Category Archives: Politics

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

Legislature nears the finish line, and then …

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

The legislative session at the Arkansas Capitol heads for the finish line. What’s left? Mostly spending your tax dollars and finalizing the constitutional amendments you’ll consider in 2020.

In the next few weeks, lawmakers will divvy up state funding through the Revenue Stabilization Act. First passed in 1945, it prioritizes spending. Higher priority areas are guaranteed to be funded while lower priorities get money if it’s available.

The RSA is a big reason the state doesn’t run budget deficits, though it does incur debt in other ways, such as retirement programs and bond issues. It would be nice if the federal government had a similar mechanism, but alas.

Since 2013, one state agency has dominated the process: the Division of Medical Services, which administers Arkansas Works. That’s the state program that purchases private health insurance for lower-income Arkansans. Continue reading Legislature nears the finish line, and then …