A Sleepy Week at the Legislature on Tonight’s Arkansas Week

I’m back on AETN’s “Arkansas Week” at 8 p.m. tonight along with the Associated Press’ Andrew DeMillo and KUAR’s Kelly MacNeil. We’ll go over the week that was at the General Assembly, including no raises for judges and lawyers, an attempt to reign in independent state agencies and redistricting. We’ll also go over the Arkansas delegation’s vote to repeal Obama health care and major news from Tyson Foods Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Got a big night ahead? Watch it right now online.


Gwen Moritz: History Repeats With New Casino Proposal

roulette“Not this again.”

That was pretty much the phrase of the day around the office when word of Michael J. Wasserman’s casinos-in-Arkansas ballot title came back approved by the state Attorney General’s Office last week. As Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Moritz explains this week, we’ve been here before.

But as bad as the 2000 proposal by a group called Arkansas Casino Corp. was, Wasserman’s stab at it, which would write his business called Arkansas Hotels & Entertainment Inc. into the state Constitution, be even worse, according to Moritz’s column in this week’ Arkansas Business. For example:

Arkansas Casino Corp.’s amendment would have created an Arkansas Gaming Commission, but it would have regulated only lotteries and bingo, not the casinos. Wasserman dispenses with even the appearance of governmental regulation. His amendment would “prohibit the General Assembly and any political subdivision of the state from enacting any legislation, rules or regulations regarding casino gambling.”

Moritz lists other examples. But she isn’t surprised, with recent voter approval of the first statewide lottery in Arkansas, that someone has again come along and tried to get full-on casinos running in the Natural State:

Soon we’ll have a lottery, and for the first time it will be our state government’s mission to encourage Arkansans to spend their money on long-odds gambling.

It’s not surprising, then, that Wasserman thinks it might be time to pull out all the stops on a casino amendment that would benefit his company and no one else. I’m praying that Arkansans are not fooled into this one. Maybe it won’t even garner enough signatures to get on the ballot. But if it does, maybe the same thing that happened to Arkansas Casino Corp. will happen to Arkansas Hotels & Entertainment Inc.

You can read the full column here.

Beebe Hints at Cigarette Tax and Other Notes Ahead of Next Week’s Legislative Session

Arkansas Business Editor Gwen Moritz files this report from a meeting today between jouralists and legislative leaders ahead of next week’s legislative session.

At the meeting, Gov. Mike Beebe, Rep. Robbie Wills, D-Conway, and Sen. Bob Johnson, D-Bigelow fielded questions from journalists. The mid-day meeting was sponsored by the Arkansas Associated Press Managing Editors Association, the Arkansas Associated Press Broadcasters Association and the Arkansas Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. (John Brummett also blogs about the meeting here.)

According to Moritz’s report, the lottery remains top of mind with Wills and Johnson, while Beebe is more concerned with funding a statewide trauma system and other needs. He hints that his State of the State speech next Tuesday might include an increase in the tax on cigarettes to pay for the trauma system.

The idea of funding the trauma system with a significant increase in the state tax on cigarettes appears to be gaining traction. An additional tax of 50 cents per pack would generate $71 million to $73 million per year, Beebe said, far more than enough for the trauma system, which would require about $28 million a year to start.

And that figure assumes that there will be some reduction in cigarette sales as a direct result of the higher price.

Increasing the cigarette tax would require a 75 percent supermajority vote of both houses of the General Assembly. While Johnson pointed out the problem of funding an increasing obligation with a decreasing source of revenue, he also said that tobacco industry lobbyists might consider a legislative solution to be a lesser evil than an initiated act.

More on the trauma system, the lottery and more here.

The Session Hasn’t Even Started

On a chart outside Senate chambers

On a chart outside Senate chambers

… and the shenanigans have begun.


Introducing CapSearch.com

Above, a video I shot and edited for CapSearch.com, a new bill tracking and legislative analysis Web site for lobbyists, companies, government agencies, news organizations and more.

Arkansas government vets Matt Price and Katie Bodenhamer are co-founders of the site, created in partnership with Arkansas Business and our Web design subsidary, FLEX360.

The site came out of beta yesterday. Much of the research CapSearch offers is for subscribers only, but some features, including the Insider’s Blog and other news feeds, are available to anyone. Matt and Katie will tell you more in the marketing video above.

More about CapSearch.com here.