story by Ryan Saylor
A claim made in a mail piece sent to Senate District 9 voters is drawing attention a day before the candidates for the senate seat are set to meet in their primary first debate.
The mailer, distributed by Greenwood Republican Sen. Bruce Holland's campaign, claims that he has yet to vote for a tax increase during his first two terms in office and would not vote for a tax increase should he win a third term.
But a vote cast during the last legislative session has Holland's opponent, Republican Rep. Terry Rice of Waldron, crying foul.
The vote in question was related to Senate Bill 797, which Rice and Holland voted for. According to The City Wire content partner Talk Business, the bill could raise taxes by as much as $20 million as it expands broadband coverage to rural areas, along with providing 911 service to those same areas. The Talk Business report quotes Rep. Kim Hammer, R-Benton, who said the bill amounted to a tax increase.
"I'm not in favor of raising taxes in any way, shape or form, but the reality of the matter is that this is raising taxes on my cell phone and it's one worth paying. I think you got to do it every once in a while.”
But reached for comment Wednesday (April 23), Holland said it was anything but a tax increase.
"What the bill was … that was a fee for service," he said. "It was a universal service fund. It raised the cap on the fund. That's the line there — it's a fee for service, it's not a tax for service."
While denying that the fee — which automatically adds 40 cents to each cell phone bill in the state — was a tax, Holland claimed the bill simply moved the fee from land line phones to cell phones while increasing the cap.
"It changed from the land line to a cell line, more or less. But I don't recognize this as being an increase in taxes."
The Senator said individuals who may call his vote for the additional fee on cell phones "will argue any point you want to make. I don't know. I just tell them what I believe, that it's a fee and not a tax."
When reached for comment, Holland's opponent criticized not only the senator's vote, but also his well publicized driving citations that became a focus during his re-election bid in 2012.
"Senator Holland has a history of driving fast, but now he is playing fast and loose with the facts. My record is open for scrutiny. However, it is incumbent upon us to give factual information to the voters. Senator Holland stated he had never voted for a tax increase. In fact, he has. It's a blatant attempt to mislead voters, and I hope voters will see it for what it is — a desperate attempt to win votes. I'm proud of my tax cutting record of supporting over $300 million in tax cuts."
When asked to respond to Rice's statement, Holland let out a laugh and said, "I tell you, that's when you know you're winning — when they bring up what (Holland's 2012 opponent and former Rep.) Tracy Pennartz tried to use."
"No. That's getting pretty desperate to try to make a fee on a phone bill out to a major tax increase of some sort," he continued. "To bring my past driving record up into it, that let's me know that I'm in a good spot."
The debate on Thursday (April 24) will take place from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. at the Van Buren Public Library, 1409 Main St. The debate is sponsored by the Van Buren Chamber of Commerce and is open to the public.