AR-Lt. Gov: More On Darr, His Promises, and General Silliness

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    After our less-than-charitable post last month about his new commercial, one of Mark Darr’s supporters again brought up the “private sector experience” thing on Twitter in response. @KeithEmis wrote:

    Shane has voted for every tax increase that’s been proposed, he has no private sector experience…

    Taking these two things in reverse order, my first question is who cares if Shane Broadway has private-sector experience? By which I mean, what would private-sector experience teach a potential lieutenant governor that would allow him to do that job better than someone who lacked the experience? Darr suggests that experience creating jobs in the private sector somehow better qualifies him to “create jobs by reducing spending and cutting taxes.” However, Darr’s argument fails for at least three reasons.

    First, as lieutenant governor, Darr would not have the power to do either of those things directly. A quick look at the history of the lieutenant governor’s seat explains why.  The office of lieutenant governor did not exist under the Arkansas Constitution as it was adopted in 1874. After conflicting interpretations of various provisions of Article 6 created problems with determining succession to the office of governor, Amendment 6 was adopted in 1914. That amendment created the office of lieutenant governor, explained how and when the lieutenant would assume the role of governor, and spelled out the duties of the lieutenant. As to those duties, Amendment 6, section 5 reads:

    The Lieutenant Governor … shall be President of the Senate, but shall have only a casting vote therein in case of a tie vote.

    That’s it; that’s the sum total of the constitutionally mandated duties of the Arkansas Lieutenant Governor. Meaning, of course, that Darr would only have the opportunity to “reduc[e] spending and cut[] taxes” in the incredibly rare situation where the Arkansas Senate had a tie vote on a bill that did one of those things. Even then, Governor Beebe would have veto power over the measure, so Darr’s vote would only determine if the bill reached Beebe’s desk, and that’s only in the hyper-rare situation where Darr casts a tie-breaking vote.

    How rare is it? According to two different sources, in his entire time as Lieutenant Governor, Bill Halter has not cast a single tie-breaking vote. This makes sense when you think about it; there are 35 Senators, so it takes an absence or abstention of an odd number of Senators before there could even possibly be a tie, and then it takes a tie vote among a Senate that is not evenly split between Republicans and Democrats. Point being, even with the lieutenant governor’s narrowly defined role in the legislative process, it would be more or less impossible for Mark Darr to cut taxes or reduce spending. He might as well promise voters that, as lieutenant governor, he will require that the sky be Razorback red on game day.

    Secondly, Darr does not explain — most likely because he does not know — how experience creating private sector jobs while in the private sector translates to creating jobs (private or public sector) from a part-time public sector position.  Darr’s contention that reducing government spending would somehow create jobs is just beyond the pale; much like David Meeks, Dave Elswick, and Ed Garner, Darr demonstrates a total lack of economic understanding.  Quite to the contrary, reducing government spending while the economy is in turmoil would hurt private-sector job creation.

    Nor does Darr explain how, even if he could cut taxes (which his most certainly could not), such a cut would create jobs.  Arkansas’s tax climate is far from ideal (44th in the nation by most estimates).  Nevertheless, Arkansas has fared better than most states in terms of weathering the economic crisis.  If the tax climate were really the cause of employment woes, one would expect the state to have fared worse as compared to other states.  Because it did not, Darr’s theory that cutting taxes would improve the employment picture is dubious at best.

    Finally, Darr’s premise is flawed because he seems to assume that creating jobs in the private sector directly translates to creating jobs in public sector.  In fact, just the opposite is correct; whereas a person could create a job in his pizza restaurant by cutting some costs, the public sector does not work that way.  Jobs are created in government, for better or worse, by an increase in government spending that funds new employment positions.  There is little to no data to support the idea that cutting government spending would somehow create news job while also protecting existing government jobs.  Heck, even most private-sector jobs are created not by cutting costs but by increasing spending in R&D or advertising, realizing an increase in revenue, and hiring new personnel to respond to new demand levels.

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    As for Broadway voting for tax increases, according to Project Vote Smart’s list of key votes, “every tax increase that has been proposed” during Broadway’s time as a state senator amounts to four key votes: on tobacco, natural gas (two different bills at the same time), and beer.

    Why so few votes? Because — and this is the part that Darr, et al., leave out — tax increases in Arkansas are generally voted on by the public.  If they find it to be an “emergency,” the legislature can increase a tax with a 3/4 majority in both chambers.  So, yes, Broadway did vote in favor of all four of these bills (three actual tax increases), but so did almost everyone else in the Senate.

    Here are the “nay” votes for each bill:

    • Tobacco (HB 1204): Johnny Key (R), Ruth Whitaker (R), Sharon Trusty (R), Denny Altes (R), Gilbert Baker (R), Bill Pritchard (R), Jerry Taylor (D).
    • Natural Gas (HB 1004): Denny Altes (R).
    • Natural Gas (SB 1): Ed Wilkinson (D), Denny Altes (R), Bob Johnson (D).
    • Beer (SB 1004): Ruth Whitaker (R), Robert Thompson (D), Denny Altes (R), Bob Johnson (D), William Smith (D), Jerry Taylor (D), Bill Pritchard (R).

    Meaning that, of the four bills listed here, only Tobacco and Beer had as many as three Republicans vote against them.  Only Denny Altes was consistent in voting against every single tax increase.  So, to say that Broadway voted for “every” tax increase, while technically true, is a fairly mundane charge when put in context.

    More importantly, however, THE LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR IS NOT IN A POSITION TO VOTE FOR OR AGAINST TAX INCREASES.  Darr’s reference to Broadway’s record, then, is little more than a diversionary tactic — an attempt to make people think about taxes (always a hot-button issue) and worry that Broadway would raise their taxes in his role at Lt. Gov. without providing any of the context necessary (i.e. that taxes have nothing to do with the Lt. Gov.’s office) to allow people to make a reasoned and rational decision.

    Update: Per Keith Emis, there were other taxes that Broadway voted in favor of.  As I said above, these are the “key votes” as defined by Project Vote Smart.  If there are other bills that Darr or his supporters feel are relevant, I invite them to send them along to me, and I will update the post.