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OPINION: Legislature to view a budget with less virus funds, tax gap

Will changes in solonshinder Gov. Hutchinsonon his usual fiscal path? November 11, 2020 at 5:23 a.m.

Last Friday, as all the members of the General Assembly gathered in Little Rock in a socially-distanced, mask-appropriate meeting venue -- the least of these challenges for a new legislature was covid-19 protocol.

The biggest challenge for the Legislature will be the new members.

Arkansas, unlike many other states, has been (thank goodness for the fiscal session, even an abbreviated fiscal session) on the 'upside' of the federal funds to purchase personal protective equipment for the state and to slow the tsunami of unemployment benefits to those unemployed.

But such expert managing of monies, even state tax monies, however, does not grab the headlines.

This important work previously done, has and will be, sadly, all consumed with the counting and recounting of votes for the next couple of weeks.

Such legal wrangling and emotions on the election, some lawmakers will say, thankfully, has shifted the focus off the death toll and terrible medical consequences suffered by Arkansans in this pandemic.

As this is written on a Friday prior to Wednesday publication, Arkansas has seen its largest single-day infection rate in months, if not one of the highest single-day totals since last March.

And this, stop and think about this, the state's death total is over 2,100 -- yes, over 2,100 men, women and children in our state who would be alive today if not for the devastating effects of covid-19.

That is as if a city the size of a Lake Village, or Holiday Island, or Star City, or even a Fairfield Bay -- were just wiped out -- every single person there gone, dead and never coming back.

Currently, the state is still within the Top 10 of the Nation by a ranking of infection rates, death rates, positive testing for the virus and other standards.

While those who do not assess this pandemic with a rational view of the wrath the virus is causing our nation must note there are other surrounding states with greater problems with the covid-19 than Arkansas.

But I submit to you, Arkansas' reaction and pro-action to slowing or stopping this pandemic -- rests with Arkansas and not with what is going on or being done, or not being done in Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana or Missouri.

So what does this inflamed testing, positivity and death rate have to do with the newly elected members of the General Assembly?

After last Tuesday's election night, it seems the Republican Party and the far-right wing of a splinter group with its win-at-all-costs local races may indeed harm the Hutchinson administration and its efforts to control costs while combating the pandemic.

Two newly elected state Senators from South Arkansas -- both upending long-time conservative Democratic senators -- have all but acknowledged their belief that the pandemic is not real.

Another shining light of a conservative, hard-working state Representative was defeated by a candidate who refused to wear a protective mask in public.

All three of these newbies, who lack a day of actual service to the people of this state, seem to think they have a better idea about the governor's budget than the man sitting in that chair for the last six years.

By law, Arkansas must have a balanced budget with no deficit spending, even when dealing with an on-going major health crisis that has seemingly no end to the expense the state may incur on the covid-19 virus outbreak.

Talking dollars, tax-rates, funding and balancing budgets during such a critical time in our state when more than 100,000 Arkansans are out of work; businesses are shuttered and only essential services are being rendered by city, county and state services seems cold and distant.

But these talks about the future of Arkansas' economic well-being must be discussed.

A balanced budget must come forth from the legislature, the governor and the state's employees responsible for the economic security of our state and be agreed upon by a majority of those in the legislature. The often confusing and mundane financing of state government must be dealt with quickly and efficiently for our state's future.

• • •

Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] Opinions expressed are those of the author.


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