Billy, a college friend from thousands of years ago, called again this week. Hadn’t heard from him in several months. He took a part time job on evenings and some weekends to help get caught up on child support payments. Then he began dating his boss, and that went well until they got caught by her husband.
He now has more free time.
Before we move on, Kind Reader should know that Billy is convinced The City Wire will never be a long-term success unless it includes stories about hunting seasons, high school football, NASCAR, and presents a weekly photo feature of a local Hooters girl.
He called after reading the stories about Whirlpool closing, and the citizens’ initiatives that may make the Arkansas ballot in November.
Billy: Why don’t you do a story about sales of Whirlpool appliances in area stores? If I lived there, I sure as hell wouldn’t buy no Whirlpool fridge. You know, you gotta support those who support you.
MT: Well, there may be loyalty remaining from folks who worked decades at Whirlpool. I’d be willing to guess Whirlpool appliance sales don’t drop off.
Billy: So do the story, Mr. Know-it-all. Then you won’t have to guess. Or maybe that’s how you run your little outfit — no real research, just a bunch of guessing.
MT: OK, darn, we’ll consider the story. But I doubt retailers, especially the big-box guys, will disclose the numbers.
Billy: Yeah, whatever. You’re just trying to come up with excuses. You know it’s a good story idea, but you’re just pissy ‘cause you didn’t have the idea first.
MT: Wow. Still a little bitter about losing your weekend job at Dollar General?
Billy: That’s right, smart-aleck. Change the subject, like you always do when you’re losing an argument. If you want to change the subject, then tell me about all these crazy things that voters may get a chance to vote on in November.
MT: Let’s see, there are two casino proposals. A lady from Las Vegas is pushing a constitutional amendment to allow her company to manage casino and “entertainment venues” in Crittenden, Franklin, Miller and Pulaski counties. And a guy from Texas is hoping Arkansas voters support his plan to build hotels and casinos in Boone, Crittenden, Garland, Jefferson, Miller, Pulaski and Sebastian counties.
Billy: Cooooolll. I kinda like that. We could have casinos but not all over the place.
MT: Maybe so, but we’d essentially would create a constitutional monopoly for one or both of the casino operators. Do we really want to adjust our constitution to provide an advantage for an out-of-state business?
Billy: Hadn’t really looked at it like that.
MT: And, if one or both of the casino operations were to be approved by Arkansas voters, it would likely draw money away from the Arkansas Lottery Scholarship program.
Billy: That would not be cool, ‘cause I’m hoping my kids can get some of that lottery scholarship money. So, tell me, why don’t we just pass an amendment that anyone can build a casino in any county, but then tax the hell out of it and use the money for schools and roads?
MT: For many reasons, not the least of which is that kind of amendment would have to come from the Arkansas Legislature, and I doubt they would entertain such an idea. But, speaking of roads, there is an item on the ballot that will raise the sales tax by a half-cent to fund a $1.3 billion bond for major road improvements.
Billy: Whoa. You telling me they want to raise my sales tax during a really crappy time in the economy!?
MT: Yes, but
Billy: But, what? You probably support this nonsense, dontcha?
MT: Well, injecting
Billy: Please don’t tell me you’re gonna spout some BS about $1.3 billion in road construction being some kind of stimulus for the Arkansas economy and it will create jobs and all that while making our roads better.
MT: OK, I won’t tell you that I do believe the road improvement plan will prove a benefit for Arkansas’ economy and infrastructure. Do I like the idea of an increased sales tax? No, but I do like the idea of tax money being used to pay for real infrastructure growth and then coming off the books when the bonds are paid off.
Billy: You know, you used to be a good conservative Republican, and then you got all that journalism stuff in your head and now you don’t see straight.
MT: If by “journalism stuff” you mean that I try to better understand that no solution is perfect and that I weigh the pros and cons before developing an opinion instead of just adopting a knee-jerk reaction that fits a narrow political orthodoxy, then, yes, I don’t see so straight.
Billy: Really? I mean, what the f&#@ is an orthodoxy? You know, I realize you run around in Northwest Arkansas and Fort Smith, but they ain’t really big cities, so quit acting like you’re all big city.
MT: You don’t have to be big city to refuse to buy into the false choices the political parties and their spin doctors try to force down our throats.
Billy: Maybe so, but I think you media types get all caught up in trying to see both sides of a story that over time you don’t have any political principles. Remember, my daddy said the best place to get run over is in the middle of the road, and you spend too much time in the middle of the political road.
MT: OK, Billy, let’s move on. You wanna hear about the other ballot items?
Billy: There’s more!
MT: Yep. There is a proposal to legalize medical marijuana for certain chronic conditions, and a proposal that would raise the severance tax on natural gas production. Unfortunately it looks like a proposal to impose stricter ethics rules on Arkansas politicians will not have enough signatures.
Billy: If I know you, you’re probably all for the medical marijuana thing.
MT: Not necessarily. I haven’t looked close enough at the ballot language, so
Billy: But you’ve told me before that marijuana should be legalized, taxed and regulated. You’ve said it’s no worse a drug than nicotine or alcohol.
MT: True, and, in fact, an argument could be made that it’s less dangerous than alcohol and nicotine. But we have to be careful about how we constitutionally change laws that deal with a drug considered illegal by the federal government.
Billy: OK, Mr. Middle-of-the-road, I hope you believe your own BS, because I don’t. And before you go off on your libertarian rant about marijuana laws, let’s talk about this severance tax thing.
MT: Sheffield Nelson, a former natural gas utility executive, wants to raise the severance tax to 7%, and limit exceptions for payment of the tax.
Billy: Is he crazy? Look, I don’t really follow much in terms of the economy and stuff, but even I know that raising the tax on natural gas right now would run a bunch of folks out of Arkansas. Heck, they’re already leaving for places where they can also drill for some oil.
MT: Wow. Billy, I think we’ve found something on which we can agree. This severance tax thing is dumb and Nelson is crazy. When this country moves to more widespread use of natural gas and the commodity price increases and demand forces more consistent production, THEN we talk about raising the severance tax.
Billy: See, you can take a principled stand on something. There may be hope for you yet.
MT: Goodnight, Billy.