Taxes are how we come together to pay for things that benefit all Arkansans: good schools, health care and emergency services, well-maintained roads and bridges, you name it. It's an effort by all of us. Everyone, regardless of income, race or ZIP code, pays taxes.
We all pitch in, and we all benefit.
But the system doesn't work as well as it should; Arkansas' tax system is rigged in favor of the wealthy, who pay a lower overall tax rate than even the poorest families.
Our rigged tax code makes it harder for us to pay for the things Arkansas needs to be a place where everyone has opportunities to prosper and thrive. It's one big reason Arkansas is falling behind, ranking among the worst states in the country for health care, education, and infrastructure.
If we come together, we can get Arkansas back on track.
But we can't get something for nothing. Without the wealthy paying their fair share, we'll continue to veer off course.
That's why the effort by some politicians and special-interest groups to slash and ultimately eliminate our personal income tax is such a bad deal for Arkansas: It would only rig the tax code even more in favor of the wealthy at the expense of workers, families and communities.
The income tax is slated to bring in almost $3 billion of revenue this fiscal year--roughly half our state budget. If you were to eliminate the income tax tomorrow, the budget shortfall would be catastrophic.
To make up that shortfall, policymakers would have to cut the budget or raise other taxes.
Opting for cuts would cause irreparable harm to Arkansas' kids, families and communities. To make up a shortfall worth half our current budget would require complete elimination of funding for behavioral health, early child care, and foster care.
In fact, even if we abandoned our most vulnerable residents and eliminated the Department of Human Services, we would still need to completely defund corrections, state aid and reimbursement to counties, and state police. Even then, we'd need to cut our spending on higher education in half.
Altogether, that would almost cover the loss of the income tax.
Imagine it: A state that leaves orphans and people suffering severe mental illness behind, and the state makes no investment in public safety. Where community college and job training--two proven strategies to increase opportunity and prosperity--are gutted.
All so the wealthiest among us can pay lower taxes than they already do.
That's not a state any of us wants to live in--and it's certainly not a state that would be attractive to families or businesses. So maybe lawmakers would try to raise revenue in other ways.
Proponents of income-tax elimination often say it would make Arkansas a "low-tax" state. What they really mean is a "low-tax" state for the wealthy. States without personal income taxes tend to shift the cost of public services toward other taxes, like sales taxes on groceries and other everyday goods, and property taxes--all which fall more heavily on everyday Arkansans: the middle class and people with lower incomes who make up more than half our state's population.
We'll likely see a proposal to further cut income taxes in a long-term effort to eliminate them altogether. Don't be fooled. This is a great deal for the wealthy, but through deep service cuts or unfair tax shifts, it will only increase the challenges faced by working families.
Bruno Showers is a senior policy analyst for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.