Jessica DeLoach Sabin: Starting A Conversation
Sometimes just starting a conversation should be considered a victory. With Democrats serving in a new true minority role in the 90th General Assembly, their power was limited, leaving them with fewer tools than ever before to accomplish major policy goals.
But the Democrats were remarkably effective because even where they did not achieve legislative victories, they created enduring narratives that ultimately defined the regular session that just concluded.
Most significantly, Democrats championed the interests of working families through their economic and education proposals while advocating for responsible and pragmatic budgeting and against radical and divisive social policies.
This provides them with a platform that, going forward, establishes their authority and credibility on key issues as the consequences of the session sink in and become better understood over the coming months.
There were several illustrations of this dynamic as it played out during the 82 days of intense activity at the state Capitol. For instance, when was the last time we had such a thorough and responsive exchange about the future of education in our state?
As efforts that would make our public school system more susceptible to state takeovers and legislative support for private charter programs grew, supporters and believers in our public school system rose up to stop the legislation before it reached the House floor. Some time has now been bought to craft a better solution to address the challenges that come with educating our young people.
But what is key is how the dialogue created around the subject is now almost certain to bring more stakeholders to the negotiating table. This means more community input and the potential for a bipartisan solution that addresses the concerns of all interested parties.
We also got to see how rhetoric does not beget reality and how reality was so easily ignored in the name of partisanship through debates over economic interests.
The GOP supported tax cuts for the middle class and the ultra-wealthy, but when it came to those who reside in our lowest income brackets, cuts never came. In fact, arguments were often made that these individuals already received benefits through other forms of government assistance, like health care. But such logic falls short when one acknowledges that low-income workers already pay a higher share of taxes than any other taxpayer through those like sales and fuel.
A cut that was tied to earned income was proposed, which would have been a fairer and more effective tax cut than any other kind of cut made during this session. Unfortunately, the bill, which would have provided an opportunity to move individuals off government assistance by creating an atmosphere where they would be able to contribute more to the economy, was voted down in committee. Shortly thereafter, the same committee that voted down this effort to extend relief to our most at-risk working families voted to restore the capital gains exemption to 50% instead.
Outcomes aside, these events started a dialogue about disparities in wealth and showed that Arkansas must find a way to speak to the ever-expanding gap between rich and poor sooner than later.
These are just a couple of the new conversations that are certain to dominate the Arkansas political scene for quite some time, and while there are many more issues that must be addressed by our legislature (such as how we’ll fund our highways and teacher insurance), only the robust competition of our two-party system will ensure that our policies reflect the best interests of all Arkansans.