The Friday Wire: Taxes, housing and Hillary

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 92 views 

An Arkansas Congressional district political fight, analysis of Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid, Northwest Arkansas home sales and a Fayetteville tax election are part of the Northwest Arkansas Friday Wire for Nov. 8.

• Price ceiling
The number of homes sold in Arkansas’ four largest metro areas continues to rise, but the average home sale price declined during September in the state’s two largest metro areas, according to The City Wire’s Arkansas Home Sales Report.

Could the Northwest Arkansas housing market continue with double-digit increases in sales but small to flat increases in prices? It’s not an unreasonable prediction, especially if interest rates tick higher, investment money slows down and Washington D.C. continues to deliver frustration and uncertainty.

For the first nine months of 2013, the number of homes sold in Northwest Arkansas is up 18.47%. However, the average sales price for the first nine months is up 5.56% compared to the same period in 2012. Also, the average price for Northwest Arkansas homes sold in September declined 1.24% compared to September 2012.

• Notes on the Arkansas consumer
The October report from the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration provides a hint that the Arkansas consumer is keeping a tight hold on the purse strings.

Sales and use tax collections in the October report totaled $171.8 million, up just 0.3% from last year and 3.8% below the forecast. Year-to-date sales and use tax collections were $739.1 million, up 4.8% above last year. While an almost 5% gain appears positive, it’s less than what Arkansas officials expected. The year-to-date tally is just 0.4% above the budget forecast.

The  trend of relatively minor growth in sales and use tax collections continued in the October report. The collections, considered a barometer of consumer confidence, ended fiscal year 2013 on a down note. Collections in the segment for the fiscal year totaled $2.124 billion, up just 1.1% compared to the 2012 period, and 1.4% below forecast.

• A fight brewing in the 4th
Prior to Tuesday (Nov. 5), the conventional wisdom was that Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District would remain in the Republican ledger. 

The 4th District includes much of the eastern half of the Fort Smith metro area – including half of Alma and Crawford County – and includes Madison County in the Northwest Arkansas area.

Republicans Tommy Moll and House Majority Leader Bruce Westerman are running for the Republican nomination to replace U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who is challenging U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor for re-election next year.

But on Tuesday, Democrat James Lee Witt made it official that he is in the 4th District race. Witt, a former Yell County judge and director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Clinton Administration, becomes to the second Democrat to announce for the seat following an announcement by Hot Springs educator Janis Percefull.

Witt, with his extensive connections to political influence and political pocketbooks, changes the political picture in the 4th.

Following are a few stories posted this week on The City Wire that we hope you didn’t miss. But in case you missed it …

• New vs old home sales
Newer homes are making up a larger share of the residential sales across Arkansas, comprising roughly 56% of the deals recorded this year. In Northwest Arkansas, newer homes – those built since 1990 – comprised 90% of sales in Benton County and 72% of sales in Washington County this year, according to the report.

• Pushing back against human trafficking
Attorney General Dustin McDaniel (D) announced Wednesday that he has established a statewide task force to focus on preventing human trafficking and raising awareness about the issue.

• Delivering food help with ‘Empty Bowls’
More than 200 people piled into the Mt. Sequoyah Retreat Center dining hall Tuesday evening (Nov. 5) to enjoy gourmet soup, bread and dessert at the Empty Bowls event, which was hosted by LifeSource International, a Fayetteville-based nonprofit organization.

262: Arkansas’ 2013 score among 8th graders taking the reading test as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress program. The U.S. average was 266.

16,000-20,000: Range of the number of suppliers Wal-Mart Stores does business with each day.

$1.958 billion: Gross tax collections in Arkansas during the first four months of the state’s fiscal year (July 2013-Oct. 2013), up 4.1% compared to the same period in 2012.

3,512: The number of homes sold in Benton County during the first nine months of 2013, up 20.6% compared to the same period in 2012. Benton County also has more home sales than any Arkansas county in the nine-month period.

• Hillary Clinton in the catbird seat?
Presuming her health is solid, there is no one better positioned to be the next president. Here are five reasons why Clinton will have a much easier run at the White House, should she make one, in 2016 than she had in 2008.

• Fines for the Mayflower oil spill
Exxon Mobil faces a fine of nearly $2.7 million for a pipeline spill of thousands of barrels of Canadian crude oil in an Arkansas suburb last spring. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration found nine probable violations of safety rules in the rupture of the nearly 70-year old Pegasus pipeline that forced residents to evacuate their homes.

• Wal-Mart retirement plan shift?
Wal-Mart Stores has the ninth largest plan with $18 billion in assets, according to BrightScope. The Bentonville-based retailer is talking to Wells Fargo & Co's retirement division about managing the program, which has been administered by Bank of America's Merrill Lynch unit for 15 years, sources have told Reuters.

“My team has dug into this, and I personally can’t see what this group is doing. There are great differences between the oldest and youngest in this generation. I understand them until they get to be about 27 with regard to how they shop and what they do.”
Scott Huff, general merchandising manager for consumables at Walmart U.S., when asked how the company is trying to reach the Millennial generation

"This is the opportunity for taxpayers to speak specifically on where this tax should go. We don't always get that opportunity. The HMR tax is paid for in part by visitors when they get a hotel room or eat at a restaurant, so they are helping pay for these improvements. Second, it behooves us as a city to have visitors, to encourage them to come. It profits all sorts of related businesses in the city.”
Paul Becker, finance and internal services director for the city of Fayetteville, about the Nov. 12 city election to redirect revenue from the city’s hospitality tax

"I've spent my adult life bringing people together during the toughest times of their lives in disasters. Nowhere needs disaster relief more than Washington. No place needs to be brought together more than Congress. I don't claim to know everything, but I do know that name calling and partisan bickering aren't going to solve any problems."
James Lee Witt, former director of the Federal Emergency Management Administration, in his announcement that he will seek the Democratic nomination for Arkansas’ 4th Congressional District