Updated – 4/9/2018. Added language shown in green.
The legislative task force looking at Arkansas taxes proposed a list of forty-three possible areas to raise Arkansas taxes. High on their list is increasing the tax on groceries.
The excuse for looking at raising grocery taxes is that the reduced rate on groceries is considered to be a “tax exemption.” We have a better name for the reduced rate on groceries – common sense. Conduit For Action thinks the tax on groceries should be reduced to zero as in many states.
NEWSPAPER: Who is to blame?
The Arkansas Democrat Gazette spent considerable newsprint on the question of: Who is to blame for the tax increase recommendations?
Jan Morgan who is running for governor in the Republican primary blamed her opponent, Governor Asa Hutchinson, for the focus of the task force.
“Look at the governor’s tax reform commission,” Morgan said in a recent interview.
“It is not there to reform the tax burden. It is not there is find ways to lighten the tax burden on people. Look at what they have done. There are looking for more ways to squeeze blood out of the turnip,” she said.[i]
But Jamie Barker (an employee of the Governor) and Senator Jim Hendren (Asa’s nephew) said Morgan is wrong. Barker and Hendren used identical talking points. They said (A) the Tax Reform and Relief Task Force is a creation of the Legislature, and (B) the Governor has no appointments on the task force.
Who is right? The newspaper article sort of left it as a “she said – he said” deal. But it doesn’t have to be a “she said – he said” deal because the newspaper article left out important information about the task force.
Barker and Hendren are correct in saying the Governor has no appointments to the legislative task force.
They are technically correct in saying it is a legislative creation but they omit essential details showing Asa is the driving force behind the task force and its work.
- Governor Hutchinson is the one who proposed the legislative task force.
- Governor Hutchinson announced what the scope of the task force would be.
- Governor Hutchinson announced HIS plan for the task force on January 10, 2017 and POOF his nephew filed the multi-page bill the next day (January 11, 2017).[ii] Representative Mathew Pitsch also filed an identical bill in the House on January 11, 2017. Plus, the two identical bills had in them Asa’s legislation to modify the low income tax rate. If the task force legislation was not Asa’s legislation, it would not have been included in Asa’s low income income tax plan!
- It is almost certain the Hutchinson administration wrote the task force legislation – to guide the study and to control who would be on the task force. Just as Asa did on another LEGISLATIVE task force (Health Reform Legislative Task Force) two years earlier. The Health Reform Task Force was also supposed to be seen as a LEGISLATIVE CREATION, but as we will explain later in this article, a goof up by the Hutchinson administration showed the legislation was actually written by the Hutchinson Administration.
- There would have been no need to create a legislative task force, if Asa hadn’t been trying to CONTROL WHO would be involved in the tax study and advance his agenda. Tax issues are already assigned by the legislature to the House and Senate Committees on Revenue and Tax. These committees normally meet together between legislative sessions and their combined membership is larger than the membership of the task force.
- Despite bad tax ideas for taxpayers coming out of the task force, Asa has failed to criticize the task force.
Asa has a primary election. Voters in the Republican primary don’t tend to like taxes. So, in his campaign, Asa is taking credit for tax cuts while remaining silent on the tax increases he got passed or tried to pass. Meanwhile, Asa’s employee and Asa’s nephew want you to think Asa has nothing to do with the tax task force and the possibility of the grocery tax being increased. Politically, Asa’s strategy of avoiding blame for the task force is good … as long as you are a person who doesn’t mind misleading the public.
The newspaper article talked about whether Governor Hutchinson is to blame for the task force recommendations, but the issue is much larger than who gets the blame during a political primary.
If you don’t want to give the government more of your money when you buy groceries, you need to tell your legislator NOW. We are not just talking about complaining to the handpicked members of the tax task force – EVERY LEGISLATOR NEEDS TO KNOW YOU DON’T WANT YOUR GROCERY TAXES INCREASED.
A little more detail
We wanted to give some more detail and add additional comments on some of the points we made, but since it would have detracted from the flow of the article, we have reserved them to here.
#1. The taskforce was proposed by Asa and its guidelines were set by Asa. It is undeniable that Asa came up with the idea for creating a legislative task force and set the guidelines on its study. Asa wanted credit and publicly announced HIS plan. His proposal to create a legislative task force was in part an effort to placate some Republican legislators who wanted to propose more income tax cuts in 2017[iii] and his proposal furthered his goal of supporting his idea to shift state taxes among taxpayers while taking credit for lowering taxes of the winners.
Here is part of his announcement.
The goals of the legislative task force will be “fairness, competition, simplification and economic growth,” Hutchinson said.
“We need to have a plan to reduce the tax rate over time to a more competitive level. Let’s create that task force, and I ask [for] your support,” he said in his 17-minute speech.[iv]
By the way, taxpayers should take note that Asa didn’t include THE ONE THING Arkansas taxpayers want – a lower overall tax burden. The legislation creating the task force doesn’t include it either – surprise. Instead the legislation sticks to Asa’s script. This omission is significant because Arkansas’ #1 tax problem is that it is a high tax state and borders states with lower tax burdens.
#2. Since it is Asa’s idea, it is extremely likely his administration wrote the legislation to guide the study and to control who would be on the task force.
First, Asa’s announcement of HIS plan was followed quickly by the filing of his nephew’s multi-page bill the following day.
More importantly, this would not be the first time Asa used the charade of a legislative task force being a “legislative creation” not his. Asa did exactly that in 2015 on a previous legislative task force (the Health Reform Legislative Task Force). We only know the Health Reform Legislative Task Force, was Asa’s creation because of a mistake made by the Hutchinson administration.
John Selig, who at the time was Hutchinson’s Director of the Department of Human Services failed to remove his name and the name of a DHS employee from the draft bill sent to Senator Jim Hendren. Senator Hendren claimed the bill as his but the Word document he sent to legislators included the author names and the date and time when they edited the document.
NOTE: Senator Hendren has been uncle Asa’s #1 tool in fronting Asa’s agenda. In return, Asa helped transfer Jim from the Missouri Air Guard to the Arkansas Air Guard. Wonder why Asa swore in his colonel nephew without the press being present? Let’s watch and see if Hendren also gets promoted to general after the elections. Of course, they will claim Asa has nothing to do with it and it is purely the decision of the Adjutant General, ASA’S APPOINTEE. (Oh, by the way, with the transfer to the Arkansas Guard, Senator Hendren now ultimately reports to his uncle.)
#3. If the Governor hadn’t been trying to CONTROL WHO would be involved in the tax study, there would not have been any reason to create a task force. The subject matter is already covered by existing legislative committees and the committees have broader representation than the task force. The issues should have been assigned to the House and Senate Committees on Revenue and Taxation. Between legislative sessions the House and Senate committees normally meet jointly and have a combined membership larger than the task force.
Do you really think it was just a coincidence that the membership of the tax force is primarily made up of legislators who supported Governor Hutchinson by voting YES on several bills to RAISE taxes. (See Tax Task Force – The deck is stacked against taxpayers)
#4. Asa has not criticized the task force for looking for places like groceries to get tax money from you. This speaks volumes! The silent governor. Silent on increasing the taxes on your groceries. Yet, this is no surprise from candidate Asa who talks big about tax cuts while remaining silent on tax increases he has proposed.
The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article raises the question of who is responsible for the direction of the tax task force and its consideration of raising the tax on your groceries. Ultimately, the task force is Asa’s baby and is run under the watchful eye of the task force sponsor and chair – Asa’s Colonel Nephew, Senator Jim Hendren.
There is a much bigger question than whether Asa is to blame for the focus of the task force. The question is: Are you going to stay silent while the task force looks at increasing the tax you pay on groceries.