Notes on good and bad trends, ideas and behavior

by John Burris ([email protected]) 219 views 

Editor’s note: John Burris is a former member of the Arkansas Legislature.

Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s). They may not represent the opinion of the owners of Talk Business & Politics.

With a new year come new ideas, as well as the consequences from the year before. A few stand out and are worthy of note.

The Best New Idea
Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, presented a not-so-bad idea to the Arkansas Legislative Council (ALC), which unfortunately did not support him. It would have required members of the ALC to disclose any contract they or a family member have with a healthcare provider in the Arkansas Medicaid program. Doctors would obviously be among those disclosing, but they wouldn’t have been the only ones.

Rumors and rumors of rumors have been increasingly circulating about members who are financially connected to provider groups. Sometimes the connection is clear. Sometimes it isn’t. King’s rule would have ensured transparency in a government-managed healthcare system that spends billions and is difficult to reform for a reason. It didn’t pass, I suspect, because many members accurately perceived King’s motivations to be grudge settling instead of the merits of the policy. Those attitudes rarely command a following. But his idea is worth consideration.

Over the coming weeks and months, stories from inside the provider-land of Medicaid will likely emerge. It’s not a pretty picture, and certain groups and associations have the most to lose. King’s rule would at least make clear which legislators have a financial interest in stopping reform.

A Good Trend
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has announced his plan to spend more dollars on highways, which includes asking the Legislature to commit 25% of the annual unallocated surplus funds to roads construction. Critics of the status quo should celebrate the very real effect of this change, not intellectually nitpick because of the things it doesn’t fix.

Arkansas’ budgeting system prevents the government from spending everything it collects, which means there will always be something left over. Currently, most of that money gets divided amongst legislators in the form of the General Improvement Funds (GIF). Much is wasted on non-statewide projects. More importantly, it becomes a distraction during important policy debates. Quite a few legislators have in the past been hesitant to cut too many taxes out of concern it would deplete collections and limit their GIF. This plan diminishes that behavior, if only a little bit.

Critics of the governor’s plan say prioritizing surplus on roads instead of pork will incentivize less spending on other general revenue needs like K12 funding and higher education. They’re wrong. Less money for individual legislators to claim means fewer individual legislators who care about the under-budgeting that creates GIF in the first place. The incentive advocates fear is already there. But if we have surplus, we ought to spend on something worthwhile. Roads certainly are.

The Worst Behavior
When an American navy vessel inadvertently entered Iranian waters, the terrorist-sponsoring country didn’t miss a trick. They forced our sailors onto their knees with hands behind their head, detained them longer than protocol allows, coerced an apology on behalf of the whole country, and filmed it all to use as propaganda against the United States.

Their actions weren’t worth a war. It’s just one more reminder of the horribly flawed strategy of giving this aggressive country hundreds of billions of dollars and a path to a nuclear arsenal.

Also of note: many liberal websites were quick to play devil’s advocate for Iran. We entered their waters, after all. But for a moment, consider what would have happened if American soldiers would have illegally detained Iranian soldiers, forcing at gun point innocent Muslims to their knees, and filming an apology said to be from an entire nation? The President would have had press conferences and beer summits. Resignations demanded. Military careers ruined. Our country apologizing.

None of that happened, because the American sailors were the victims, not the doer of wrong. Our country is held to a higher standard, as it should be, and it’s exactly why their country shouldn’t get a nuclear weapon like us.

A Bad Trend
The scrutiny of law enforcement and their every move has created a sincere but misguided effort that minimizes the job of those who keep us safe.

Now viral videos from all over show cops playing basketball with impoverished children, bringing a homeless man McDonalds, or drinking coffee with do-gooders at an organized event focused on something other than keeping criminals off the streets. These are all wonderful things, but it’s the attitude of those promoting these stories that is bothersome. There’s usually a caption that says something along the lines of “why aren’t all cops like this.” The answer: because they’re out on the streets arresting the murderers, child abusers, rapists and drug dealers who you and I rarely have to interact with or see.

Cops do helpful things all the time, because they’re good people, not for a Facebook-pat-on-the-head. The naïve high-mindedness of many is an easy attitude to embrace when far removed from the day-to-day grind of dealing with society’s worst people. It’s an odd form of patronization. But law enforcement exists to enforce the law, not to pander as ambassadors of goodwill.

Ironically, if only a fraction of those who share these stories would spend a few hours of their own time doing the thing they’re condescendingly praising the cop for doing, law enforcement wouldn’t have such a hard job. That should be the trend.

It’s going to be a good year, and certainly more things to note as things move along. Let’s hope the good trends continue.