An Arkansas political action committee has launched an attack ad against Senate District 17 candidate Scott Flippo, claiming that Flippo wants to “raise sales taxes” if he’s elected to the legislature. The Flippo camp responds by saying these attacks are distorted and unfair.
The group, “Conservative” Arkansas, launched the radio ad this week in the district. They have openly supported and endorsed Flippo’s opponent, Rep. John Burris, in this three-way GOP primary. According to the spot (which you can hear here), “Flippo’s plan is to raise our sales tax instead of cutting wasteful government spending.” Following that sentence is a parade of horribles, in which the announcers describe all of the goods and services that would be subject to the sales tax increase, including groceries and medication. It’s not just that Flippo is open to the idea or would consider a proposal to raise the sales tax — he wants to do it, says the ad. It’s part of his plan, the ad claims.
I reached out to the organization twice for comment and left two messages. As of press time, I have not heard back.
Without a comment from the group, it’s hard to know what exactly the basis is for their tax increase charge. Raising sales taxes certainly hasn’t been a pillar of Flippo’s campaign, at least not that I’ve seen. But I did speak with Flippo, who thinks this Arkansas Democrat-Gazette story from April 20th may be the impetus for the attack ad. Here’s what reporter Mike Wickline wrote:
Flippo said he wants to lower individual and corporate income taxes to make Arkansas a more attractive place for employers to locate businesses. He said he favors “shifting over to a [higher] sales tax in order to eliminate the income tax, or implementing a flat tax across all income tax brackets.
Flippo tells me the radio ad leaves something pretty important out, adding that he supports shifting away from a burdensome income tax towards a more consumption-driven tax system:
The context of the conversation was that I’m looking at ways to eliminate the incomes tax and shift it to a flat sales tax like Texas or Florida. We were talking about how to make Arkansas more appealing to business. Mine was looking at eliminating income tax. It’s hard to do that when we have the largest expansion of government spending in the state’s history. It wasn’t just merely raising the sales, it was working to eliminate the income tax.
I understand economics and I understand business. If you want to encourage people to move here and invest here, to start a business here, look at eliminating the income tax and look at shifting it to a sales tax. I believe that’s possible.
We need to look to see if that’s a way for Arkansas to go because I assure you if we do this we are going to encourage people to come and set up shop here. We are going to encourage people to come here, to retire here. It will happen. That’s the context.
As desperate campaigns often do, John Burris has once again attempted to distort a comment I made. He has completely sliced and butchered comments I made to the Democrat-Gazette. I am supportive of eliminating the income tax in Arkansas completely. I would like to work towards a more people-friendly and business-friendly environment, such as in Texas and Florida. I feel we should be based more upon sales tax, which is a more fair system of taxation. Any tax reform would result in a decrease in the tax burden on citizens and businesses in Arkansas.
I have been very consistent in my stance regarding lowering taxes for Arkansans. I have signed the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which can be seen on my Facebook page. I will always work to reduce state spending, reduce the tax burden upon the people, and create a more competitive and business friendly environment in order to create jobs and a real land of opportunity for future Arkansans. I will not, like John did, turn to the Obama Administration to finance tax-cut promises by implementing Obamacare and Common Core. I will bring real tax reform and empower Arkansans.
Will Upton of Americans for Tax Reform confirmed on Twitter that Flippo did sign the group’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, committing to oppose any and all tax increases. Here’s a copy of the pledge, posted on Flippo’s Facebook Page.
I also spoke with Adam Radman of ATR who told me that tax reform plans that do not increase revenues do not violate the group’s pledge:
The Taxpayer Protection Pledge is a promise that lawmakers make to their constituents not to raise taxes. Revenue neutral tax reform is not a violation of the Pledge.
Radman also clarified that, without seeing more specific details of the plan, the group cannot comment on its viability as a proposal. But I think it’s relevant to note that Flippo says his plan would be a net decrease in the overall tax burden for Arkansans and that plan, if revenue neutral, would not violate the ATR pledge.
State Rep. Justin Harris blasted the ad on Twitter, calling it a “a flat out lie” and said the group “should be ashamed of themselves.”
Senator John Cooper, one of the most conservative members of the legislature, is one of many incumbent Senators supporting Flippo. In response to the ad, Cooper said:
I’m very confident that Scott is a true conservative and he’s the one that I’m most comfortable with filling that seat.
Personally, I wonder how the people responsible for this ad can stand to look at themselves in the mirror. Reasonable people can disagree about whether or not reducing the income tax burden and increasing the sales tax burden is good policy. But painting that idea — which would result, according to Flippo, in a net decrease in taxes on Arkansans — as support for “raising sales taxes,” without providing proper context, is wrong. It reminds me of something that another state Senate candidate recently said: “People talk bad about others when they don’t have anything good to say about themselves.” In the case of “Conservative” Arkansas, I think that principle rings true.