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Arkansas Government and the $19 Billion Question

Kathy Webb and John Burris
Kathy Webb and John Burris

According to the Arkansas News Bureau, House Budget Committee Chairman Kathy Webb, a Democrat, is “disappointed” and finds it “confusing” that Republican legislators have proposed spending reductions in this year’s state budget. Why aren’t they “working through the normal process,” she asks the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, as has always been done before?

And I see her point. I can see how, from her perspective, it doesn’t seem fair. In previous sessions, Republicans have cheerfully worked through the process, gotten outvoted and gotten beat, and accepted their fate as perennial losers. In the minds of Arkansas Democrats, that’s how it’s supposed to work. It’s like this: when the Harlem Globetrotters play the Washington Generals, the Washington Generals are supposed to lose.

That is the way the system works. And the temerity of these upstarts who are proposing more effective and efficient government, and more savings for taxpayers—instead of accepting the governor’s marching orders—is apparently mystifying to legislative insiders. As Butch Cassidy said, when realizing that he and the Sundance Kid were being pursued by a posse that was morally opposed to Butch’s line of work, “Who are those guys?”

Those guys are being led by House Republican Leader John Burris, who has pointedly noted that, as a legislator, he is just as entitled to attempt to influence the state budget as anyone else in the House. The spending reductions he is advocating are an attempt to stop our state government from growing faster than our state: they are an attempt to keep government growth in line with Arkansas’s growth of 3 percent over the last year. (Burris explains his thinking more in this Tolbert Report post.)

If we had just followed this rule over the last decade—that Arkansas government shouldn’t grow any faster than Arkansas—our people would be about $19 billion richer today. (The Advance Arkansas Institute will be unveiling research shortly revealing that we’d be $19 billion richer if we hadn’t had to bear Arkansas’s incredible growth in government over the last decade.)

That is the $19 billion question. Are hardworking taxpayers entitled to effective and efficient government, or should we continue to let government grow faster than Arkansas? Kathy Webb and John Burris stand on very different sides of this question.

And that dispute can only be good for Arkansas.

Democratic Leaders Criticize GOP Budget Plan (Arkansas News Bureau)

GOP Plan Took A Vexing Route, Legislator Says (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

Burris Explains Republicans $21 Million Budget Cuts (The Tolbert Report)

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