Leader Blues

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

EDITORIAL >> Not helpful on education

Asa Hutchinson, the free-wheeling Republican candidate for governor, exercises a decided advantage over Attorney General Mike Beebe at this stage because he is not obliged to represent the governor and the legislature before the state Supreme Court in the constitutional public school case.

Anything that Beebe might say outside the courtroom on what he thinks about school spending and taxes could jeopardize his clients. Hutchinson, who is unencumbered by any obligation to protect the interest of clients, can say what he pleases and he has done that. When the Supreme Court masters criticized the legislatureís failure to provide a cost-of-living increase in the schoolsí base operating aid this year, Hutchinson played to the peanut gallery by saying that the solution to inadequate schools was not to throw more money at them. It is a tired old bromide but it gets applause every time.

But for the public school forces that were apt to read the small type, he subsequently said the legislature should have thrown more money at the schools by appropriating a full cost-of-living increase for them. It is a rare politician who canít have it both ways.

But if Hutchinson is unobligated by clients in the school case, he ought at least to be tethered to the truth. He stretched that beyond the limits. In a speech to the Pulaski County Bar Association, Hutchinson said he opposed a tax increase to help schools meet constitutional muster (no one expects the Supreme Court to order a tax increase). Rather, if he is elected governor, he said, he would ask the legislature to develop a more competitive tax structure. He declined to say what that would be or if he would propose a tax cut.
But he implied that he would.

Arkansas should follow the example of New Mexico, which cut income taxes by 3 percentage points over five years, Hutchinson said. He said those tax cuts generated economic growth of a whopping $216 million this year.

Well, not exactly. He canít prove that the tax cuts produced a dime of economic growth and neither can the state of New Mexico.
But if it were true, $216 million in economic growth in a state the size of New Mexico would be hardly worth mentioning.

Now, what is known is that New Mexicoís general revenues for the current fiscal year are to produce a net increase of $216 million. But so what? Arkansas, which did not cut its taxes the same year, produced greater general revenue growth than that. New Mexico is in the booming Southwest and it has a greater gross domestic product per person than Arkansas, although that state, like Arkansas, has lots of poor people and its schools are very, very poor.

So, if Arkansas needs to emulate New Mexico, it is not in the tax-cutting business. The governor who propounded that small tax cut, Bill Richardson, has been in North Korea this week trying to do what the Bush administration failed miserably to do, persuade the tyrant who runs the country to quit making nuclear bombs.

Hutchinson would help us Arkansans more if he took the next plane and joined Gov. Richardson in that campaign and left taxes and economic stimulus to those with a better feel for it.