guest commentary from Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith
Editor’s note: Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, has agreed to provide regular reports on actions and events of the 2013 General Assembly. FIles was elected to the Arkansas Senate in 2010 and was elected in 2012 to serve District 8, which comprises a large portion of Sebastian County. Files is the first GOP chairman of the Senate Revenue & Tax committee since Reconstruction. He also serves on the Transportation & Technology Committee, Joint Budget Committee, and Senate Efficiency. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of The City Wire.
• Senate Report: Week 2 review
While there is still a hint of sluggishness to the Session, it is beginning to pick up some momentum. Bills are being filed, committees agendas are filling up, and more activity around the halls all signify that there is much to do in the next 60-90 days.
During this time, there are several things going on behind the scenes. For example, committee chairman are trying to determine what legislation will be presented in their committees and how to best steer (and possibly guide) the policy discussions.
For instance, in the Revenue & Tax Committee, all of the tax cut (and tax increase) legislation will be presented and heard. There are many good ideas and some that don’t make a lot of sense from a sound policy perspective but are of particular interest to a legislator or group.
My job as the Revenue & Tax Committee chair is to try to help all of these get a fair and proper hearing while at the same time realizing that if we cut every tax that was promised on the campaign trail, the state treasury would be devastated. We certainly have obligations to our citizens ranging from providing a firstt grader, like my daughter, not just an education but hopefully a great foundation for life, to caring for our elderly, like my grandmother who lives in an assisted living facility.
We still have a ways to go before these bills get heard. There will be a certain, somewhat negotiated, amount dedicated to tax cuts from the surplus (revenue that is in excess of what is budgeted). That number will be determined more towards the end of the Session when we are able to determine what needs must be addressed (like the Medicaid Shortfall) with surplus money.
Speaking of the Medicaid Shortfall, there has been a great amount of discussion on the shortfall, the cause, and if expansion is the answer. Interesting to note that as early as June of 2012, it was reported that the shortfall was $400 million. As of last week, the shortfall is now reported to be about $50 million. The Legislature has yet to get a bead on what caused the dramatic drop in estimation, but whatever it is, it certainly has the potential to change the scope on what other things get done in relation to tax cuts.
As the legislative process only occurs every other year, it is extremely intense and tends to work itself to a fever pitch in a short time. The issues raised also tend to get interesting and divisive fairly quickly. Allow me to point to one such example. There is a constitutional amendment regarding tort reform. I am a co-sponsor on the measure (SJR2) and believe philosophically that some tort reform is needed to protect citizens and also support business, and sometimes that becomes a delicate balance. The Constitutional Amendment does not go far enough for some, though, and they have looked adamantly at ways to punish those that have supported this particular measure.
Again, we are two weeks into the Session and this issue is far from over.
I go back to the point that this issue and many others are about building consensus, taking steps that can be adequately taken, and probably not getting everything you want. That sounds like I am talking to my 3 year old ... be nice to everyone in your class, do what you can do when you are supposed to do it, and you have to share your toys with your friends when they come over.
The concept is the same.
Sometimes I am going to support an idea that may not be as strong as an idea I think needs to be implemented or doesn’t go as far as I think it should. Please realize that some of this is simply all that is going to pass the Legislative process and be able to become law.
I get emails and calls from people on all sides of every issue. We all have issues that are near and dear to our hearts. I pledge to each of you that I am doing my best to represent our Region and help pass legislation that reflects our character and provides a solid foundation for our future.
We have many miles to go, but I think we are well on our way. This week will be a busy one, and I look forward to reporting back to you progress.