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As Republicans hand money back to the well-to-do, Arkansas Democrats call for funding schools, health and quality of life improvements instead

By handing over hundreds of millions of dollars a year in tax cuts to the state’s wealthiest people, Arkansas is missing a plum opportunity to provide universal pre-K, free two-year college and the services people with disabilities have been waitlisted for for years.

That was the message from Arkansas Democrats Wednesday morning as they stared down a day sure to bring them heartache. The record-setting tax cuts on the table this week are virtually a done deal in the Republican supermajority legislature.

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 The tax cut proposal is offensive to low wage earners whose $40-$60 a year in savings won’t even cover a meal out at Chili’s, Rep. Reginald Murdock of Marianna said at a press conference in the Capitol’s Old Supreme Court room Wednesday morning.

“It’s laughable and it’s insulting,” he said.

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It didn’t have to be this way, Rep. Tippi McCullough (D-Little Rock) said. We could have given our children better educations and boosted quality of life in the state instead.

“The House Democratic Caucus wants to share a vision today, a different vision for Arkansas, one that contrasts with the Republican proposal,” she said.

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Instead of using the $600 million a year for tax cuts that disproportionately benefit the wealthy, the Democrats offered an alternative plan to spend the money on earned income tax credits for lower- and middle-income earners, social and health services for disabled Arkansans, free 2-year college and 1,000 new pre-K classrooms.

“These are examples of ways we can use the money to relieve, restore and reimagine Arkansas for the same price tag as a $600 million tax cut that mostly benefits the wealthy,” Rep. Megan Godfrey of Springdale said.

Grant Tennille, chair of the state’s Democratic Party, comes to this fight with fiscal bona fides, having served as economic development chief under Gov. Mike Beebe. He doesn’t buy the argument that these tax cuts will strengthen Arkansas’s economy. Tennille likened the tax plan to driving by and throwing boxes of cash into someone’s open car window. There’s a vague hope that some of that money will be put to good use locally, but it seems unlikely. If economic development is the goal, there are plenty of proven ways to accomplish that, but this is not one of them, he said.

The Democrats’ message seemed to have little effect in the state Senate, which passed the tax cut bill Wednesday morning without breaking a sweat. Even Sens. Keith Ingram of West Memphis and Stephanie Flowers of Pine Bluff, both Democrats, voted for it.

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