The bill, SB 180, amends the existing statute & requires counties or cities to refer the tax to the voters.
The current statute allows counties & municipalities in Arkansas to impose taxes on prepared food & lodging by a simple majority vote without direct consent of the electorate. This is the only such statute in the state—all other sales taxes must be specifically approved by the voters.
Therefore, the A&P has become a common target for local lawmakers in otherwise conservative cities (like Searcy) who are looking to expand their budgets or in fiscally bloated cities who cannot get a tax approved by the electorate.
[Readers likely remember the A&P fiasco in Searcy that spanned nearly 15 months (February 2009-April 2010) & was thoroughly chronicled by this site.]
The A&P structure has long been the golden goose of the powerful lobby Municipal League & establishment politicians anxious to hand out lucrative & influential A&P Commission appointments to their closest friends. Past reform efforts, led by Senator Key, have failed. This will not be an easy battle.
However, the landscape of Little Rock has shifted significantly, with a much larger Republican minority in the House & Senate as well as a Republican Lieutenant Governor who is more than willing to use his bully pulpit when necessary.
With no meaningful insights or predictions to offer at this time, I can tell you that there has been strong support for reform expressed in the past by House Republican giants Allen Kerr & Ed Garner, a hopeful sign that the bill may make some progress in the House—assuming it gets out of committee & out of the Senate.
Hopefully the lobbies involved & lawmakers on both sides of the aisle can see that this proposal truly is a win for everyone. Putting the A&P to a vote will provide for easier passage by giving voters more confidence in the structure itself. It is also a victory for an electorate that rarely gains any mechanisms for accountability.
Throughout the A&P campaign & my own personal campaign for city council, I found that voters overwhelmingly inherently distrust the A&P system. This is perhaps more closely tied to the appointment process, rampant corruption across the state, etc. But the inability to vote is within itself an affront to most voters and is seen for what it is—an underhanded effort to subvert the democratic process.
The bill has been sent to the Senate Committee on Revenue & Taxation. Senator Dismang also tells me there is another bill coming soon that will create a repeal mechanism for constituents. I will keep you posted on further developments.
Editor’s note: Both Senator Key & Senator Dismang have worked in the past to improve the A&P structure & have made commitments to their constituents to continue those efforts during this session. Your hard work does not go unnoticed. Thank you for your efforts to make government more accountable.
Nicholas Horton is the Editor of The Arkansas Patriot & former Searcy City Council candidate. In his spare time, he volunteers with various political campaigns & writes for The Liberty Bell. Contact Nicholas at firstname.lastname@example.org & follow him on Twitter.