Major legislative issues loom

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 jakefiles@me.com

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 10 review
The only people wanting the Legislature to drag on are those counting on the per diem checks for their livelihood. For the rest of us, it is about time to get back to the real world ... and soon.

We have just finished 10 weeks of the 89th General Assembly, and we are most likely within 3 weeks or so of completing our work. We have some major issues within our grasp.

Let’s start with Health Care Reform.

We went into this Session talking about Medicaid and this will continue to dominate our discussions.

I believe this week you will see a bill from the Senate that allows for health care expansion that will not be Medicaid related. The significance of this bill is monumental for many Arkansans and hopefully will signal some true bi-partisan resolve, but it also will allow Arkansas to be a leader in the nation on this issue. We have been granted flexibility that no other state has gotten, and there will be many who look at our model and follow its path. Good for us.

This simply would not have happened without steadfast leadership from both Chambers and willingness from Gov. Mike Beebe to take steps in this uncharted direction.

There will be those on both extremes who say this doesn’t go far enough or we should never go this direction. I surmise that 80% of Arkansans will agree with our course and support our decisions. Real progress includes real compromise.

Next, we will deal with Amendment 82 and Big River Steel.

We have a joint meeting on Monday (March 25) to again vet and inquire of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission and investors on this Super Project.

Some interesting things have happened since we last discussed this job creator. Let’s recap.

The Governor and AEDC brought before the Legislature a $1.1 billion (yes, with a “B”) project that would propose to create 500+ jobs that paid over $75,000 in Osceola. A new steel mill. Who could say no to that, right?

The Legislature was (and is) charged with approving the bond issue on the state’s investment/seed money to get this Super Project in Arkansas. We embarked on our own due diligence which came back to us on Friday in the form of a not-so-glowing report. Seems now we have a more complex decision, as if the initial decision was not complex.

At what point is investing taxpayer dollars into this venture, or any venture for that matter, a good deal? Does the opportunity cost of following this train leave us short-changed for the next deal, or will there be another one?

Risk is inherent in any new venture, that is agreed by all parties. Is this the time to make the leap? What happens to the other companies in the state who deal in this commodity and what is the repercussion to them? This week will be telling as to the answers for these questions and more.

Finally, we should round out the “package” of tax cuts to be undertaken this Session. The last couple of weeks have been spent by some of us working with the Governor and other leaders on working out what will be pushed forward and passed in terms of cuts and where they will come from. There are a finite number of dollars in our budget and in the surplus (state revenue growth) that can be cut without negatively affecting K-12 Education and Higher Education as well. I am very cognizant of these facts and have been inundated by people emailing me to that end.

Make no mistake, tax policy is something that takes careful planning and assurances and needs to be done with a scalpel and not with a machete.

We are still targeting some major tax cuts this Session that don’t compromise base budgets, don’t negatively impact higher education, and don’t come from one-time money.

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Look for more details this week on what taxes will be cut and by what amounts.
I can promise you that there are not many, if any, states in the Union that are talking about balanced budgets and still cutting $100 million in taxes. Good for all of us.

There are a million other things going on behind the scenes that make the days long and the issues complex. That is certainly part of it. The busy times also make for difficult committee meetings with lots of issues yet to be completed. I don’t look for things to lighten up between now and the end.

I’m personally looking forward to getting back to normal – if there is such a thing.

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