Residents, Educators React To Sales Tax Increase For Education

FEBRUARY 6, 2004 -- Posted at 11:30pm

JONESBORO, AR - The largest tax increase in Arkansas state history has been approved. After 61 days of debate, senators gave the go-ahead late Friday morning. The increase, along with a corporate franchise tax, will raise almost 400 million dollars.

A 23 to 12 vote was taken in the Senate which will allow a 7/8-cent state sales tax increase to be implemented. Arkansas Education Association employee Wilma Maiers said her organization would have preferred to have taxes spread out over many areas.

"It was not our first choice in what would happen in terms of taxes," admitted Maiers.

The problem was there were no other bills that had been presented that would provide the funding needed to pay for the reforms that had already been passed.

Maiers added, "The reforms that have already been passed, which we have supported are going to cost approximately $442 million.

The sales tax should raise $377 million. That increase along with an anticipated rise in the corporate franchise tax will add up to nearly $400 million.

Mimi Massengill, a worker in Jonesboro, said, "Education is the basis of our future, and if we don't have a good educational system, we're not gonna get very far in the future."

"I don't have a problem at all with the sales tax increase," said Sherrell Rodgers, a mother whose three children attended Jonesboro schools. "I think the Senate does have and the legislature does have a big job in trying to spend it in a way that's most beneficial."

While these two residents are behind the legislation, Governor Mike Huckabee is not.

"I wish I could say that we're ending this session with a system that is as good as it is expensive," said Governor Huckabee.

Under the Governor's plan 100 districts would have had to merge with another. Instead lawmakers decided administrations in districts with fewer than 350 students must consolidate starting July 1st. The change will likely effect 59 districts.

Maiers added, "This was the best that could be done at this point in time to do what we need to do for the kids."

Legislators said a sales tax was passed over other types, because it's the easiest to pass. It requires 51 votes in the House and 18 in the Senate, where other types need a 75 percent majority in the House and Senate. Northeast Arkansas Senators Jerry Bookout, Steve Bryles, Jim Luker, Steve Higginbothom and Paul Miller voted for the hike. Senators Tim Wooldridge and Jack Critcher voted against.