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Editorial Roundup: Recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers

March 19, 2019

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Pine Bluff Commercial. March 17, 2019.

The free flow of information from the government to the press and its followers is vital to a healthy democracy. Why then would our government want to chip away at these rights piece by piece, or, in this case, legislative proposal after legislative proposal?

That’s just what’s happening in this year’s Arkansas Legislative session.

There are multiple bills that, if passed and signed by the governor, would be detrimental to our entire freedom of information process, which is protected by law.

Take the proposal from Republican Sen. Hart Hester as an example. Hester is asking to keep the source of the state’s lethal injection drugs a secret. He says he wants to allow the Arkansas Department of Correction “to implement the laws the Legislature passes that the people of Arkansas overwhelmingly support.”

That sounds like a lot of doubletalk to us. Besides, what about the people of Arkansas’s interests in having the right to know what kinds of drugs their tax dollars are purchasing?

These drugs, after all, will end human lives. What if there is a recall on said drugs, or what if further research on them shows that they are, in fact, inhumane?

If there is no right to review the lethal injection policies and procedures, we are left only to trust that the state will do the right thing.

Pardon us if we just aren’t that trusting. The public has a right to know what lethal injection drugs are purchased by the state for executions. There should be no debate on this matter.

Another proposal pending before the House would allow winners of lottery jackpots of $500,000 or more to keep their identities a secret. The lawmaker behind the measure said the move is needed to protect lottery winners.

Opponents of the bill say the measure would prevent the public from knowing whether there was any misconduct in the lottery program.

Say, for example, a lottery winner is kin to the lottery director or someone close to the lottery system. Without a checks and balances formula, the air would be ripe for possible misconduct.

One proposal that we do support is House Bill 1499, which would amend the law concerning the publication of notice required for a statutory foreclosure. This is not only considered important for a newspaper’s bottom line — these are considered legal advertisements and generate revenue — but is also key to the access of public information.

The proposal says, in part, that “If the county in which the trust property is situated does not have a newspaper of general circulation as required by subdivision (a)(1) of this section, or for any reason cannot meet the publication requirements, the mortgagee or trustee shall publish the notice in: (1) A newspaper of general statewide daily publication; and (2) The manner required by subdivision (a)(1) of this section.”

The bottom line is that secrets are rarely a good thing, especially in government. The more information regarding governmental operations that’s available to the public, the better.

It’s vital to our democracy. We ask that you contact your respective legislators and ask them to vote against any measures that would darken our cherished Freedom of Information Act.

Otherwise, we may lose a little bit more of our democracy.

___

Texarkana Gazette. March 18, 2019.

Tens of thousands of people descended on Waco, Texas, over the weekend.

No, it wasn’t hordes of Baylor supporters eager to see their beloved Bears triumph in some sporting event. Nor was it fans of Chip and Joanna Gaines attending a special event at their famed Magnolia Market.

The whole thing had to do with food — from trucks.

The Texas Food Truck Showdown featured about 40 trucks with food from all over Texas and the Southwest.

Whatever you wanted was on offer: Barbecue, pizza, Cajun, burgers, Mexican, doughnuts, Chinese, Middle Eastern — even wild game.

This was the fifth year for the downtown food truck extravaganza, which is put on by the Greater Waco Chamber of Commerce. And from all accounts it was a raging success.

So much so it makes us wonder: Why Waco? Why not Texarkana?

The obvious answer is they thought of it, worked to make it happen, and we didn’t. For whatever reason.

We have some fun events every year in Downtown Texarkana and around the city. But there is always room for more. There is always room for a unique idea and a group of folks willing to do what it takes to make it happen.

Something to think about.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. March 19, 2019.

News came Saturday that the University of Tennessee is going to offer free college tuition for students whose families make less than $50,000 a year. Tennessee had already made community college tuition free.

It’s hard to count all the things that Tennessee is doing right. The state has no state income tax, which helps attract lots of people--and jobs. Look at all the auto assembly jobs Tennessee has attracted over the years, and what the most recent one, Volkswagen, has done for the city of Chattanooga.

Tennessee has been far more proactive than most states with K-12 education initiatives. It competed aggressively in the Race to the Top national funding. Our neighbors have taken all their failing schools and put them into a special school district to get intensive support. Nashville is a boom town. Construction cranes can be seen all over Memphis. And Chattanooga and Knoxville are growing and prospering. It’s hard to keep people out of your state when you don’t have an income tax and you have very good governance.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, we’re discussing whether to raise $100 million of tax revenues on cigarettes and e-cigarettes and give lower income people an earned income tax credit, i.e., cash, even if they don’t pay income taxes. It’s hard to be against helping folks among the lower income with tax payments, although Gov. Asa Hutchinson already has helped by lowering income taxes for those in that bracket four years ago. But would it be better to give them more cash to help with their house or car payments — or maybe to buy a large flat-screen TV or help pay for a Netflix subscription? Or instead make community colleges and university tuition free to those with lower incomes, like Tennessee is doing?

Arkansas is doing good things, like cutting income taxes from 7 percent down to 5.9 percent over several years. But how does 5.9 percent compete with 0.0 percent? Why doesn’t Arkansas offer no state income taxes for any new resident of the state for five years? Then when someone compares Arkansas to Tennessee, the income tax rate would be the same, at least for the first five years of residency.

Considering how people move around and change jobs and careers, they may not be concerned about paying an income tax six years from now. In the meantime, those new residents would pay property taxes and sales taxes in Arkansas, the second highest of all the 50 states. Actually, Tennessee has the highest. But that isn’t keeping people out of Tennessee.

Arkansas has competition, and we need to respond to it. In this case, it’s not just Texas. Tennessee is making all the right moves. We are concerned that by 2050, when people look back and write the history of a tale of two states, people might conclude that Tennessee got it right but Arkansas didn’t. There’s still time to make sure this doesn’t happen, and turn our state into a growing and prospering place for all Arkansans, regardless of income.

If we only would.