Wednesday, January 09, 2008

EDITORIAL >>Whose tax cuts?

We tire of pointing it out, but someone needs to keep the record straight. Mike Huckabee, in his exuberance to claim the mantle of fierce tax cutter, said in the final New Hampshire debate Monday for what must have been the hundredth time that he drove the first broad-based tax cut in Arkansas history through the heavily Democratic Arkansas legislature.

Sometimes he has been bolder about it, suggesting that he forced a Democratic-driven legislature to accept tax cuts when its mindset was raising taxes.

But here is what happened with that tax cut, which was passed in 1997. With a huge surplus building in the state treasury, Gov. Jim Guy Tucker constructed a multi-pronged reduction in state personal income taxes in 1996. He gave it to the interim tax committee of the legislature to perfect by the next legislative session. But he was forced to resign in July, and Lt. Gov. Mike Huckabee became governor. He said he would like to cut taxes, too, and proposed sending everybody a $25 government check.

The legislature — 88 percent Democratic — said Huckabee’s plan was silly and 83 Democratic House members, led by Speaker Bobby Hogue of Jonesboro, introduced Tucker’s bill with some modification. The Democratic members of the legislature made Tucker’s tax cut its top priority for the session. The bill passed both houses easily.

Huckabee had nothing to do with the bill’s drafting and he had nothing to do with its passage. One former lawmaker who helped draft and sponsor the bill said the governor never communicated anything to legislators about the bill, but he did sign it when it reached his desk. That was inconsequential because legislators would have passed it over his veto.

But in the election of 1998, running against a friend of Speaker Hogue, Huckabee claimed the tax law as his own monumental achievement. Lawmakers were amazed.

He has bragged ever since about forcing a tax cut through a hostile legislature or else suggested the tax-cut victory as evidence of his unique ability to get things done in a partisan atmosphere.

None of his Republican opponents stop him, though everyone’s opposition research must have produced the truth. Perhaps they don’t want to be caught giving credit to Democrats for cutting taxes. If Huckabee is on the Republican ticket this fall, Democrats we imagine won’t be so reticent.

– Ernie Dumas