Michael Wickline of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported thoroughly today on the pique of legislators, led by gubernatorial nephew and Republican Sen. Jim Hendren, over Commerce Secretary Mike Preston’s lack of notice to legislators in the hurry-up diversion of $165 million of federal virus relief money into a trust fund to provide Arkansas businesses with a $10 million tax cut (about $10 per employee.)
Bonus baby Commerce Secretary Mike Preston apologized again along with the administration’s Workforce agency boss, something of a regular feature of Preston’s tenure. He was reminded again about the botched rollout of the grant program to businesses (with its outrageous heads-up to select special people). Then there are the continued problems in administering unemployment benefit programs. And there’s also the massive security breach in the program for self-employed workers. Then there’s his dealing with China. I’ll let Sen. Trent Garner inform you about that.
Wickline has chapter and verse of the bureaucratic snafus, but I remain focused on comments made by Sen. Will Bond when the virus relief steering committee jammed through this $165 million spending over objections of the two Democrats on the panel.
In short, Will Bond asked whether there shouldn’t have been some consideration over better uses of this money. For example: In the underprotected, understaffed schools. I think rent relief, more than three weeks of the extra federal unemployment benefits, which requires a state match, targeted aid to particularly hard-hit businesses.
But no. The state took $165 million out of play that could have been used in many ways to the benefit of working people in Arkansas. Instead, they stuck it in a bank account so that businesses could avoid an annual $10-per-employee tax increase. Bond said the average Arkansas business — nearly all of them very small — faced a minor impact from this tax. Big business? That’s another matter.
Hutchinson administration priorities are on display again. With a Walton billionaire heir and lobbyists for the state’s biggest businesses in charge of “economic recovery,” you should not be surprised.