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It really didn't take long for all of those running for Governor of Arkansas, in this election cycle, to notice the extended pause in Governor Asa Hutchinson's response to a trial balloon floated by the Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force concerning possibly raising the sales tax on groceries.

After being pummeled with public comments from all sides, Republican, Democrats and even the Libertarians took a turn at bashing Hutchinson for a slow response or no response at all to the possibility of raising tax revenue by bumping up the sales taxes on food.

Remember it was the last Democratic governor, Mike Beebe, who in 2006 defeated Hutchinson in a hotly contested November ballot -- a key component was Beebe's fervent promised to reduce the sales taxes on food.

Former Governor Beebe did reduce the sales taxes on groceries, knocking down the sales tax on groceries from 6 percent to its current base of 1.5 percent, which is due to drop even more to 1.25 percent in 2019.

It was left unsaid, but even a slight tick upwards in the sales tax on groceries could make Hutchinson's promise a reality.

So Hutchinson was strangely silent on the sales tax on food matter, until this week.

After his opponents hammered Hutchinson on social media and in the news media, the governor issued a two-page letter to the tax committee -- and the news media.

Hutchinson's letter was plain, straight forward and to the point.

"My position has not changed," Hutchinson said in the statement. "I do not support raising the sales tax on groceries."

That should be the end of that, but how will the governor fund his projected and promised drop in the individual income taxes from 6.9 to 6 percent, especially for those making more than $75,000 a year?

Back to the drawing board, where the members of the Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force have been huddled trying to find at least $180 million in funding to give Hutchinson his wanted tax cuts.

There was one strange little "I've-got-your-back," moment from Lt. Governor Tim Griffin, who strangely wanted to support Hutchinson's promise not to raise the sales taxes on food.

"We should not raise the grocery tax," Griffin said.

But the Lt. Governor offered little on how to achieve the governor's promised plan to trim the state's income taxes for those making more than $75,000 a year.

He did use that tired old adage about arranging the deck chairs (on the Titanic or a sinking ship) as a method to keep the ship afloat.

Griffin said it was more than just paying more of one tax or less of another.

"It is that (state) government spends too much and Arkansans pay too much in taxes, period."

So back to the drawing board for the Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force members.

The good news from the tax group is that tax exemption evaluation work continues, according to the Governor's nephew, State Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs.

Now all of the governor's opponents in both the May and November election cycles can go back to focusing their criticism on other things the governor has or has not done to suit them.

Ah! It is indeed election season in Arkansas.

You can feel it in the air, and cut it with a fine blade.

Criticism, even when you don't comment quickly, is everywhere.

Note: Ooops!

Last week's column on school "grades" in Arkansas contained an error.

The Haas Hall Academy referred to a private "tuition" school. Haas Hall is a public charter school in Arkansas.

More on that difference of a public, private and charter schools in a future column.

I regret the error.

-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at The opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 05/09/2018

Print Headline: No new sales taxes on groceries says Gov. Hutchinson

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