U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., talked Tuesday (Oct. 2) about highway funding, the national debt, taxes, medical marijuana and one of the key issues now facing many Arkansans — the 1-4 start to the Razorback football season.
Boozman participated in an Internet-televised interview Tuesday afternoon with Roby Brock of Talk Business.
The University of Arkansas Razorbacks defeated Jacksonville State (49-24) in the season opener, but have since dropped four straight games, including a 52-0 blowout by Alabama and an equally embarrassing 58-10 loss to Texas A&M.
Boozman, who played football for the Razorbacks, said he believed UA Athletic Director Jeff Long “did a really good job” handling the issue that resulted in the firing of former Head Coach Bobby Petrino.
“This is just a very, very difficult situation,” Boozman said of the season, adding that Razorback football is “a great program and we’re going to live to fight another day.”
He did acknowledge that what has been especially tough is the program was just a year ago “right at the pinnacle” of college football success.
Boozman reiterated his support of the half-cent sales tax increase proposal that Arkansas voters will consider in the Nov. 6 general election.
On Feb. 2, 2011, the Arkansas Legislature authorized the sales tax election for the proposed constitutional amendment that would sunset in 10 years. Because the tax will be voted on as a constitutional amendment, the legislature will not have the power to extend it. The entire package is estimated to fund $1.8 billion in highway improvements during the 10 years.
He predicts a close vote, but said Arkansas’ infrastructure improvements are necessary for future economic growth.
“I really believe that for Arkansas to move forward you have to have the infrastructure,” Boozman said in noting that as an Arkansas citizen he will vote for the sales tax increase.
Boozman, who was an eye doctor before entering politics, plans to vote against a ballot initiative that would create a medical marijuana system in Arkansas.
The item, successfully pushed by Arkansans for Compassionate Care, would allow for up to 30 nonprofit dispensaries in Arkansas. Local cities and counties could choose to ban them. If Arkansas approves the measure, it would be the only Southern state to do so, but would join 16 other states with some form of medical marijuana law.
Glaucoma, a condition Boozman knows much about, is often cited as one of the diseases most helped by medical marijuana.
Boozman said there “are some legitimate cases where marijuana would be helpful,” but said in other states the medical marijuana laws have resulted in a “free-for-all” in which doctors prescribe marijuana for any ailment.
“The mail I get is very much opposed at doing this (medical marijuana) at the federal level,” Boozman said.
TAX, BUDGET ISSUES
Boozman stuck to GOP talking points of keeping taxes low while cutting spending to address the national debt.
A so-called “fiscal cliff” is set for early January if Congress does not act on previous legislation that will implement spending cuts and tax increases to address the ballooning U.S. debt.
Most American families will face an average tax increase of $3,446 in 2013 if another plan is not adopted, according to a study released Monday by the Tax Policy Center. A Bloomberg News report of the study noted that a typical middle-income household earning between about $40,000 and $60,000 a year would see a tax increase of about $2,000.
Boozman said he believes Congress will act following the Nov. 6 election and the fiscal cliff deadline, but said what is needed is real tax reform that removes loopholes so that everyone pays a little, but under a lower overall rate structure. He said the system now is not fair in that large multinational corporations like General Electric can avoid paying taxes, while a small business owner will have a tax liability.
Following are other Boozman comments during the interview.
• On deepening the Arkansas River to 12-feet in all sections, Boozman said the more than $100 million to deepen and maintain the river level is not a priority for the U.S. Corps of Engineers. The river is now maintained at a 9-foot depth. Advocates of the 12-foot plan say it will increase usage, lower transportation costs and create jobs.
“It’s just a matter of priorities, and so far we haven’t been able to get the Corps to put that at the top of the list,” Boozman explained.
• Boozman praised Gov. Mike Beebe for supporting a federal waiver of required ethanol use in U.S. gasoline production. Using ethanol, produced from corn, “makes no sense at all” because it has driven up the price of corn following the summer drought conditions in much of the U.S., Boozman said.
Requiring ethanol be a certain percent of gasoline production “drives up the price of commodities in general and translates into higher prices at the grocery store,” Boozman said.
He also said officials with the U.S. Department of Energy have been “hard-hearted in the sense of sticking to their guns” on the ethanol mandate.
• Boozman predicted Congress would pass a comprehensive five-year farm bill in the near future.
The bill has faced troubles from partisan and geographic directions. The various influences in agriculture — crop farmers, livestock farmers, etc. — seek different rules. Also, Democrats and Republicans have argued about the scope of the roughly $800 billion food stamp program within the farm bill, Boozman said.