32 Days to Election Day: Arkansas

There will be little drama coming out of Arkansas this year. Mitt Romney will capture their six electoral votes in easy fashion. There is no Governor or Senate race at the state level. There are the four House races. The current delegation is 3-1 Republican. However, the lone Democrat- Mike Ross in the 4th District- is retiring thus leaving this an open race. All Republican incumbents elsewhere are expected to win easily with Steve Womack running unopposed in the Third District.

That leaves only the open Fourth of interest. Ross represented a Republican district and was considered part of the Democratic Blue Dog coalition- fiscally conservative and socially moderate. His retirement is likely in anticipation of a 2014 gubernatorial run as he has expressed some interest in state, not national politics. On the Republican side, Thomas Cotton will be the candidate. His massive war chest allowed him to bombard the sprawling 4th District- it covers practically the entire southern half of the state- with television ads during the primary. Along the way, Cotton received the endorsement from a host of conservative groups including the Club for Growth as well as luminaries like John McCain. He also overcame a challenge from former beauty queen and RNC operative Beth Ann Rankin who received support from Mike Huckabee. His Democratic opponent, Gene Jeffrees, promises to continue the conservative legacy of Mike Ross if elected. A pro-life Democrat, he also supports gun rights and questions the negative effect Obamacare will have on Arkansas. In effect, he is fighting an uphill battle and should lose in November.

The only other congressional race of interest occurred in the Democratic primary in the 1st District where Scott Ellinton defeated the heavily favored state legislator Clark Hall in a runoff only to most likely lose to to GOP incumbent Rick Crawford. If anyone thought Crawford was somewhat vulnerable, especially against Hall, those thoughts are now dismissed.

There are four questions on the ballot this November in Arkansas. The first would allow local municipalities to create special economic districts and then issue bonds for retail projects within those districts. In theory, there is nothing wrong with public-private partnerships to bring in businesses and jobs. This can be achieved through these special economic districts or special improvement districts or districts that allow businesses to collect half the normal sales tax amount. However, what we see all too often is that everybody is gung-ho for these programs until reality hits. That reality usually involves a bloated bureaucracy somewhere along the line where more money is spent studying the issue than actually doing anything. Still, local municipalities should be given some leeway in theory. Another consideration is that when issuing bonds, you are increasing your debt. In order to pay that debt, you either have to raise taxes or beg the state for money somewhere along the line. That is especially true if the project fails to bring about the desired result. Therefore, it would make greater sense to offer tax abatements for specified periods of time to businesses wishing to locate within your boundaries. The “hope” is that the business succeeds, enhances the area and draws in more businesses, and increases employment in the area.

There are two tax questions on the ballot and both pertain to transportation issues. In 2011, voters approved a $575 million bond issue to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, in order to pay that debt, existing gasoline tax revenues are not enough. Hence, a 5 cent per gallon tax on diesel products is now proposed to finance those bonds. Secondly, voters are being asked to increase the state sales tax by one-half percent with the increased revenue dedicated to yet another state road project projected to cost in the neighborhood of $1.3 billion. This begs the question: are Arkansas roads that bad? At the very least, this illustrates the many problems with highway projects. Ostensibly, the gasoline taxes are supposed to finance road projects. The greater their use, the greater the sale of gasoline and the greater amount of revenue the state receives from that tax. But all too often, we see these dedicated transportation funds raided to balance a budget or pay for something not even remotely related to transportation. The result is a depleted transportation trust fund and deteriorating roads. It occurs at the national level and it occurs at the state level. If left to its intended use, there most likely would not be a need for subsequent tax increases elsewhere to fund transportation projects, or resorting to bonds and additional debt. The voters of Arkansas would be well-served to tell their legislators that enough is enough. The diesel tax in particular would adversely affect agriculture, trucking and railroads within the state.

The final question asks voters to approve the use of medical marijuana. Unlike other states, however, those who receive prescriptions for its use for specified ailments would be issued a state card allowing them to be in possession of pot without fear of criminal penalty. Also, unlike other states, those with cards would be permitted to grow and maintain no more than six plants for personal use. Naturally, if they sell it, they would be subject to criminal penalties. Additionally, the state would establish medical dispensaries for marijuana. Like so much other legislation in other less-conservative parts of the country, it is difficult to see how Arkansas can succeed where they have failed. As this writer has mentioned in other areas, the main impediment to these laws- be they medical marijuana or decriminalization- is the federal government. Not to get on a soap box, but federal laws pertaining to marijuana are clearly outdated and based upon antiquated scientific evidence. Additionally, we have an Attorney General who has used federal law to harass states that have passed such laws. Provided the federal law is changed, this should be strictly a state’s rights issue, especially as concerns medical marijuana.

In conclusion: Romney takes 6 electoral votes out of Arkansas. Additionally, the lone Democratic seat will fall into Republican hands in November.

Running totals thus far: Obama leads Romney 108 electoral votes to 95. Republicans control the Senate 22-16 in seats. Finally, Republicans add to their lead in the House and now hold an 87-78 advantage.

Next: Mississippi