- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Here are excerpts from recent editorials in Arkansas newspapers:

Southwest Times Record. March 25, 2018.

Even though collections from Craighead County’s 1 percent sales tax hit an all-time high for December sales, and the city raked in a 4.31 increase from the previous year for its separate 1 percent sales tax, Jonesboro Mayor Harold Perrin isn’t satisfied.

Tax spenders usually aren’t. Governments always seem to want more.

However, Perrin has a laudable gripe - one that needs to be remedied in Arkansas and across the United States.

While the economy is strong, the city’s combined city and county tax revenue is up only 1.97 percent for the first two months of 2018.

“That obviously tells me that internet sales are affecting our sales tax numbers,” Perrin told Sun reporter Keith Inman, “so that is still an issue.”

January and February sales tax receipts reflect the Christmas shopping season - considered to be primarily November and December.

The county took in $2.06 million from retail sales in December. Jonesboro’s separate 1 percent tax amounted to $1.86 million, up 4.31 percent. Jonesboro gets 69.75 percent of what the county collects, adding $1.47 million to the city’s coffers. That’s a total of $3.3 million - nearly $6 million for the first two months of the year.

A tidy sum indeed.

The city’s revenue from sales taxes on purchases in November was up by only 0.23 percent from the previous year.

“November is Black Friday and all the Christmas shopping in the city of Jonesboro,” Perrin noted at a previous city council meeting. “You would think that that sales tax would be 2, 3 percent, somewhere in there. It’s not. Now, did people buy things? Yes, they did. Did they buy online? A lot.”

Which brings up the obvious point Perrin is complaining about. Just because shoppers buy online shouldn’t mean they shouldn’t have to pay the same sales taxes.

Cities - especially smaller ones - and counties are being ripped off of tax revenue that provides essential services like police, fire and other emergency services as well as maintenance and upgrades to the cities’ infrastructure. The state, which adds a 6 percent sales tax to goods and services, gets ripped off, too, which means infrastructure improvements across the state are hampered.

More importantly, it’s a huge rip-off for retailers - especially mom-and-pop enterprises - who own or lease brick-and-mortar stores. They have to charge 8.5 percent sales tax on all their sales, while internet companies with no connection to the state charge zero - nada, nothing. Many entice shoppers further with “free shipping.”

On major purchases like appliances, furniture and electronics, saving 8.5 percent is a huge incentive to buy online from retailers that don’t have a presence in the state. That’s a $127.50 savings on a $1,500 big screen TV. Sales taxes on day-to-day items also add up significantly.

The trend of buying online is increasing for several reasons but primarily because online shopping sites operate on an unleveled playing field.

It’s a threat to our state and local governments, but, more importantly, it’s a menace to local business owners trying to keep their heads above rising financial waters.

It’s got to change.

Yes, we all need to buy local whenever possible. Yes, we need to support our local retailers. They spend their proceeds on hiring employees, paying local taxes and purchasing goods and services locally.

We know these people, sit beside them in church and at sporting events that they help support. Faceless online retailers add nothing to our quality of life, only drain from it.

We need to level the playing field with online retailers by mandating that all online purchases are taxed at the same amount as they would be if purchased in that buyer’s hometown.

It’s a legal scam that is and will continue to have even deeper adverse on our quality of life.

Lawmakers in Little Rock need to act before it gets worse.

___

Texarkana Gazette. March 27, 2018.

For centuries, humans used the hemp plant for a wide variety of purposes.

Its fibers were spun into cloth more than 10,000 years ago. Today the fast-growing plant has many industrial uses, from clothing and paper to biofuel and plastics_even food for both people and animals. There’s just one problem: It’s difficult to grow the stuff legally in this country.

You see, hemp has a close relative - marijuana - that is illegal under federal law. And even though industrial hemp has little of the psychoactive component present in pot, the U.S. government has thrown up roadblock after roadblock to deter its cultivation on any great scale.

Some states have allowed expanded hemp production since the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana, but the industry overall is quite small compared to its potential.

That may change. And it could be good for our area.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans to introduce a bill that would “finally legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances.”

This has been a pet cause of the Republican lawmaker since his home state of Kentucky was once the nation’s leading hemp producer.

In our view this is a fine idea.

Hemp has many uses and the economic possibilities have a lot of promise. Being allowed to grow the crop would be good news for America’s farmers_including those here in the Four States Area. McConnell’s proposal would also help those who produce a wide variety of products from hemp by drawing a clear distinction between legal hemp and illegal marijuana. That would in turn open doors to finance and distribution. Maybe with the right encouragement some of those producers could start up or relocate here, bringing needed jobs.

No one is talking about going soft on marijuana here. This is simply an economic opportunity based on reality rather than overreaction. We hope Congress pays attention.

___

Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. March 27, 2018.

At last the president of these all too divided United States of America has found a national security adviser whose top priority, sure enough, is the security of this country. His name will be well known to those who follow televised news and opinion, for he’s been around for what seems like forever, and brings to the job a well-honed set of skills.

He’s so well known that his selection will please his fans even while alarming his critics. He can deliver well-worn clichés with the best - or worst - of diplomats when called upon, as on this occasion. He declared it was an “honor” to accept his latest appointment and was looking “forward to working with President Trump and his leadership team” to “make our country safer at home and stronger abroad.”

Happily, he won’t need to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, for what goes on in the Oval Office between a president and his national security adviser should stay in the Oval Office.

There’s no doubt that John Bolton knows the ropes. He should by now, having served in the administrations of Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush, and as a lawyer, advocate, and strategist during the bitterly contested recount in Florida during the wild presidential election of 2000.

Let’s just say he’s no stranger to Washington’s intrigues. And the controversies that come with them. The most assuring reaction to John Bolton’s re-entry on the official American scene came from South Carolina’s sage senator Lindsey Graham. “Selecting John Bolton as a national security adviser,” he says, “is good news for America’s allies and bad news for America’s enemies.”

Another sure guide in these matters, though in the opposite direction, is the Democratic senator from Delaware - Christopher Coons - who says Mr. Bolton’s positions on how to handle both those present and ever clearer dangers, Iran and North Korea, “are overly aggressive at best and downright dangerous at worst.”

Ambassador Bolton has called lengthy talks with North Korea a waste of time, though he has softened his stance now that this president has opened the door to the possibility of American envoys and North Korean ones sitting down together. But he still believes any talk with Pyongyang should be short but sour.

He says our president’s decision to meet with the North Korean leader is the diplomatic equivalent of “shock and awe” tactics. He envisions President Trump’s message to his North Korean counterpart as simple: “Tell me you have begun total denuclearization because we’re not going to have protracted negotiations. You can tell me right now or we’ll start thinking of something else.”

When it comes to Iran, that breeding ground for terrorism throughout the Middle East, Mr. Bolton says he would advise the president to cancel any current deal with Tehran and work for the overthrow of that regime. “There’s a lot we can do,” he points out, “and we should do it. Our goal should be regime change in Iran.” Period. End of message.

“I’ve never been shy about what my views are,” Ambassador Bolton notes, “but frankly, what I’ve said in private now is behind me, at least effective April 9,” which is when he’s officially due to become the president’s adviser on matters of national security, “and the important thing is what the president says and what advice I give him.”

As on all things diplomatic, John Bolton comes right to the point. For as long as he lasts in this feverish merry-go-round called the Trump administration, he’ll remain a man well worth listening to.


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