Sunday, July 6, 2008

Slicing Up that State Surplus

The state announced last week that it now has an accumulated surplus totaling $259.5 million. Good. Now here are some suggestions for sharing and for making sure that we get our share up here in Northwest Arkansas. If you agree, then contact your state senator and representative, and ask them to get it done.

First things first. Let's repeal the remaining three percent tax on groceries. It helps everyone, especially working families and seniors on fixed incomes who know full well that cost of living adjustments are not covering the increased cost of living. That's about $122.5 million a year or just under half the annual surplus from revenue growth and interest on fund balances. Governor Beebe and our local legislators lopped off half the tax in 2007, and now they can finish the job. The progressive city of Fayetteville still collects its full sales tax on basic groceries, but the state should do the right thing.

Next, let's use part of the remaining accumulated surplus to renovate the former Washington Regional Medical Center site on North College to accommodate the Northwest satellite campus of the University of Arkansas School for Medical Sciences. There is a critical need for training more physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and medical technicians to serve our state, and the area hospitals will be excellent hosts for residencies. That this will contribute to economic development in our city is only secondary but not unimportant.

I'd guess that our local Democratic legislators -- State Senator Sue Madison and State Representatives Jim House, Lindsley Smith, and Uvalde Lindsey -- would be inclined to consider both suggestions. The Republican legislators from this area might be a harder sell. Representative Jon Woods (Springdale) will want to spend money chasing Mexicans, and who knows what to expect from the new crop in Benton County. Their House Republican Leader, Bryan King from Carroll County, said the surplus means we should reduce the state property taxes, as if there were any to reduce. Such nonsense is not a plan, but I'm sure he believes whatever he says. I like my plan better.

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