NWA editorial: Thursday's thumbs

Betrayal of veterans, tax reform earn digits

Posted: November 9, 2017 at 1 a.m.

One can never underestimate the power of the thumb. Doubt us? Did you hear about the couple flying to Bali, Indonesia, the other day? While the man slept, his spouse used his thumbprint to unlock his smartphone. Shortly thereafter, the Qater Airways plan was making an emergency landing to offload the man, woman and their child. Why? The Hindustan Times reported her thumb-initiate trip into her husband's phone revealed his extramarital affair, and the understandable result was chaos aboard the plan.

No big secrets revealed here, but we'll use our thumbs to access a few thoughts on recent developments before coming in for a smooth landing.

[THUMBS UP] The Legislature's panel looking into revisions to the state's tax code is playing the "what if" game, and it's exactly what's needed even if one might be forgiven for believing many of the "what ifs" will never come to fruition. Chairman Jim Hendren of Sulphur Springs has asked consultants to examine the impact of eliminating current exemptions in the collection of the state sales tax. The thinking, much like what's rolling around in the noggins of lawmakers at the federal level, is it makes sense to kill exemptions so that the state can lower the overall taxing rates. By eliminating exemptions, the state might be able to collect as much or more money by fairly applying the tax rate to all sales. Today, the state has more than 100 exemptions. Tax exemptions add up to more than $1.4 billion in revenue that would otherwise be collected. But as this tax reform train chugs along, it's not hard to imagine the folks who benefit from exemptions to step up their lobbying efforts to protect themselves. For example, the biggest exemption prevents charging sales tax on gasoline or motor fuels on which gas or fuel taxes have been paid. Get rid of that excemption and people at the pumps can expect to pay more than $325 million extra per year. Of Northwest Arkansas interest: an exemption on feed used in commercial production of livestock and poultry, worth $99 million. Maybe a no-exemption, lower sales tax rate would be close to a wash for such taxpayers, but we suspect many will want to hold on to their special exemptions based on a bird-in-hand analysis. Still, simpler sounds pretty good.

[THUMBS UP] Almost everyone has room to learn a thing or two about healthier living. Arkansas almost always comes up on the, shall we say, out-of-shape end of the spectrum in national research. The University of Arkansas has created a pilot project for its students, an eight-week course for one hour of college credit that not only tries to promote healthier physical bodies, but also their overall well-being. Students meet twice a week for 50 minutes focused on eight facets of wellness: social, environmental, occupational, spiritual, financial, emotional and intellectual, in addition to physical. Why does it make sense? Because all the academic knowledge in the world does one little good if lives are train wrecks in all those other areas. UA officials will evaluate the impact of the pilot and determine what further steps might be beneficial. As usual, it seems all of those whose school days are behind us can still learn a thing or two from the folks up on The Hill.

[THUMBS DOWN] Americans, thank goodness, still hold military veterans in high esteem, appreciative of the service to the nation. It's always heartbreaking to discover a situation in which someone has taken advantage of them, but it's particularly heartbreaking when one of their own does it. Kim Emerson, former treasurer of American Legion Post 77 in Bentonville, pleaded guilty to a theft charge early this week. He and another post official were arrested in 2015 and accused of taking money from the legion's sale of a downtown building. According to police, Emerson acknowledged receiving $40,000 from the sale. Emerson got 10 years of state-supervised probation as punishment, but we suspect there's a high price to be paid from the shame of acknowledging taking advantage of fellow veterans and American Legion members. He's paid back the money. The former commander of Post 77, Marvin Akers, is scheduled for trial later this month.

Correction

This item has been edited to correct the name of the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History and to correct the spelling of Barbara Tyson's name.

[THUMBS UP] So much gets lost to the past because people don't realize its value. How many of us could be millionaires (or at least thousandaires) if we had only kept that now-precious comic book or baseball card from days gone by? But we're not talking about preserving the past in pursuit of wealth. In this instance, we're talking about moving pictures. Barbara Tyson and the Tyson Foods Foundation last week gave $1.5 million to the David and Barbara Pryor Center for Arkansas Oral and Visual History in Fayetteville. The gift provides the resources to catalog, index and digitize a massive archive of video and film from KATV, the ABC affiliate in Little Rock that's been covering Arkansas events and politics for decades. The Pryor Center has had the archives since 2009, but having it and making it accessible are two different things. Anyone who loves history, particularly Arkansas history, knows the archives will prove to be like opening gifts on Christmas morning. Without steps to preserve those images, they will eventually be lost to deterioration. Preservation of Arkansas history is vital, and the Tyson gift is a remarkable commitment to preserving so much about the state's incredible history.

Commentary on 11/09/2017