Arkansas Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin isn’t a fan of government as usual, and he’s telling Arkansans they shouldn’t be either. Griffin was in Fort Smith on Friday (June 1) to spread his message of transformation to the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce.
In a 30-minute address, Griffin touched on “killing ‘the TOW Tax,'” operating government more like a business, and embracing new technologies through both operational efficiencies and educational focus so Arkansas is governing “like it’s 2018, not 1918.”
On the mysterious TOW Tax, a term Griffin coined, he said he wanted to “get bumper stickers made that say, ‘Kill the TOW Tax'” — The Old Way Tax — because taxpayers are paying “more taxes than you should so your government can do things the old way. That means services are done inefficiently or not well at all, and as a result, you have fewer services at a higher cost.”
A legislative task force on May 10 compiled a working list of corporate and income tax exemptions that lawmakers will begin sifting through to decide if certain exclusions that reduce state revenue are justified, need to be changed, or nixed from Arkansas’ tax structure. Among the key considerations taken up by the Arkansas Legislative Tax Reform and Relief Task Force are several similar proposals to further study cutting the corporate and individual income tax rates down to 5%.
Griffin said legislators need to be working as the private sector does “to remain competitive,” adding that “24 hours a day you are bettering yourself in the private sector, but government is not that way because there are no market forces.”
He continued: “You won’t get fired in many cases for not doing what you’re supposed to. So unless someone grabs government by the shirt collar, they keep doing things the same way. And in many cases, it’s not the employees fault. It’s the legislators.’ It’s past administrations.”
To illustrate, Griffin used the example of a tree removal team using crosscut axes, “sawing back and forth” until a tree comes down instead of using chainsaws. With government, he said, “We’ll get the trees cut, but it could take all week instead of all day, and you will pay more.”
Borrowing from a former politician, Griffin shared a quote he picked up from former Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels: “If it’s in the Yellow Pages, why is the government doing it? It’s not legitimate for the government to be blocking out the private sector.” Griffin dinged the state’s Department of Information Systems (DIS) for not being able to do something as simple as change the phone system’s “disco” music without changing the entire system.
“We have a moral obligation in government because we take your money by force. So if you’re an official in government, you have an obligation to be a good steward of that money,” Griffin said. Besides, “We will get better services — as in more services” through finding efficiencies. That means DHS and the Department of Revenue, other departments, will be able to do “more for less.”
‘FIND THE SAVINGS,’ STEM PUSH
Griffin, who was elected to his first term in 2014, used his own office as an example, stating he had cut his office staff in half since 2015. “And we’re doing more things with less people.” Doing this government-wide means “we will save money” — a necessity for competing against states like Texas and Tennessee where there is “no income tax.”
“And I’m telling you, legislators, you will never get anywhere until you find the savings. You’ve got to find the savings first, and then reform the tax code. We’ve already got the money. It’s just not being spent right. Don’t ask me for one more penny in taxes until you can look me in the eye and say every single dollar is being spent wisely. It ain’t.”
Griffin said citizens should be “cheerleaders for transformation” and let their legislators know “you will not accept mediocrity.” He said he would love for his kids to be able to live where they want and to be open to living in Arkansas around their dad later in life, “but if they can’t because I didn’t do what I was supposed to do while in office, shame on me.” Arkansas had to start getting the “big stuff” right like private sector companies because “they are doing it every day, or else they go out of business.”
Griffin emphasized the need for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) field education to strengthen the Arkansas workforce. He told the audience one of the quickest ways to beef up the workforce was to focus on spreading the STEM message to girls.
“We need to focus some on retooling and reskilling, all the way up to PhDs” in STEM. “We need to retrain people transitioning to new careers, but we really need to focus on the young people because that’s where the big pool of future talent will be.”
To the STEM gender gap, Griffin said that 45% of male students end up going into related fields while “only 14%” of female students do.
“You want to get your numbers up? Focus on that.”
Griffin said he wasn’t interested in forcing students into STEM careers, but “when they make that decision (not to), I want them to make that decision from a position of intelligence and information.”