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.
• The Senate Report: Week 6 review
Red carpet. Celebrities. Lots of hoopla.
That may be fine for the Oscars, but it is not a typical day in the life of a part-time legislator involved in a full-time Session with a full-time job and a family.
Last week did bring Head Hog football Coach Bret Bielema to the Capitol for a formal introduction, but after that, it is about getting down to business and trying to get things done. Here is a normal day, if you want to call it that.
Get up early to head to Little Rock. On the way, I will make between 10 and 20 calls to help navigate bills that are being carried. Some of them are ideas that I have had over the past couple of years to fix problems that are out there. Some of them are agency bills (Department of Finance for example) that are making technical changes in the law to coordinate with federal law.
Some of them are laws that constituents ask to be changed allowing them to operate more efficiently or effectively. Regardless of the subject matter, they require a lot of time to ask fellow members to vote for them or explain exactly what they do.
9 a.m. – Joint Budget Committee
We are hearing several budget bills and appropriation requests. Appropriation requests simply allow for money to be spent on a given project. It does not fund the project, just enables it to receive funding. There will be a lot of funding requests, and obviously, they cannot all be funded.
This is the beauty and curse of Revenue Stabilization ... we are able to fund the highest priority projects and directives, but we spend all the money we receive doing it. In this era of term limits, we have empowered agency directors because many of them know far more about the budgeting process than those on the committee actually approving their budgets. Doesn’t seem right, but that is how it is in actuality.
10 a.m. – Revenue & Tax Committee
We will hear several bills this morning on technical issues, but we have yet to dive into the real meat which deals with tax cuts. Not a lot will happen this morning on the committee as we are probably 2-3 weeks out from beginning to hear some of the bills that will “cost” the state tax revenue. I use the word “cost” because you will hear people say that we can’t afford to cut taxes. I tend to disagree.
Members of this Legislature have filed over $2 billion in tax cuts this session. Of course, we can’t afford all that, but we simply must identify tax cuts that reward people for investing capital in the state.
We must find ways to stay competitive with other states in retaining existing business and encouraging the creation of new ones. Some of that will result in new tax policies in terms of reductions or changes to current law.
Is there a way to cut taxes without taking money from existing schools, higher education, and support services? If there is a way to do that and not use one-time money (surplus from previous legislative sessions), I think it is worth exploring. At the very least, we should have the discussion ... and I think we will.
We get out of committee about 10:45 a.m., and there is a group of students from Immaculate Conception, where my children love to attend school, coming to the Capitol today that I want to visit with and take in the Senate Chamber. I get stopped by about four lobbyists on the way who are looking for me to sponsor a bill or help get one defeated. It’s just a small part of the fun.
The IC 6th grade class and their parents are there for the morning and have taken the Capitol tour. This is a personal group for me as I know many parents and the teachers, and we talk for a few minutes, get a few pictures taken, and then I head back to my office while they head to lunch.
For about an hour, I am able to prepare for the rest of my day by studying up on two bills I will be presenting in committees and then try to look at the Senate calendar for bills the full Senate will consider. There is not enough time for this as I am also responding to emails (I get probably 200+ per day) and texts.
At noon, I head to a different building on the grounds and am able to present Senate Bill 227 for a constituent to help them with a storage problem. It passes out of committee, and I get stopped talking to a couple of House members about their tax cut ideas.
We have a Joint Energy committee where I am on the calendar with Rep. Terry Rice to present House Bill 1386 to promote jobs in Arkansas and Energy Conservation. It is a bill that will benefit manufacturers across the state and gets a do pass recommendation as well.
I have to hurry back to my office and grab a sandwich at the food vendor on the 3rd floor of the Capitol and head to my office before going into Session soon.
We start the Session and have some great debate on the Senate floor. Today, I have 12 students from Trinity Junior High here to page for me and the Senate. What a great day for them to be here! They see democracy first hand with a spirited debate on the proposed Voter ID Law, which passes, among other bills on the calendar. These students are prepared and knowledgeable about the process. It is encouraging to see their enthusiasm and vigor! What a smart group of students.
We finish about 3:30 p.m., and many of these days go by with additional constituent meetings and lobbyists about a full range of topics.
On this day, I head home to be with my family and feel truly blessed to be a part of the Legislative process. Some people call it crazy, but I signed up for this gig!
On the way home, I will deal with many items and try to get business done for my regular job all at the same time.
We should be finished with the Session around the first of April, and I sincerely hope we look back and say we made a difference. I can tell you it won’t be because we didn’t try.
I am not complaining, but if it sounds like a tiring day, it is, and it all starts over tomorrow ... but I wouldn’t trade it.