Republicans became the majority party in the Arkansas House of Representatives in 2013 and increased their majority in 2015 and 2017. By 2017, only 24 of the 100 members of the Arkansas House were Democrats.
Fiscal conservatives thought the new Republican majority would fulfill long-standing promises to limit the size of Arkansas government and reduce the overall tax burden. Instead, Republican politicians fought among themselves, and the “functional majority” became a coalition of all Democrats and the tax-and-spend wing of the Republican Party.
The Democrats continue to be the cornerstone for bigger Arkansas state government and keeping taxes high. Here are three examples of how Democrats made the difference to grow government and keep taxes high:
- Arkansas Works: In 2016 the legislature passed “Arkansas Works” which is Obamacare Medicaid Expansion. Under the program Arkansas has to contribute more and more money as its match for the federal program. Act 1 (HB1001) of the 2nd Extraordinary Session, 2016 passed by a margin of 70 “FOR” and 30 “AGAINST.” Despite Governor Asa Hutchinson wanting to keep the Obamacare program, Republicans were nearly evenly divided on the issue – 36 “FOR” and 30 “Against.” The expensive program passed because all 34 Democrats voted “FOR.”
- Tire tax and new government regulation: Act 317 (HB1267) of 2017 imposed new taxes on mounting new and used tires and created a new bureaucracy monitoring tires from cradle to grave. The bill passed with just 56 votes. Republicans were divided on the bill despite it being pushed by the Hutchinson administration. The 18 Democrats who voted for the tax and spend bill made the difference.
- Special election reform defeated: Cities and counties use special elections to pass more and more taxes. They know voter turnout will be low in a special election which means they will have a better chance of passing the tax. SB723 of 2017 sought to limit this big government practice. The bill passed the Senate and initially passed the House of Representatives until Representative James Sturch walked out and his vote didn’t count. Fifty Representatives voted for the bill and it came up one vote short. Democrats made the difference in preventing it from passing because not one of the 24 Democrats voted for the bill.
If you are a conservative, you are probably disgusted with state government looking like it did under Democrats. But, the November election is not the time to stay away from the polls or to cast a protest vote for a Democrat candidate for the legislature. Letting Democrats win legislative seats gives you no chance of ever seeing fiscal reform.
There is still some reason to hope Republicans will return to their promises. The principles of smaller government and lower taxes were removed from the platform of the Republican Party of Arkansas in 2016. But, recently Republicans restored these principles to the platform. Let’s hope with this shift, Republican legislators will return to the principles and start bringing the reforms we had hoped for in 2013, 2015, and 2017.
They need YOU to remind them of those principles.