Leader Blues

Monday, February 19, 2007

EDITORIALS>>Beebe: good on promise

Starting July 1, you will pay a few pennies less in the grocery checkout line. The state tax will drop from 6 cents on a dollar to 3 cents. You have Gov. Mike Beebe to thank for that because he rendered it inevitable when he made it his first and unequivocal campaign promise last year. Tip your hat, too, to every single member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, who voted for the tax cut in the end.

Beebe signed the act Thursday with the appropriate ceremonial flourish. It is the largest tax cut, in dollar terms, in the state’s history and the first in a package of tax cuts that will surpass $200 million, maybe much more, before the legislature adjourns.

When nearly everyone’s taxes are cut, even if ever so slightly, it is an occasion to share the credit. Gov. Beebe was generous. Sen. Bobby Glover of Carlisle shepherded the bill through the tender shoals of the Senate. Beebe invited former Sen. Bud Canada of Hot Springs to the ceremony. Canada, the old Razorback linebacker, had introduced a bill to eliminate grocery taxes altogether in every session for as far back as memory runs until he was term-limited out of office. His refrain always was that the legislature had fixed the law so that chickens and hogs got their food tax-free but lawmakers wouldn’t do the same for children. The state just never could afford the revenue loss.

The former governor, Mike Huckabee, was not there but he had a news conference the day before to promote his presidential campaign and took most of the credit for the tax cut. He said he had created the climate for the tax cut by talking about lower taxes last year. Reporters asked Beebe about Huckabee’s remarks and the new governor, following his style, refused to be drawn into a rebuke of his predecessor. But Canada was not so circumspect. He served with Huckabee, he said, and the governor never lifted a finger to help pass his bills. In fact, Huckabee had talked favorably about eliminating the tax when he was running for lieutenant governor but once he was in the governor’s office the big retailers told him that they opposed repeal of the tax. The sales tax is a major profit center for big retailers because they keep a percentage of the tax receipts every month. Huckabee dropped the idea and never supported a repeal bill.

When taxes are the issue, it is never too hard to identify a politician’s real constituency, the people or a private interest.