Leader Blues

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

EDITORIAL >> Washington owes us one

Some time this year, Arkansas will spend the last of some $2.5 billion that Washington sent our way to save and create jobs and continue the state’s meager services through this deep and lingering recession. People can judge for themselves whether the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act succeeded or was worth the accumulated national debt, which will amount to some $780 billion.

Just about every Republican officeholder and disciples of the Teabagger movement say that it has been a monumental waste.

A Republican state representative from Rogers last year tried to get the legislature to go on record repudiating Arkansas’ share of the stimulus, although she acknowledged that if everyone else was taking the money, maybe it would not be wise of us to send it back since the state did have a few needs it couldn’t meet.

Most Arkansans now have seen some immediate benefit — if nothing else, the huge project to remove the big bottleneck on Interstate 430 and the bridges and road improvements across the state. The people who were hired to do that work will think it worthwhile. But the best aspects are not so tangible, or at least not so visible: the school staffs and education programs that were not cut back, the policemen and firemen who were not furloughed, the public-health services that were not curtailed.

Without the stimulus, the pain for everyone would be less endurable. We are sure of that.

But what bothers us most about the naysaying is the complaint that the federal government should not be investing the borrowed money of the republic helping state and local governments, which are empowered to meet their own needs, and especially states like Arkansas that have not suffered the massive unemployment and budget cuts of the industrial and Sun Belt states.

Here is why they are wrong. The federal government owes us one. You may remember that the giant tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy in 2001 and 2003 had some punishing details for states like Arkansas. The tax act of 2001 phased out the federal tax on rich estates, which added hundreds of billions of dollars to the national debt, but a little-observed section of the act confiscated for the federal treasury the estate taxes levied by most states, including Arkansas. Grabbing the states’ taxes would make the federal budget deficit under President Bush look smaller. To hell with the states. Every Republican in both houses of Congress voted for it.

Arkansas had collected a tax on rich estates since 1909 and by 2003, when Washington began to confiscate the revenues, the estate tax was producing $62 million for Arkansas schools, colleges and health programs. Some years it produced more. In 1996, it generated $117 million.

All of that money has vanished, thanks to Bush and his party, and that is one reason that Gov. Beebe now is having to slash budgets and services. Now that we think about it, all the state’s fiscal travails are traceable to congressional action in that era.

Yes, they owe us one.