Week in Review
The Legislative Council, an influential committee of lawmakers that meets in the interim between regular sessions of the General Assembly, has voted to ask the administration to keep open 33 revenue offices located mainly in rural areas.
The executive branch announced that it would close or combine 33 revenue offices beginning Dec. 1 in order to save $640,000. However, legislators from affected areas oppose the plan, saying it would create hardships on citizens who would be forced to drive longer distances to register motor vehicles and to renew car tags and drivers' licenses.
Opponents of the plan are also concerned by other administration plans to shut down state offices in rural areas. The Employment Security Division has plans to close 25 sites staffed by part-time employees. The plan, which calls for moving the employees to the Division's 31 full-time locations, would save $700,000. Division officials say the move is necessary because of a reduction of $1 million in federal funding.
Also, last summer the state Health Department reduced the staff and the hours at eight local clinics. Some legislators questioned whether the shutting down of local state offices is related to the Legislature's reluctance to support the governor's proposal to consolidate school districts with fewer than 1,500 students.
Also, they question whether the proposals were prompted by legislative refusal to enact a sweeping governmental restructuring bill during the regular session. Others have asked whether it would be more efficient to save money by reducing the number of highly paid staff in central offices in Little Rock.
Tourism Boost The state Parks and Tourism Department reported that revenue from the state tourism tax increased in August by 6.5 percent over collections during August of 2002. The increase is welcome news in light of the lack of growth in collections for May, June and July, and considering how important tourism is to the Arkansas economy.
An official of the Parks and Tourism Department attributed the increase to decisions by many travelers to postpone their vacation plans until later in the summer.
The state collects an additional 2 percent tax on the sale of items related to tourism, such as boat rentals and amusements. Revenue from the tourism tax is spent on marketing and promotion of Arkansas as a vacation spot. The Department places advertisements in national magazines, targeting audiences that are most likely to enjoy what Arkansas has to offer.