State Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette, co-chair of the Tax Reform And Relief Legislative Task Force, said the slow-moving start of his panel doesn’t concern him. It’s the third task force he’s worked on and it’s following a regular pattern.
“They’re very slow starting and it takes a long time to gather the data, and that’s really the phase we’re in now,” said Hendren, a guest on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics.
He said that the next two months will focus on some of the biggest components of the state’s tax base: sales taxes and property taxes.
“I think the meeting that we’ll have next month will be one of the first where we really begin to get some substantive data about where Arkansas sits and how we improve our position. We’re going to be talking about sales tax and excise tax. In the December meeting, we’re gonna be having representatives from several other states, from North Carolina, from Indiana, from Oklahoma, from Kansas come in and tell us what they learned as they’ve gone through reform. As you know, some of them have had good success and others have made a mess of things,” Hendren said.
“We’ll also be looking at property taxes in December, because, again, that’s a huge component of how we fund education,” he added. “In order to make major changes, you’d have to amend the Constitution, which we did back 20 years ago.”
As for federal tax reform, the details of which are still murky, Hendren said Congress’ actions could impact the state legislature’s work.
“There’s a lot of concern about what they do with the state and local deduction and the impact that has on income tax or some other tax, because of the impact of what the feds [do], just like health care, they have such an influence on how we have to react to what they do,” he said.
Sen. Hendren has also launched a new effort, #ShotVal, to validate what he calls a growing number of advocacy groups who are “scoring” the legislature. Looking at eight different scorecards, he sees inconsistencies in how grades are leveled.
“We had two groups, conservative groups, that have almost identical mission statements about less government, less regulations, lower taxes. One of those groups scored a senator with an ‘F,’ said he was absolutely the worst Republican senator in the Senate. Another group scored him as the ‘Number One’ senator in the entire Senate,” he said. “So as I looked at that I said, ‘Either there’s two senators down there with the same name or something’s going on with these scorecards.’”
While he agrees that the scorecards are an inherent part of the modern day political process, Hendren doesn’t view them as particularly helpful to voters or to good policy making in their current context.
“I think they are primarily political props that will end up in campaign literature,” he said. “The influence that they have though is, and I think it is waning, because now there are so many of them that it’s beginning to be lost in the noise. But occasionally, legislators get an email from a particular organization as a vote’s coming up, ‘This vote will be scored.’ In other words, putting them on notice that you’ll see push cards in your district if you don’t vote according to the way that we want you to on this particular issue, and obviously, that’s part of the political process. My point of this project was, if you’re going do that, and if you’re going to represent how people are voting, then you need to be accurate and you need to portray factually what the legislature did and what the impact of the legislation was. Unfortunately, we’ve got some who play pretty loose with the rules.”
Watch more of Sen. Hendren’s interview in the video below.