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"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

The Declaration of Independence


The Sky Is Not Falling: A Guide To Arkansas Budget Politics

The disagreement over the future of Medicaid funding in Arkansas between Governor Asa Hutchinson and conservative legislators appears unlikely to be neatly resolved. If legislators do not agree to fund Hutchinson’s plan to continue Obamacare’s optional Medicaid expansion (which was once named the “private option” and which we now call “Arkansas Works”), what will happen?

Some observers compare this situation to the result of budget confrontations at the federal level: namely, a government shutdown. However, Little Rock is not Washington, D.C. The Arkansas budget process operates differently than the federal budget process. A close look at Arkansas’s system of government budgeting reveals that there is no reason to fear bad consequences from a budget impasse in Little Rock. Although some advocates of Medicaid expansion will argue that lawmakers are morally obliged to vote for all proposed spending bills, this line of argument is mistaken. In fact, there are good reasons to think that an outcome that ends Arkansas’s Medicaid expansion would benefit Arkansas.

To read our newest report on this topic – The Sky Is Not Falling: A Guide to Arkansas Budget Politics, by AAI’s Marc Kilmer – click here.


AAI's Newest Report on Arkansas Works

aai-arkansas-works-01The state legislature's Health Reform Legislative Task Force met recently to discuss, among other things, the Stephen Group's evaluation of the costs and benefits of Arkansas Works -- which is, of course, the newest version of Medicaid expansion in Arkansas.

Last March, the Advance Arkansas Institute published an extensive analysis of the Stephen Group's findings on Arkansas Works. The Stephen Group concluded that ending the private option would impose hundreds of millions of dollars in costs onto the state budget and deprive the state of billions of dollars in federal matching funds.

There is no doubt that ending Medicaid expansion would create fiscal consequences for Arkansas’s budget. But AAI analyst Marc Kilmer writes that the Stephen Report provides an unrealistically optimistic view of the consequences of Medicaid expansion by:

  • Omitting any discussion of Medicaid expansion’s long-term impact on public finances;
  • Assuming that increased public borrowing and public spending will spur economic expansion; and
  • Ignoring Medicaid expansion’s actual economic history – namely, that it slams down the brakes on job creation and economic growth.

To read Kilmer's report, "Politically Toxic: Why the Stephen Report Provides No Antidote for the Private Option," click here.


Arkansas’s 2015 Freedom Scorecard

Leg-Scorecard-icon-209x300The Advance Arkansas Institute (AAI) is pleased to present this study of the 2015 voting records of legislators serving in the Arkansas General Assembly. Arkansas’ 2015 Freedom Scorecard discloses and rates legislative votes on roughly 100 notable bills of the 90th General Assembly. 

Although it is not the role of AAI to endorse (or condemn) the performance of any legislator in particular, we believe that the data highlights how some legislators'  votes advanced the prosperity and freedom of Arkansas' citizens, while the votes of other legislators detracted from those efforts.

The study ranks legislator voting records by totaling up the subscores they earned to derive a final score. That final score is a rough measure of each legislator’s commitment to liberty and good government. The final scores are dependent upon a variety of subscores -- we measured, through their votes on various bills, legislators’ fidelity to values outlined in the Scorecard. Each legislator has been assigned two ‘global ratings’ – Freedom Rating and Vision Rating – and 14 sub-scores which are represented as percentages.

In a previous post, we announced AAI's 2015 Friends of Freedom– those legislators who scored the highest within the rankings – and recognized them publicly. In the Scorecard you can read more in depth how each award recipient scored and why.

You may also download the new AAI app for iOS which includes the new scorecard and has been updated with 2015-2016 legislative information.

AAI is a non-profit organization that believes in open government and liberty. If you would like to make a tax deductible contribution to help support their work, you may do so at our website.



AAI Releases First-Ever Judicial Questionnaire

judicialquestionnaire-01The Advance Arkansas Institute (AAI) released the responses to its first-ever appellate judicial candidate questionnaire today.

AAI sent a questionnaire in November 2015 to the nine judicial candidates on the 2016 ballot who are pursuing a seat on either the state Court of Appeals or the state Supreme Court. Of those nine, six chose not to respond. The three candidates who did respond are James McMenis, Judge Mike Murphy, and Judge Shawn Womack.

Their answers to this questionnaire will give voters some insight into the judicial and legal philosophies of the candidates, so that those voters might be better informed when they go to the polls.

(We should add that candidates were sent these surveys via signature-required registered mail; when we didn’t hear from some candidates, we followed up with phone calls to all the stragglers. If you spot a candidate who didn’t answer the survey, it isn’t for AAI’s lack of trying.)

One candidate, Job Serebrov, explained to us that the state’s ethics rules prohibited him from answering our questions. Serebrov is incorrect -- as Dan Greenberg, AAI’s President, explained in a recent blog post.

You can read the questions in and answers ito AAI’s judicial questionnaire here.


AAI Releases 2016 Legislative Candidate Survey

AAICandidateSurvey-01With early voting in the 2016 primary election a little over six weeks away, the Advance Arkansas Institute (AAI) released its 2016 candidate survey today.

AAI sent a questionnaire to every state  legislative primary candidate on the 2016 ballot. Some chose not to respond. If a candidate didn’t respond, his answers are marked with question marks.

The survey focuses on specifics, not vague talking points: most of the questions pertain to whether candidates support or oppose particular bills. With this survey, voters headed to the polls will have a better idea of where candidates stand on the issues. Of course, we didn’t put candidates under oath before filling out the survey. Ultimately, voters should return to this survey over the next couple of years to see if candidates back up their stated positions with actual votes once elected.

(We should add that candidates were sent these surveys via signature-required registered mail; when we didn’t hear from some candidates, we followed up with phone calls to all the stragglers. If you spot a candidate who didn’t answer the survey, it isn’t for AAI’s lack of trying.)

You can read the AAI survey here.


How Freedom Of Choice Improves Public Health In Arkansas

Nicotine consumption used to be simple. Those who wanted to smoke tobacco grabbed a cigarette, or maybe a cigar or pipe, and lit up. Today that seems so old-fashioned. We now have electronic devices that provide nicotine in a form that resembles smoking -- but lacks many of smoking’s negative side effects. Many people are turning to e-cigarettes or other devices to “vape” instead of smoking traditional cigarettes. This has drawn the attention of legislators across the nation (and the world).

Many proposals to regulate vaping or e-cigarette usage are unnecessary or counter-productive from a public health standpoint. Regulating vaping or e-cigarettes the same way we regulate tobacco will hurt individuals who want to quit smoking. Arkansas legislators recognized this fact earlier this year when they instituted a modest, well-crafted regulatory regime for vaping products and e-cigarettes. Policymakers across the U.S. should learn from the Arkansas reforms that were passed in 2015 and use them as a model for regulating these devices in their states.

 Marc Kilmer’s new paper for the Advance Arkansas Institute explains a paradox: namely, because the consumption of nicotine by means of vaping or e-cigarettes doesn’t carry with it the same kind of health risks as smoking tobacco does, it is arguably a public health solution in some respects, rather than a public health problem. We hope policymakers and citizens will read and learn from Marc’s newest paper.


The Hidden Costs of Federal Grants

Is there ever a good reason for state governments to refuse federal grants? Some people would say no; notoriously, a few years ago. Gov. Mike Beebe said that accepting Medicaid expansion money was a “no-brainer,” because whether Arkansas accepted the money or not, state taxpayers would still be on the hook for it.

A new paper by the Advance Arkansas Institute’s Marc Kilmer, however, suggests that there are plenty of good reasons to refuse federal grants. Perhaps the best reason is political scientist Eric Fruits’s new research, which demonstrates that every dollar Arkansas gets in grants leads to 59 cents in additional taxes, charges, and other revenue. In “How Federal Grants Increase Arkansas Taxes,” Kilmer shows that the costs to Arkansans of receiving federal grants are often much higher – and the benefits much lower – than commonly realized.

Here’s the paper.


The Folly of Film Subsidies in Arkansas

film subsidies-01Of all the business enterprises in Arkansas, filmmaking seems to deserve a government handout the least. It is hardly a core function of state government to fund Hollywood’s latest blockbusters or to subsidize stars who make millions of dollars for showing up on set. Of course, over two-thirds of states offer film subsidies: Arkansas is one of them. Supporters of film subsidies contend that these subsidies are necessary to lure film production from other states. They claim that the subsidies stimulate a state’s economy and return money to state coffers through increased tax collection. However, when independent studies are done to look at the actual effects of these subsidies, they rarely (if ever) live up to such grand expectations. In states around the nation, film subsidy programs have failed to “pay for themselves” in terms of increased tax revenue. Their track record for job creation and economic growth is weak. They divert money away from necessary government functions, such as prisons and highways. In short, these subsidies by and large enrich Hollywood producers at the expense of state taxpayers. AAI’s newest paper, The Folly of Film Subsidies in Arkansas, argues that there is little or no reason to believe that such subsidies are truly worth the expenditure of the millions of taxpayer dollars they require.


How the Supreme Court Advanced Freedom in Arkansas

scotus-01Earlier this year, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a decision in the matter of North Carolina State Board of Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission, which will have profound effects on the operations of state boards and commissions in the years ahead. Because of this decision, if boards and commissions exercise rulemaking or legislative authority in the future, from now on they may face civil or criminal penalties. If the state of Arkansas wishes to avoid such liability, its lawmakers should make substantial structural changes in our state boards and commissions: these changes could also trigger substantial job creation and economic growth. In short, an intelligent reaction to this decision could both advance Arkansas’s economy and protect its citizens and its government from federal lawsuits. Read our new paper, How the U.S. Supreme Court Empowered Political Accountability and Economic Growth in Arkansas, to learn more.


Hutchinson, Sanders, and AAI on Obamacare Exchanges


hutchinson sanders obamacare-01

Once again, Arkansas policymakers are debating whether our state or our federal government should establish and manage a health insurance marketplace (popularly called an “exchange”). In a recent presentation to the Health Reform Legislative Task Force, Gov. Asa Hutchinson asked “Why are we building a state exchange, rather than relying upon the continued partnership with the federal exchange?” No real answer has been forthcoming: notably, the advocates of transforming Arkansas’s federal exchange to a state exchange have provided slogans, not substance, when asked to explain the basis of that recommendation. Earlier this week, state Senator David Sanders was interviewed on TV’s Talk Business & Politics with Roby Brock earlier this week about a state exchange. Sanders reacted to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s questioning the desirability of a state exchange as follows:

I am a supporter of a state-based exchange, and let me tell you why. We’ve litigated the exchange sort of question. The conservative legal strategy was to advocate for a federal exchange -- not a very conservative policy. Historically, states have been where insurance regulation has been managed, developed, and implemented. I think that’s where we need to go, and I think it’s better for us and it does create more flexibility long-term.

This is, unfortunately, gibberish; you’d probably get a more sensible statement about Obamacare exchanges if you threw a bunch of word magnets at a refrigerator. I think Sanders’s critique of the “conservative legal strategy” refers to the King v. Burwell litigation, but that Supreme Court opinion only settled the question of how the federal government was required to read one clause of the Affordable Care Act – it had nothing to do with the question of whether a state or federal exchange is good public policy. Furthermore, the federal control that the Affordable Care Act imposed on each state’s health insurance decisions certainly doesn’t vary depending on what kind of an exchange – state or federal – the state adopts, so Sanders’s claim about the alleged lack of conservatism of a federal exchange seems groundless. Finally, I’m all in favor of “flexibility” – who isn’t? – but it’s worth noting that, so far, defenders of a state exchange have flourished the idea of flexibility more as a slogan or a buzzword than as an actual argument. In fact, the Advance Arkansas Institute just put out a paper that I co-authored on the dangers of a state exchange and the superiority of a federal exchange: "A State Obamacare Exchange: Arkansas's Worst Option." That paper has the virtue of providing actual arguments for the points it makes. Here’s an excerpt:

In fact, establishing a state Obamacare exchange would create huge problems for Arkansas:
  • From a tax perspective, a state exchange would impose a 378 percent tax increase on Arkansans who purchase insurance through it.
  • From a budget perspective, the establishment of a state exchange appears to be a gateway to new health care fees and new burdens on the Arkansas state budget.
  • From a practical perspective, states that have established state exchanges have experienced extraordinary practical difficulties. Indeed, several states have recently abandoned their state-run exchanges for a federal exchange.
  • From a policy perspective, a state-run exchange produces little or no meaningful increase in local or state control.
  • From a political perspective, voters do not want Arkansas policymakers to set up such an exchange.
  • From a legal perspective, establishing a state exchange may violate federal law and invite legal action.
In short, establishing a state exchange would cause problems for Arkansas consumers and burden state taxpayers for decades to come. To put it bluntly, a state exchange is bad for Arkansas.

(I should add that it has always been The Arkansas Project’s policy to allow for the publication of a rebuttal statement on behalf of anyone who wants to respond to our criticisms. In other words: Senator Sanders, we look forward to hearing from you.)