Leader Blues

Friday, January 09, 2009

TOP STORY > >Last term for Glover, Capps

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

While area state representatives will all be greenhorns when the 87th General Assembly is sworn in Monday, the area’s two state senators are seasoned veterans, both in the final two years of their last six-year terms.

State Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, pretty much recovered from the stroke that hospitalized him last summer, already has pre-filed three bills and has a fourth about ready.

Two years ago, he successfully managed the 3-cent grocery tax cut in the senate for his friend, Gov. Mike Beebe, and he said early this week that Beebe had asked him to manage the cut of another penny off the remaining 2.875 cents.

This session Glover will chair the legislative Joint Auditing Committee and is vice chairman of the Senate Revenue and Taxation Com-mittee.

Capps, D-Searcy, will chair the senate Transportation, Technology and Legislative Affairs Committee.

He served 34 years as a state representative until being elected to the Senate in 2003.

Except for money that comes available through the federal infrastructure stimulus package, “It looks like we’re not going to have a (state) highway program,” Capps said. “There’s no support for raising any kind of money for it. The dearth of the Federal Highway Administration funding that had long supported the state’s highway program could be slightly softened by the passage of the state natural gas severance tax increase negotiated by the governor’s office last year.

“We’re looking over our shoulder to see what the economy is going to do before we can do anything,” Capps said.

He said education, human services and prisons could get the first bite at what money is available, he said.

“We’re lucky enough to have a balanced budget act that keeps us from being in trouble.”

Capps, like other legislators, says getting the details right in establishing the new state lottery approved by voters in November, would be a top priority — both its governance and the way in which the proceeds could be used to fund scholarships.

“I hope we stiffen the animal-cruelty laws,” said Capps. This year proponents, including the governor, believe they have worked out language acceptable to the Arkansas Farm Bureau, which has successfully helped foil efforts in the past.

The trick seems to be striking a balance that does not make criminals of livestock producers following time-honored practices, but which makes animal cruelty a felony on even the first offense.

“It has quite a bit of momentum right now,” Capps said.

Capps admits to some concerns over a bill Glover is working on that would give cities, towns and counties permitting authority over dumps for the sometimes toxic sludge that is an undesirable byproduct to the lucrative Fayetteville Shale natural gas drilling. The drilling has become a cash cow in White County, which Capps represents, and which kicks severance taxes back to the state. Nonetheless, he says, “We need to watch our environment.”

Constituents in Capps district get the economic benefit of gas leases and royalties to some landowners, new jobs and business. Constituents in Glover’s district seem to be getting chemically-laced sludge, greatly increased truck traffic and roads thus in need of repair, as well as potentially polluted slews, creeks and streams.

Among the things Capps is proud of having done in the state Senate is his bill to streamline the purchasing of automobile licenses. “Gov. Huckabee seemed to want the credit for it,” he said, “but I passed it.”

“I’m proud of what we’ve done in education. Our hands were spanked (by the federal courts) and we were forced to do it but we’ve made great strides.”

“We’ve tried to make the taxing system a little more equitable,” he said. “I still think the sales tax is a regressive tax. We need to redo the taxing structure if we can ever catch our breath.”

In addition to the bill that would give local governments say in permitting natural gas sludge disposal dumps, yet to be filed,
Glover has pre-filed bills that would do away with the tax on mini-warehouse and mini-storage businesses if the state has a $4 million surplus in its general fund.

A second pre-filed bill would change the terms for countywide officials such as county judges, sheriffs and clerks from the current two-year terms to four-year terms.

His last bill would put a constitutional amendment before voters in November 2010. It would repeal the constitutional amendment they passed last November requiring annual sessions of the general assembly, requiring instead the general assembly to meet biennially as it has in the past.

Glover said the legislature needs to replenish the governor’s discretionary fund to help lure new and expanding industry to the state. Last session, the governor’s fund totaled $50 million.

“We want to do all we can to enhance industry for our state,” Glover said. “I’ve seen more new jobs during the time he’s been in office than in any other time.”

“We provided discretionary funds and he brought thousands and thousands of jobs and I’ve not heard one legislator critical of the way he’s used those funds.”

“We’re going to have to tighten our belts,” Glover said.

He said the Department of Higher Education, the Depart-ment of Education, the prisons and human services including Medicaid are going to place higher and higher demands on the state’s resources.