The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s reporting staff turned out two useful stories today. Neither qualified as surprising in a general sense, but the supporting details were important.

* TAXES: Michael Wickline, the D-G’s veteran Capitol correspondent, reported further on the work of a legislative task force considering tax policy. Surprise. Many Republican legislators like the sales tax on groceries and don’t want to forge ahead with a final cut. Some would undoubtedly like to return to previous higher levels. What better way to pay for an income tax cut that primarily benefits the rich than to sock a tax on poor people’s sustenance? Well, you could throw in removal of the sales tax on medicine, too another punishing idea floating around.

A perfectly sensible idea — and a boon to both the highway construction lobby and the blindered keep-busy crew at the Department of Freeway Building — has also been mentioned by the legislative task force, but I predict it won’t get farther than it ever has. This would be applying the state sales tax to motor fuel. It’s a user fee. It encourages efficiency. It’s elastic.  But Republicans think magic money is in inexhaustible supply. No need to raise taxes to build roads, not when you can poach money that would otherwise go to public schools, colleges, prisons, State Police or health care. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has already added to this poaching in next year’s budget with legislative acquiescence (on top of a dedicated general sales tax that benefits highway construction.)

* HOGS: Eric Besson and Aziza Musa continued examining public records about interaction between the University of Arkansas, particularly the athletic department, and the secrecy-shrouded Razorback Foundation that launders athletic-related revenue outside the view of the ticket-buying public. Today’s tidbits include instruction from an athletic department official to the Razorback Foundation on how to respond (preferably not at all) to reporter inquiries. I remain convinced somebody with the money (and in a court not overseen by a Hog-calling jurist) would prevail in a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit that says the coordination and exchange of money is so clear that the Foundation’s records should be open. Some universities don’t shield the details of their private money-raising activities. It’s called accountability. Now that a tax-exemption no longer exists for premiums paid to the Razorback Foundation for good seats, you’d think it would be time to think about ending the fiction of independent operation. I’m not holding my breath.

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