Tuesday, May 21, 2024

AR-House Dist. 87: Harris Against Gov’t Spending … Unless It Comes To Him?

It must be something about District 87.  Whether Mark Martin or recently elected Representative Justin Harris, the holder of that seat seems drawn to government cash like a fat kid to cake.  Sweet, delicious, tax-payer funded cake.

I am not even talking about reimbursements here — that’s a different story for a different day.  Rather, I’m referring to the $534,600 from Arkansas’s general revenue fund to subsidize Growing God’s Kingdom (GGK), the daycare that Rep. Harris and his wife own and run in West Fork.

GGK receives funding as part of the Department of Human Services’ “Arkansas Better Chance” (ABC) program, which “offer[s] high quality early education services to children birth to five exhibiting developmental and socioeconomic risk factors.”

By being part of the program, GGK receives:

  • $417,797.50 to cover the salaries and benefits of 16 full-time employees, including Rep. Harris and his wife;
  • $54,819.50 to cover mortgage ($48,457), rent, and insurance;
  • $24,250 for curriculum and equipment;
  • $15,200 for professional development;
  • $11,000 for utilities, office supplies, and maintenance;
  • $4,733 for property taxes;
  • $4,300 for technology;
  • $1,500 for a financial audit; and
  • $1,000 for “parental involvement.”

In addition, while it is not part of the Arkansas-funded ABC program money, Rep. Harris receives another $91,634.40 in federal tax money from the USDA Food Nutrition Program.  All told, of the $356,400 in “matching” funds that GGK is required to cover under the ABC program, all but $60,650.60 is covered in cash or in kind by other private and public agencies, including the aforementioned USDA as well as ARKids, Medicaid, Red Cross, various colleges, even parents of some of GGK’s students.  Stated more clearly, GGK is directly responsible for only 6.8% of the $891,000 cost under the ABC program, while the state (in various forms) covers more than 60%.

For their part, Rep. Harris and his wife take home $59,437.50 in salary (inclusive of the value of benefits) in Arkansas tax dollars.  They also have the mortgage on the building paid by the taxpayers, they receive some amount of rent on the building (my guess, and it is only a guess, is that Growing God’s Kingdom, Inc., pays rent to Rep. Harris or his wife as owner of the building), and they have both the insurance and property taxes on the building paid.

Compared to someone who was running this entire business without the subsidies through ABC, the Harrises are coming out about way ahead, and that is due entirely to a government program that pays state funds directly to GGK.

Now, let me be perfectly clear, unlike Mark Martin’s actions, Rep. Harris’s acceptance of the money does not raise concerns of ethical violations.  I only find all of this noteworthy because, while running for his current seat and since being elected, Rep. Harris has consistently made statements like:

([Former U.S. Rep. J.C.] Watts: “We are busy giving people fish, and not teaching them how to fish! Those that received gov. money 30yrs. ago are still receiving money.”)

Harris seems to be agreeing with Watts’s statement, either ignoring or failing to realize the hypocrisy of his taking that position — how can it be a bad idea to give support directly to those in need but not a bad idea for the government to give that support directly to a third party (read: Harris)?

“Less Spending/Smaller Government” is pretty ironic coming from a guy who receives half a million dollars from the state’s most bloated and wasteful agency.  Moreover, someone who has his property taxes paid for him and does not have to cover his own payroll, mortgage payment, or insurance doesn’t have much standing to complain about his “tax burden” or to lump himself in with the average “Small Business Owner.”  (Rep. Harris also echoes Rep. Ed Garner (R-41) with the tired and inane “get rid of the capital gains tax” trope, but that’s not germane to this post.)

I only posted this one because, in writing this post, I began to wonder just how much transparency in government spending Rep. Harris really wants.  I would like to think that he would be fine with this information being presented, even if he’s not thrilled with the style in which it was done.  I suppose we’ll see if/when he responds.

Finally and perhaps most hypocritically, I am at a loss as to how Rep. Harris can state that government spending does not create jobs.  If that is the case, then what are we to make of the statements on Rep. Harris’s campaign website that, “Justin Harris is a small business owner of a faith based preschool, Growing God’s Kingdom” and “Justin, along with his wife Marsha, have created 33 jobs in the small rural city of West Fork, AR“? (emphasis added)

These are not the only such statements that Rep. Harris has made.  Far from it, in fact.  These are merely the ones I found particularly galling during a 10-minute search of Facebook and Twitter.  Also, to the extent that people would try to brush all of this off as me disliking Rep. Harris and looking for anything to complain about, I note that, of the six bills sponsored or co-sponsored by him that we have reviewed, I have been in favor of three.  As someone who worked with three-year-olds in a daycare years ago, I actually applaud Rep. Harris for being interested enough in early childhood education to complete his degree in the field and open what appears to be a very nice and well-run daycare.  This post is simply a spotlight on what appears to be some hypocrisy.  Nothing more, nothing less.

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