Trump's 'deal' on wall and dreamers is no bargain

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 01:42 PM PST

Donald Trump unveiled his great plan today — temporary protection for "dreamers" and other immigrants in return for $5.7 billion worth of wall — but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already said it falls short and some on his side don't like it either

Of course he doesn't propose that Mexico pay for his wall.

Trump expressed little concern for the hundreds of thousands stressed by cutoff paychecks and government services. Reopening government should be the first order of business.

The Democrats in the House will again pass a group of spending bills previously endorsed by Senate Republicans to operate government, while separating border security issues. Sen. Mitch McConnell, ceding congressional authority to Trump, has been refusing to consider such measures even though the Republican majority has approved them before.

Hard-core right-wingers don't like even temporary protection for immigrants. They call it amnesty, though Trump offers no path to legal status. Trump, as one put it, is offering a hostage-release demand to the child in government custody. Give him his wall and he'll set them free — for a bit. For comic relief from one of the Trump influencers:

An open line for reproductive justice

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 01:29 PM PST

Rain drove the speakers inside
to the old Senate chamber at the state Capitol, but the rally for reproductive justice went on today as does the fight in a state where the majority who assemble at the Capitol most often act to restrict women's medical rights. The line is open on this and other topics.

Cotton, Boozman propose estate tax bonanza for billionaires

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 06:32 AM PST

Sens. Tom Cotton and John Boozman are dishonestly touting a proposal to cut the estate tax even further than it was cut in 2017 as a benefit for farmers when it's an enormous windfall for superwealthy and would affect precious few farmers. It would be worth billions, for example, to heirs of the Walmart fortune.

Cotton and Boozman have joined Sen. Roy Blunt in legislation to cut the top estate tax rate from 40 percent to 20 percent.

The estate tax already totally exempts the first $11.4 million in net assets for an individual and $22.8 million for a married couple.

Among the tax breaks extended to the wealthy in 2017 legislation in addition to the higher exemption were: Preservation of the stepped-up basis of capital assets for heirs (that Walmart stock acquired for pennies passes to heirs at the greatly increased value today); provisions for gifts to trusts; leveraging gifts to pay for life insurance to offset taxes; enabling philanthropic gifts.

Only about 2,000 estates nationwide owed estate taxes in 2018, according to the Tax Policy Center. No more than a couple dozen owed estate taxes in Arkansas, which also has no state estate tax. Cotton touted his legislation on Twitter this way:

This week I introduced a bill with ⁦‪@JohnBoozman‬⁩ and ⁦‪@RoyBlunt‬⁩ to reduce the estate tax by 20%, helping Arkansas farmers preserve their family legacies and way of life. 
This isn't about farmers. Unless you're a chicken farmer named Tyson.

Despite years of searching, the farm lobby has been unable to find a "family farm"
lost to estate taxes. Estate planning is available to pay taxes in rare cases where it's due and farmers have enjoyed preferential treatment in tax payments to further preserve their holdings. The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities says only 20 farms and "small businesses" owed any estate tax nationwide in 2017.

Remember that $22.8 million exemption. For the estate of a married land-poor farmer (no assets except land) to owe taxes under the current system, he or she'd have to own 7,000 acres of good cropland (worth $3,200 an acre) free and clear of any debt to be facing any estate tax. FREE AND CLEAR. If you have 7,000 acres with no debt, I'm guessing you're not struggling to make a payment on a new F-150. The same is true for a "small business" owner — an asset is only taxable after it's worth $22 million after any debt and other adjustments to value. This gives lacking context of what Cotton is talking about when he refers to family farms and small businesses. The average farm in Arkansas is less than 400 acres. Thus, virtually all farmers in Arkansas don't have a thing to worry about.

In Twitter parlance, Cotton is getting "ratioed" with overwhelming putdown responses to his dishonest crocodile tears Tweet for the small farmers.

A point of arithmetic: Cotton is reducing the estate tax top rate by 20 percentage points, but that's a 50 percent reduction in the tax. In 2018, the U.S. collected $14 billion from the relative handful of super wealthy people who owed estate taxes. Cotton would cut it roughly to $7 billion.

Another point of simple arithmetic overlooked by Cotton: The effective tax rate is only about 16.5 percent, according to the CBPP, because of the rich initial exemption. The top tax rate only applies on value above the exemption level.

This legislation is a sweet sop to the super rich, a huge one. It will perpetuate and enhance the growing gap between haves and have nots and symbolize which are more important to those who vote for it.

One other calldown of Cotton's dishonesty: He says the estate tax punishes hard work and investment. In fact, it often assesses a tax on lucky sperm heirs of vast fortunes that consist of appreciated assets (Walmart stock, for example) in which the Lucky Sperm Club's major involvement was spending dividend income (already taxed at a preferential lower rate than income derived from honest toil.)

Cotton and Boozman prefer to tax work, not wealth. (I know they'd like to cut the income tax, too. Can we tax beans and rice enough to pay for the defense budget Cotton prefers?)

South Carolina couple identified in West Memphis police shooting

Posted: 19 Jan 2019 05:43 AM PST

The State Police say Megan Brooke Rivera, 32, and De'Angelo Jamar Brown, 30, both of Lancaster, S.C., were the two people killed by West Memphis police after a car chase Thursday.

The case remains under investigation and State Police provided no further details.

Reports earlier said West Memphis police gave chase after a car in which Rivera and Brown were riding wouldn't stop for a police check. The car was reportedly stolen in South Carolina. The chase proceeded through West Memphis and police reportedly opened fire after the car struck a police officer.

Six West Memphis officers have been placed on leave while the case is investigated.

State employees gear up to fight reduction in retirement benefits

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 02:29 PM PST

The Arkansas State Employees Association is gearing up to oppose legislation that would reduce their retirement benefits and likely require increased employee contributions as well.

The board of the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System has already voted to recommend changes that would end the guaranteed annual 3 percent cost of living adjustment, which is compounded annually. In its place would be the ability of the board to pay less, maybe nothing, and take the Consumer Price Index into account. Any increases would not be compounded. It also wants to reduce interest paid on employee contributions, change the formula on figuring retirement to produce a 5 percent reduction in payments and increase employee contributions from 5 to 6 percent of pay.

Shell bills have been filed to alter terms of other public retirement systems as well — highway, State Police, judicial and teachers. The steps are being taken to reduce unfunded liabilities of the system that otherwise can be met should shortages arise by increased state contributions.

Said an ASEA notice to employees:

ASEA is ready to defeat the proposal to reduce state employees' retirement Cost of Living Adjustment!

Tuesday we are turning on our Legislative Action Center. This will allow you to easily send an email to the retirement committee members asking them to not reduce your COLA. We need everyone's help! Keep in touch with our Facebook page and ASEA blog for all the latest news.

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/arkansasstateemployeesassociation/

Blog: https://aseaar.wordpress.com/

Next Wednesday at Noon we are having a meeting at ASEA's office at 1301 W. 7th St. in downtown Little Rock. ALL STATE EMPLOYEES ARE WELCOME! This affects all of you! Lunch will be provided, and Executive Director John Bridges will discuss our strategic plan and how you can help.

Please RSVP to the event we created on Facebook for Wednesday's meeting or email scarpenter@aseaar.org. Please spread the word!

Governor names Chuck Banks, Jan Zimmerman to state pay commission

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 02:19 PM PST

Gov. Asa Hutchinson today named two members of the independent commission that sets his pay and that of other constitutional officers, legislators and judges.

Hutchinson named Little Rock lawyer Chuck Banks, previously an appointee by the late Chief Justice Jim Hannah, and Jan Zimmerman of Little Rock, who has led the Governor's Mansion Association. They succeed, respectively, Larry Ross and Barbara Graves, whose terms expired.

Terms are up of appointees of the House speaker and Senate president but neither Speaker Matthew Shepherd nor Senate President Pro Tem Jim Hendren has announced his choice for seats. Chief Justice Dan Kemp recently named retired Justice Annabelle Imber Tuck to the commission to succeed Banks.

The Commission, now four years old, meets annually to recommend pay raises for state officeholders. After approval of the amendment in 2014, the commission passed out a major pay increase to all those covered, but since then has generally followed increases for other state employees, including one year with no change in pay levels.

Gilbert Baker will have court-appointed attorney

Posted: 18 Jan 2019 02:10 PM PST

Federal Magistrate Patricia Harris today said former Republican Sen. Gilbert Baker was entitled to a court-appointed lawyer in the bribery case against him because of financial circumstances. She named Blake Hendrix to represent Baker, who'll make an initial appearance in court next week.

Baker is accused of participating in a conspiracy to bribe then-Circuit Judge Mike Maggio to reduce a jury damage award (by $4.2 million) in a nursing home negligence case. Maggio is serving a 10-year term. The bribe allegedly took the form of campaign contributions Baker arranged from the owner of the nursing home, Michael Morton. Morton admits making campaign contributions to Maggio and many other judges, but said no action by Maggio was anticipated in return. He has not been charged.

Baker has worked as a lobbyist and political consultant and retains tenure as a music faculty member at UCA. The judge said in today's order:

Based upon the completed affidavit or testimony of defendant Gilbert R Baker, concerning their financial ability to employ counsel, Gilbert R Baker is entitled to counsel, but cannot afford to hire a private lawyer.
The order today was preceded this week by several filings under seal in Baker's case, including his financial affidavit.