, and that’s despite a court ruling that had removed a work requirement.

This week, legislators were deciding how to spend your money under the state’s Revenue Stabilization Act. They also added a third proposed constitutional amendment to Arkansans’ ballot in 2020 – this one to make it harder to amend the Constitution. The other two would permanently extend the half-cent sales tax for roads and change legislative term limits.

House Bill 1763 by Rep. Andy Davis, R-Little Rock, the governor’s transformation initiative, also needs to finish working its way through the process. The slow pace would be expected for a 2,049-page bill that will reduce the number of state agencies from 42 to 15. Continue reading What that “phhhbtt!” sound means

Term limits proposals not limited to one

LegislatureBy Steve Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Arkansans will vote on changing the state’s term limits law in 2020. In fact, they might vote on two proposals, and at the moment, they have the same name.

On Monday, the House voted 51-26 to advance the Arkansas Term Limits Amendment by Sen. Alan Clark, R-Lonsdale. It now is in the Senate, where it originated, for approval of a technical amendment. The first version passed that chamber, 27-3.

The proposed amendment would change the limit to 12 consecutive years of legislative service, and then legislators could run for office again after sitting out four years. Legislators currently are limited to 16 years combined in the House and Senate, plus two more for senators if they only served part of a term because lines are redrawn every 10 years after the census. Once term limited, they cannot return to the Legislature. Continue reading Term limits proposals not limited to one

Surprise! Money did not grow on trees

tax, taxes, debt, deficits, spending, trillion, State of the Union, deficit hawks, balanced budget amendment, Jonathan Bydlak, immigration, $98.8 trillion, $970 billionBy Steve Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

There’s nothing more annoying than someone saying, “I told you so,” and it gives me no pleasure to do so. Well, maybe a little, but I’d much rather be wrong.

This bittersweet moment is inspired by March’s wholly foreseeable news that the federal government’s February budget deficit was the biggest ever for that month – $234 billion.

For the year, the Trump administration projects the deficit will be $1.09 trillion, a number last seen in 2012. (The Congressional Budget Office earlier projected $897 billion.) One trillion is about $3,300 for each of us, and it all will be added to the $22 trillion national debt. Your share of that amount is a little more than $67,000 – and growing by the minute.

In fact, the Trump administration projects $1 trillion deficits for each of the next four years, but even that may be a rosy scenario. Now that we’ve reached this plateau, there’s no plan to bring us down.

Last year’s deficit was $779 billion, which was bad enough. So how’d we get from there to here? Continue reading Surprise! Money did not grow on trees

Tax credits for private school scholarship bill fails

Note: Senate Bill 620 never ran in committee. Instead, Johnson tried to run another scholarship bill, Senate Bill 539, that failed in the House Education Committee April 4. 

By Steve Brawner, © 2019 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

This is the part of the legislative session when you might expect Gov. Asa Hutchinson to set it on cruise control. Instead, he made a right turn last week and stepped on the gas.

I write that first sentence because he’s accomplished three of his four priorities: a tax cut, increased highway funding, and higher teacher pay. All that’s left is shrinking the number of state agencies from 42 to 15. That government transformation is slowly working its way through the Legislature – as one would expect with a 2,000-page bill.

Still to come is the Revenue Stabilization Act process, where lawmakers will determine exactly how tax dollars will be spent. There might be a big fight over the Arkansas Works health program, but probably not. Then everyone can go home.

Hutchinson has accomplished a lot and still has a lot to do, which is one reason his strong support of Senate Bill 620 by Sen. Blake Johnson, R-Corning, and Rep. Ken Bragg, R-Sheridan, is interesting. Continue reading Tax credits for private school scholarship bill fails