Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, was selected Thursday (Nov. 8) as the chairman of the powerful Senate Revenue and Tax committee, a job he admits will be a “baptism by fire” but says he is focused on “sound policy” that benefits the state for decades to come.

Files, soon to enter his second term in the Senate, is one of three Republican state Senators from the Fort Smith area and Northwest Arkansas to be named chair of a committee following GOP control of the upper chamber.

GOP control is the first since the Civil War, with Republicans capturing 21 seats in the 35-member Senate following the Nov. 6 general election. Also on Thursday, the Senate elected Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, as Senate President for the 2013 General Assembly.

Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, was named chair of the Public Health, Welfare and Labor committee, and Sen. Bruce Holland, R-Greenwood, was named chair of the Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development committee.

Files said Thursday the Revenue and Tax chair was something he lobbied for in the event the GOP gained Senate control. For the past several months Files, who was co-chair of the Joint Committee on Tax Policy, has worked to dig down into tax policy and policy ideas. The research has included working with Grant Tennille, executive director of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, on tax policy ideas that will foster job growth with respect to expansion of existing operations and recruitment of new jobs.

Prior to the election, GOP legislative candidates promoted the idea of several tax changes, including cuts in capital gains taxes and a phased-in reduction of Arkansas’ individual income tax. Files, and the Revenue and Tax committee, will handle a wide range of those tax policy ideas from Democrats and Republicans – possibly including from Gov. Mike Beebe (D).

“I certainly hope so,” Files said when asked if he was ready to potentially be at political ground zero in the upcoming General Assembly. “I do understand and agree that it will be a baptism by fire because there are going to be a lot of competing interests.”

Files admitted that Beebe’s announced intent to further cut the sales tax on groceries “is probably not the tax I would cut first,” but is ready to work with Beebe “to try and make it happen.”

But Files is not willing to state a position on other possible tax changes.

“It behooves us to see where we are with the Governor’s budget and any other budget proposals that are presented and then see what money is available,” Files said, adding that it is “irresponsible to throw out blanket terms” about tax cuts without the benefit of specific numbers and impact.

Files also rejected the blanket “moderate” label when asked about the danger of being labeled a moderate if he seeks compromise with Beebe and other Democrats.

“I want to be responsible, reasonable and pragmatic and I want to look 20 years down the road. That’s part of what our calling is, to set a foundation … to create a state where people want to move to, where they want to set up a business. If that makes me a moderate, so be it,” Files said.

He added that he is not interested in making big “catastrophic” changes just because they might be politically expedient.

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The City Wire Staff