Leader Blues

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

TOP STORY >> Legislators see tax cut on groceries

By JOHN HOFHEIMER
Leader senior staff writer

Signs are favorable for removing another penny from the state’s tax on groceries, one of Gov. Mike Beebe’s campaign promises, state Sen. Bobby Glover, D-Carlisle, said this week.

Glover’s bill passed the Senate 34-1 and is currently in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, where prospects are good, according to state Rep. Walls McCrary, D-Lonoke. Glover has asked McCrary to manage that bill in the House.

The 86th General Assembly removed three cents of the six-cent grocery tax two years ago, fulfilling the first half of the governor’s promise.

But with the economy uncertain, Beebe has dialed back his target this year to cutting out another penny.

With revenue collections and projections in, McCrary said Tuesday that he expected the bill to get out of committee as early as late next week and to pass the House with an overwhelming majority.

McCrary said the bill already has 70 co-sponsors and needs only 51 votes to pass the House and become law with Beebe’s signature.

“Removing another penny from the grocery tax appears to be fiscally feasible according to the latest revenue collections and projections,” McCrary said.

Glover said he didn’t anticipate any problems.

Glover and McCrary also worked together to pass another piece of Beebe’s agenda two weeks ago.

They extended the authority of a highway bill through 2015 to issue grant anticipation revenue bonds totaling as much as $575 million to keep the state highway system in repair, Glover said.

Both houses passed a resolution to adjourn April 10 unless unexpected business or complications arise.

Glover said legislators are doing everything they can to keep operation of the lottery “above board, run right and to make sure every dime (above operating costs and payout) is left for scholarships.”

Glover also is sponsor of a bill to give towns, cities and counties some say in the licensing of gas drilling waste-disposal sites.

“I met with groups today representing that industry. We agreed on a bill that allows county judges to charge $5 a load over county roads,” he said. That money would be used to help offset additional wear on the roads.

“We’re still hoping to get some regulations, but we don’t want to kill the goose that laid the golden egg” the senator added.

Still, he said, “We think the citizens should be protected.”

Glover, a member of the Senate State Agencies Commit-tee, voted against the proposed Equal Rights Amendment on Tuesday.

The vote was 4-4, which killed the amendment.

“My phone calls are from women opposed,” Glover said, “and preachers opposed.”

He said there was no evidence that women were discriminated against in Arkansas.

He said the effort to switch from Electoral College voting to the popular vote wouldn’t have enough votes to get out of committee.

State Rep. Davy Carter, R-Cabot, said that was good, because the needs of a small state like Arkansas could easily get lost otherwise.

Carter, a first-year lawmaker, said, “Some things passed that I don’t care for, but in a democracy you move on.”

Carter said he would pull down his bill that would require random drug testing for those receiving benefits through the department of Human Services.

He said his bill is misunderstood, that he didn’t want to punish those with drug problems, but to identify and work with them. It would never have affected delivery of services to recipients, and especially not to their children.

He said he’d like to see continued funding of the drug court program.

“You can’t keep throwing people behind bars,” he said. “It’s a drag on society. People have to be productive.”

Carter has sponsored three bills that will be considered in the Revenue and Taxation Committee after more is known about the state’s finances.

One would increase the standard deduction from $2,000 to $2,500.

Another would encourage charitable donations by allowing $1.25 credit for each $1 donated and the last bill would exempt some funeral-related items, like caskets, from state sales tax.