Tag Archives: Arkansas

When 3 percent is a big win

Mark West is running for governor as a Libertarian.

By Steve Brawner

How can a candidate win by losing? By capturing enough of the vote to ensure his third party qualifies for the next election and has a better chance to be heard.

In Arkansas, parties must win 3 percent in gubernatorial and presidential elections to automatically qualify for the next election’s ballot, which is why the Democrats will surely find someone to run against seemingly unbeatable Gov. Asa Hutchinson in 2018.

Arkansas’ most organized third party, the Libertarians, failed to reach that standard in 2016, when former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson won 2.65 percent of the presidential vote despite a promising start. That meant the state party had to collect at least 10,000 signatures this year at a cost of about $30,000.

Continue reading When 3 percent is a big win

What the third party candidates said

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications

It’s still a tossup as to who will be the next governor, but we know who it won’t be: neither Frank Gilbert nor Josh Drake, the Libertarian and Green Party nominees.

Gilbert, the Libertarian, and Drake also know neither of them will be the next governor – not in a system dominated by Republicans and Democrats. Nevertheless, they’ve put their names on the ballot.

Here’s the shorthand for what their parties stand for. Greens are pro-environment and pro-government health care. Libertarians are for less government in both economic and social issues.

Drake and Gilbert presented their cases during an Arkansas Press Association debate July 11 – and, by the way, kudos to the APA for giving them that opportunity. Here’s what they said …

About same sex marriage. Drake, the Green Party candidate, said the Constitution guarantees equal protection under the law, regardless of what the majority says. Gilbert said government should stay out of the marriage-defining business, adding that he was offended that his wedding preacher said he performed the ceremony by the authority vested in him by the state of Tennessee. The government had nothing to do with his marriage, he said.

About the “private option,” the state program that uses Obamacare dollars to buy private insurance for lower-income Arkansans. Gilbert, the Libertarian, opposes it “unequivocally” and criticized the legislative Republicans who made it possible. Arkansas should not be involved in a coalition with the debt-ridden federal government to make possible this “terrible idea tacked onto a disgusting idea,” he said. Drake said other civilized countries offer universal health care, and so should the United States. Absent that, he said it’s “absolutely lunacy” to consider turning down those federal dollars when many Arkansas hospitals are struggling.

About Arkansas’ bursting-at-the-seams prisons and jails. Gilbert said too many people are being arrested and incarcerated and said his first step as governor would be to “pardon every nonviolent drug offender in the state of Arkansas.” Drake said the war on drugs has been lost and that it’s time to consider if some people in prison really ought to be there.

About C&H Hog Farms, the industrial-sized farm that has prompted concerns about potential contamination of the nearby Buffalo River. Drake, the Green Party candidate, said such an operation should not be located near a watershed and that the state must protect its water supply and its tourist attractions. Gilbert said he didn’t trust bureaucrats to protect the environment and that water use disputes should be handled through the court system.

About the lottery being under closer control of the governor. Drake expressed doubts about giving the governor too much power and said he’s “not a big fan of the lottery” or of gambling in general. Gilbert said the lottery should be managed by private individuals rather than bureaucrats. Given the opportunity, he would end the lottery.

About taxes. Gilbert would eliminate personal and corporate income taxes as quickly as possible. Doing away with the costs of corporate welfare would make it easier, he said. Drake said taxes on the wealthy should be increased so the sales tax on food can be ended and other sales taxes lowered.

In his closing argument, Drake said third party candidates should be included in more debates and given more attention by the media. Having more political parties would be good for the press, he said, because contested races create more intellectually stimulating campaigns, which attract readers and viewers. He didn’t say it, but viable third party and independent candidates, given a chance to compete, might attract enough support that they could buy ads, too.

Gilbert cracked up the audience in his closing remarks by saying, “I encourage you to look around yourself and see if you think there’s a whole lot that the Libertarians can make worse, and that there might not be a thing or two that the Libertarians could make better. Pick up your dice, throw them, and if it comes up snake eyes, vote Libertarian.”

By the way, also participating in the APA debate were the two major party candidates – Asa what’s-his-name and Mike somebody.

How to fund highways? Not this way.

By Steve Brawner
© 2014 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

How long could your family pay for today’s needs with tomorrow’s dollars before it would start to catch up to you? Congress is doing something like that, again.

The Highway and Transportation Funding Act of 2014 would provide extra highway funding for 10 months by pulling money from future revenues through a tactic known as “pension smoothing.” This allows employers to delay contributing to their employees’ pension plans, thus raising the employers’ taxable incomes now. Under a formula, they’ll make up the difference later, reducing their taxable incomes then, and at that point a future Congress will have to budget for that lost revenue. But that’s a problem for the future Congress.

The House of Representatives passed the $10.8 billion bill this past week, with all four Arkansas House members voting yes – which I guess they had to do, because the alternative was a train wreck. The Senate is expected to vote on the matter as early as this coming week.

This is happening because we’ve reached yet another unnecessary fiscal crisis. The Highway Trust Fund, which reimburses states for highway costs, will be dry within a couple of weeks – the result of too few dollars funding too many projects. The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department (AHTD) has already delayed some contracts in case that happens.

Money flows into the fund as a result of federal highway laws passed periodically by Congress. In the past, these have been five- or six-year deals so states could make long-term planning decisions. It takes, after all, a long time to build a highway. The most recent, MAP-21, lasted only two years, and now it’s expiring. The Highway and Transportation Funding Act would extend MAP-21 only to May.

Highways are funded mostly through fuel taxes. These are easy to collect, they don’t require that much bureaucracy, and they are considered to be fair because they are user fees. The person using the government service, the highway, is the one who pays for it.

But the federal fuel tax has not been increased since 1993, which means inflation has eaten away at it. Meanwhile, cars have become more fuel efficient, so we’re buying fewer gallons to drive the same distance, thereby paying even less in fuel taxes. At the same time, construction costs have risen.

There’s waste in the highway system, of course, but even if all of that were eliminated, the country still would be investing far too little in its aging and decaying infrastructure. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the average bridge in America is 42 years old.

For now, the easiest, quickest, most efficient way of increasing highway funding is raising the gas tax, but politically that’s a tough sell. Even the Connecting Arkansas Program passed by voters in 2012 exempted fuel as part of its half-cent sales tax. Meanwhile, the fuel tax faces an uncertain future. As Scott Bennett, AHTD director, points out, reducing fuel consumption is a national priority, so how can consumption continue to be the primary way we fund highways? The Obama administration is suggesting letting states put toll booths on interstates – an inefficient way of collecting money that is inconvenient for drivers. Oregon is testing a vehicle miles traveled tax, where drivers’ mileage would be tracked, and they would be taxed accordingly.

It may be that the only solution now is for states to bear greater responsibility for maintaining and constructing the nation’s roadways. According to Bennett, 70 percent of Arkansas highway construction funding comes from the federal government, but other states pay more of their own way.

Arkansas voters have shown a willingness to pay for highways. In addition to the Connecting Arkansas Program, they also voted in 2011 for the Interstate Rehabilitation Program, which funds interstate improvements through a bond issue. Those two programs are funding $3 billion worth of work. On the other hand, they only apply to 4 percent of the state’s highway miles.

What do you think? Raise fuel taxes? Build toll booths? Track how far (and maybe where) we drive? Let the states take care of it?

Something has to happen. There are only so many times future dollars can pay for current work.