Taxing Times in the Senate and in Arkansas

Thursday, May 31, 2001

I was a little late starting this column because I had two things to do first. Number one I sent a letter to the Pope nominating Jim Jeffords for sainthood. I also sent a sympathy note to Trent Loft. One of the best things about the sift of power in the Senate is that we won't have to see Loft, the Brylcream Junkie, on TV as much. I swear, you couldn't mess up his hair if you slapped him in the head with a 2x4.

I'd like to go on with this, but each time I think about it, I start giggling uncontrollably and can't write.

Let's turn to something local and far more important to us. In case you haven't heard, a judge in Little Rock has ruled that our system of funding schools is unconstitutional. He further ruled that we don't spend enough per pupil. The estimated cost of fixing the problem runs from $450 million to $900 million.

Knowing our legislature, their remedy will be to raise the sales tax. With local and county sales taxes included, we could pay as much as 15% in some places. In addition, you can expect the millage to go up.

There are a couple of remedies available that could lessen the burden on taxpayers. I've mentioned them before so they shouldn't be a surprise.

First, let's consolidate our schools by county. That would cut the number of districts from 310 to 75. Each school in the county would remain independent of the others. Marked Tree and EPC could continue their God given right to hate each other.

What would be different is that there would only be one superintendent in Poinsett County instead of five. Instead of paying five men at least $50,000 a year we could pay on man $100,000. That would immediately free up $200,000 in this county to put toward the funding formula, without raising taxes.

The second change would be to change our constitution to charge everyone now exempt from the sales tax and make them pay 1%. We lose millions each year in exemptions. I know that this would be politically dangerous, which means it probably won't happen.

The idea behind this would spread the pain of paying for the schools to all of us. Even with that, the legislature would still raise the sales tax. This would mean that they wouldn't have to raise it as high as they would if the exemptions stay in place.

While I know that those getting exemptions will plead that they can't do without them, if they are only paying one penny on every dollar spent while the rest of us pay 15, they're sill getting a heck of a deal.

The plain facts are these. The better our schools are, the better off we all are, and we should all be willing to share in the sacrifice to get the job done.

Another fact is that, like it or not, we're all going to have to reach a little deeper in our pockets because of this ruling. These ideas, like them or not, will lessen the impact on us.

Here's something to end on a cheerful note. Minority Leader Trent Loft. Gotta love it.

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