Let’s travel once more into the most dangerous ground in today’s political environment, which would be the damn-near abandoned beautiful valley of calm in which compromise, moderation and careful deliberation focused on long-term results and solutions was previously practiced.
This once popular venue is now practically inhospitable for the rare species of pragmatic political leader thanks to the giant boulders of bull$&#@ heaved from the valley’s flanking extreme ridges. The asinine assaults from the ridges force all players to run to the hills, leaving defenseless voters in the middle forced to keep their heads down and hope the boulder tossing ends before their jobs, homes and hopes become collateral damage.
And that fun little visual brings us to another week of considering the politics pushed by an eager Arkansas GOP ready to assume legislative authority for the first time in more than 138 years. Last week I expressed some curiosity about whether their “Keep Calm. We’re on the Way,” message was a promise or a threat.
This week we will briefly compare the almost rabid mantra of the Arkansas GOP to cut taxes and the size of government in Arkansas with the recent history of Arkansas voters to NOT cut their own taxes and size of local government.
First, please know I hate taxes. Certainly think we need less of them. Especially the variety of tax we send to the great Rube Goldberg machine that is the federal government.
And so do Arkansas GOP leaders. They promise to take a hard look at reducing the individual income tax, of which about 49% of state revenue is derived. If there is a tax in place, you can bet Arkansas GOP leaders believe it should be reduced or eliminated. They also are noisy in their belief that many state programs are afflicted with various amounts of fraud, waste and abuse. While their passions are deep, their details are not.
We might also remember the wisdom of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., when he said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”
And there has been much civilizing in Arkansas cities during 2012.
To date, residents of 16 Arkansas cities have voted on 20 separate measures tied to extending, increasing or tying bond payments to a local sales tax, according to data from the Arkansas Municipal League.
Of those 20 questions, only three failed. Let’s repeat: Of 20 local elections in Arkansas to effectively continue or increase a local sales tax, 85% of those elections resulted in a continuance and/or increase.
And, no, those elections weren’t held in more liberal areas of the state.
In Springdale, voters recently approved three bond packages – tied to a portion of a 2% local sales tax that must now continue to pay the bonds – that totaled $71 million. Voter support for the three packages ranged from 62% to 76%, significant margins for what is a conservative part of the state.
In March, Fort Smith voters extended a sales tax to finance more than $112.56 million in new bonds and potentially direct $45 million in 10 years toward the operations of the city’s Fire Department and Parks Department. Voter support for the five questions ranged from 77.25% to 64%. As in Springdale, they were surprisingly high margins for a city known for sending conservative Republicans to Little Rock.
Leaders in the Arkansas GOP may want to keep in mind that Arkansas voters are quick to voice opposition to taxes, but often pony up to tax themselves when it makes sense.
I’m willing to give the GOP passion some benefit of the doubt with the hope their efforts result in a more equitable tax system and positive systemic improvements in the use of tax dollars.
However, these Republican leaders should know that if they begin to govern with talking points and clever campaigns issued from Washington D.C. consultants instead of Arkansas constituents, they might find themselves on the wrong side of the sometimes contradictory Arkansas voter.
Just ask Bill Clinton about the pushback in 1980 from our metaphorical valley voters.