Tax cheat booted from legislature
The Arkansas House of Representatives, in an 88-4 vote, expelled state Rep. Mickey Gates (R-Hot Springs) for his no-contest plea to felony charges of failure to pay state income taxes. Gates, who paid no state income taxes for 15 years, was finally charged with a crime last year; he was given no jail time as a first offender and was ordered to pay $74,000 in back taxes, something he’d refused for years to do. If he completes probation successfully, his record will be expunged as a first offender.
In his defense before the House, Gates invoked Jesus, the American Revolution, loss of a sibling in Vietnam, Martin Luther King Jr., the invasion of Normandy, Gov. Orval Faubus, the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling and the arrest of Duke lacrosse players. The theme seemed to be lauding those who’d stood up to legal wrongs — people who’d stood up against prosecutions against “innocent citizens.” He also claimed as exculpatory his easy re-election, with 59 percent, after charges were filed.
Study: Corporate tax cuts to hurt state revenues
A report by Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families predicts that major corporate tax cuts enacted by the 2019 legislature will cause a decline in state revenue beginning in 2022. Arkansas Advocates said the state should respond not by cutting spending, but by closing a corporate loophole that allowed Walmart alone to avoid $350 million in taxes over a period of a decade in 23 states. The report recommends that Arkansas should follow the practice of 27 states plus the District of Columbia to require corporations to combine their company and subsidiary incomes for tax purposes, which would prevent corporations from shifting profits to subsidiaries to reduce their tax burden. Cuts in the top rate of the corporate income tax, from 6.2 percent to 5.9 percent, will reduce state revenue by $39 million when fully implemented, the report said. That and other cuts, included in a bill to require online sellers to remit sales taxes on purchases made by Arkansas buyers, will not be made up by the anticipated revenues from remitted taxes.
Ending greyhound racing
Animal rights activists cheered Oct. 17 when Southland Casino told the state Racing Commission it will end greyhound racing by Dec. 31, 2022. Until then, the track will reduce racing in the months to come to accommodate the shutdown of kennels and rehoming of the dogs. Southland’s move follows the recent vote in Florida to ban greyhound racing in that state, which was a major center of the sport. Steve Lancaster, Southland’s attorney, told the commission that independent polling showed that Arkansans would approve an outright ban, so it decided to act first to allow a gradual reduction. Southland, established as a dog track in 1956, saw attendance drop in recent years until the state approved “electronic games of skill,” allowing it to open a casino. Southland was required to maintain the dog track until the recent passage of Amendment 100 expanding casino gambling at Southland and Oaklawn Racing and Gaming, and new casinos in Pine Bluff and Pope County. GREY2K USA, a group formed to call attention to injuries at dog tracks and stop the practice of racing greyhounds, released a statement calling the end to greyhound racing “a victory for everyone who cares about dogs.” GREY2K noted that 1,361 greyhound injuries had been reported at Southland over the last 10 years, including 828 dogs with broken bones and 42 greyhound deaths.
Pulaski County going green
Pulaski County signed a contract with Today’s Power Inc. to install solar power plants on 40 acres at the Little Rock Port and 12 acres at the county jail. The 20-year agreement calls for the county to pay for electricity generated by the TPI-owned solar arrays, which should provide an estimated 8 megawatts of power, at 4.9 cents per kilowatt hour. County Judge Barry Hyde also announced the county will mix recycled rubber tires into asphalt for the repaving of 1.2 miles of Lawson Road. The rubber-asphalt mix will be tested for wear.
Trader Joe’s opens in Little Rock
It might not be big news elsewhere, but Trader Joe’s, a national chain of “neighborhood grocery stores,” opened its first Arkansas store in West Little Rock, in a former Toys “R” Us store on Financial Center Parkway. A line of customers stretched for yards, from the front door past the Barnes and Noble storefront next door to Autumn Road, at the store’s 9 a.m. opening Oct. 22. The store, which features murals depicting cheeses lined up on the Junction Bridge, “Rockin’ Refreshments” and a River Market trolley driven by bacon and carrying vegetables, will be open daily, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
The Jonesboro City Council, unable to break a stalemate that would have allowed it to change the name of Commerce Street to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., created a public works committee to come up with a compromise. The so-called Unity committee proposed that a new segment of Commerce to be built by the state Department of Transportation be named in honor of King, but not the street as it exists “for the purpose of postal designations.” The head of the Craighead County NAACP called the Unity committee’s work a waste of time and another member of the committee said “there was so much hostility, so much hatred, so much bigotry” among its members. The ordinance, which did not get a second reading, will come up for a vote Nov. 19. The imbroglio was followed by a right-wing protest of a library reading of a novel for teenagers by trans author Meredith Russo. The editor of the Jonesboro Sun said the actions by the committee and the anti-reading protestors were shameful and “putting the city in a bad light.”