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Let the games begin.

So what will it be: Civility or all-out war? Or something in between?

Mike Huckabee, who first rode into his role in state government with the reputation of a great compromiser among warring factions (in this case, dealing with a split within his religious denomination), meets the enemy head-on as governor. Or will it be a friend?

We have no doubt Huckabee will try to work his political magic with the 135 legislators, most of them Democrats, over the next two months or so of the 81st General Assembly. We're less convinced that some legislators will approach Huckabee with respect and civility.

With tax relief a buzzword nationally, it's no surprise that all sides want some form of it in Arkansas, though it's interesting to us that as this session begins many legislators note the conundrum: lawmakers in a basically poor state are clamoring for revenue reduction.

Huckabee's rebate plan as a way to offset the sales tax on food is an idea that looks more and more like it's headed for extinction. We're interested to see whether, after this predictable failure, Huckabee will take the high road and work with the Democrats toward a more feasible tax-relief plan.

Medicaid financing grows evermore problematic, yet there will be a move again to end the 4-year-old soda pop tax that has survived challenges in the General Assembly and in a special election. We don't cotton to taxes aimed at a specific industry, but we've yet to hear any substantive alternatives. Business doesn't want the tax, but business knows the money must be derived from somewhere - the $140 million the state ultimately gets from the tax.

"Philosophically, we're against any kind of targeted tax," says the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce's Ron Russell. But what would replace the softdrink tax? "We're still working on determining where the money would come from," he says.

Folks, this has been with us for four years. How many think tanks and commissions do we need to find a solution?

The best ideas for tax relief seem to be the ones dealing with reapportionment; the inequities with the state income tax must be addressed. Nothing has changed with the bracket levels in 25 years.

Let's bring this at least into the late 20th century, now. And rather than rebate every Arkansan $25 in a plan whose implementation might be quite costly, let's all agree that we have a surplus and make the cuts and adjustments by attacking the income tax problem.

That should be something the lawmakers can agree on. So should state welfare reform, where we really have no choice - come July 1, we have to have a plan in which 25 percent of welfare recipients will be put to work.

The Legislature faces a challenge to respond to Arkansas' needs effectively. We hope the new blood entering the House and Senate will turn the Legislature to making laws with the next century in mind. We think of the squabble brewing over higher education funding - Nick Wilson et al. seek to push more funds toward two-year colleges that would educate more manufacturing employees when, in fact, Arkansas' manufacturing base is dwindling in favor of 21 st-century technology and the jobs it would create. Do we wish to keep Arkansas plodding along in a small manufacturing mode, or do our legislators view Arkansas with a vision and seek a state competitive in business with our neighbors.

Huckabee and this Legislature have their work cut out for them. We hope it is done together with the common goal of a better Arkansas.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas' legislators
Publication:Arkansas Business
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 13, 1997
Previous Article:Philips flips switch; workers left in dark.
Next Article:Partisan warfare.

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