Tuesday, March 15, 2011

TOP STORY >> Williams pushes measure

Leader senior staff writer

The Revenue Stabilization Act of 1947 requires the governor and the General Assembly to pass a balanced budget, but state Sen. Eddie Joe Williams, R-Cabot, has sponsored a resolution that could elevate that requirement to a constitutional amendment, he said Monday.

Williams says his Senate Joint Resolution 3, if approved, would be a legislative referral, placed before Arkansas voters at the next general election. The wording “mirrors the law,” Williams said.

His bill has been debated in the Senate’s state Agencies Committee.

By law, the General Assembly can only place three referrals before voters at any given general election.

Williams said so far he hasn’t gotten a House sponsor for his resolution.

“We’re getting down to the last couple weeks,” Williams said. “Committee meetings are going longer. There are a lot of issues.”

At the request of one Jackson-ville small business owner, Williams is sponsoring SB 895, which would eliminate the requirement that small businesses wishing to offer health-care insurance to their employees must also purchase life insurance.

The bill, currently in the Insurance and Commerce Committee, “holds the cost of health insurance down,” he said.

“I think I’ll get a positive response. It’s just common sense,” he said.

Williams also is lead sponsor on a bill that would give counties the option of holding school board elections with county elections in order to save money.

Millage-increase elections could still be called at any time, he said.

Williams’ district is a largely agricultural one, and toward that end, he is sponsoring Senate resolution No. 3 to normalize relationships with Cuba. This would open a large market for agricultural products.

He sits on the Senate Revenue and Taxation Committee, which has reported out with a due- pass three tax-cut bills “directed toward the middle class, which works hard for a living, to try to stretch a dollar.”

One would cut the final half-cent state tax off groceries; another would exempt the first $5,000 in the purchase of a used vehicle from state tax and also one that provides relief from tax on energy for manufacturers.

“We’re waiting on House action,” he said.

He doesn’t support the proposed 5-cent a gallon diesel fuel- tax increase, or much of anything along the lines of tax increases, he said.

“I was sent down here to work within our income,” he said. “Gas and diesel (prices) are skyrocketing. People didn’t send us down here to shove out more taxes. We have to find innovative ways to deal with the revenues we have. That’s how we did it in Cabot.”

That tax increase would be earmarked for highway and road construction and maintenance.

It was one of the solutions that the Blue Ribbon Highway Funding Committee, co-chaired by then state Sen. John Paul Capps, proposed to raise money to make $19 billion worth of improvements, repairs and new construction over the next decade. The state Highway Department has identified only about $4 billion of revenues with which to do those things.

Williams prefers another Blue Ribbon suggestion—moving all state tax revenues from transportation related items, such as cars, auto parts, fuel and batteries from the state’s general fund to road and highways. That move, which Gov. Mike Beebe has said he would veto, would generate an estimated $400 million a year.

Williams said he’s not concerned about a Beebe veto, because it only requires a simple majority of both chambers to override his veto in Arkansas.