U.S. Supreme Court Rejects Part of Arizona Immigration Law

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

The Associated Press

 

6/25/12

 

The Supreme Court struck down key provisions of Arizona’s crackdown on immigrants Monday but said a much-debated portion on checking suspects’ status could go forward.

The court did not throw out the state provision requiring police to check the immigration status of someone they suspect is not in the United States legally. Even there, though, the justices said the provision could be subject to additional legal challenges.

The decision upholds the “show me your papers” requirement for the moment. But it takes the teeth out of it by prohibiting police officers from arresting people on minor immigration charges.

The court announced that Thursday would be the last day of rulings this term, which means the decision on President Barack Obama’s landmark health care overhaul probably will come that day.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the court that was unanimous on allowing the status check to go forward. The court was divided on striking down the other portions.

The court struck down these provisions: requiring all immigrants to obtain or carry immigration registration papers, making it a state criminal offense for an illegal immigrant to seek work or hold a job and allowing police to arrest suspected illegal immigrants without warrants.

The Obama administration sued to block the Arizona law soon after its enactment two years ago. Federal courts had refused to let the four key provisions take effect.

Five states – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina and Utah – have adopted variations on Arizona’s law. Parts of those laws also are on hold pending the outcome of the Supreme Court case.

 

State law wouldn’t violate ruling, supporters insist

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

6/26/12

LITTLE ROCK — A U.S. Supreme Court opinion Monday that allows corporate contributions in state-level elections has no bearing on a proposed Arkansas initiated act that would restrict corporations and unions from donating directly to candidates, supporters of the Arkansas proposal said.

Brent Bumpers of Little Rock, co-chairman of the bipartisan Better Ethics Now Committee, said the Montana law that was struck down bars donations to political action committees, while the Arkansas proposal will allow those contributions to continue but bans contributions made directly to candidates.

He said this follows current federal law. Opponents of the proposed act said they aren’t sure it does.

The court on Monday reversed a decision by the Montana Supreme Court, which found that Montana’s ban on contributions to a candidate or a political committee from corporations did not violate the First Amendment.

In the U.S. Supreme Court the case is American Tradition Partnership, Inc. v. Steve Bullock, Attorney General of Montana. The court’s opinion is unsigned. The court reversed the Montana Supreme Court’s decision without hearing oral arguments.

The case questioned whether the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which allowed corporations the same protection of free speech as individuals and thus unlimited independent expenditures, overruled the Montana state law.

“There can be no serious doubt that it does,” the opinion states. “Montana’s arguments in support of the judgment below either were already rejected in Citizen’s United, or fail to meaningfully distinguish that case.”

Bullock had argued that state-level elections warrant different treatment.

He was supported by Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel and attorneys general from 21 other states and the District of Columbia who submitted an amicus – or friend of the court – brief in the Montana case.

“The states, as compared with the federal government, face a much greater risk of domination of their elections by nonresident corporations,” the amicus brief states.

The amicus brief argues that state campaign-finance laws cover a range of elections including judicial and law enforcement positions that have no similar elected position at the federal level.

Justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor dissented in the 5-4 decision. Their dissent largely refers to objections expressed in a dissent to the opinion in the Citizen’s United case. That dissent said independent expenditures can be corrupting and generate “quid pro quo arrangements.”

The dissent also states that Montana’s history of corruption should have been considered.

“Montana’s experience, like considerable experience elsewhere since the court’s decision in Citizen’s United, casts grave doubt on the court’s supposition that independent expenditures do not corrupt or appear to do so.”

Montana Code Annotated 13-35-227(1) states: “A corporation may not make a contribution or an expenditure in connection with a candidate or a political committee that supports or opposes a candidate or a political party.”

Bumpers said the proposed Arkansas act will allow corporations to donate to PAC’s while banning corporations from donating directly a candidate.

“And that is the current state of federal law,” Bumpers said. “All we are trying to do is extend that federal law to state political candidates. I have 100 percent certainty there is nothing in that initiative that violates Citizens United in any way.”

The initiated act specifies that a candidate can only accept contributions from an individual, political party, county political party committee, legislative caucus committee or approved political action committee. Current Arkansas law allows contributions from corporations and labor unions to be directly given to candidates.

The measure, which also requires lawmakers be out of office two years before they can become lobbyists and bans most gifts to legislators, won’t make it to the ballot this fall unless about 62,000 Arkansas voters sign a petition by the July 6 deadline to turn in signatures.

Bumpers said in early June the group had collected 15,000 signatures on the petition so far. He would not say Monday how many signatures the group has now, because the number fluctuates.

“We still think it’s do-able,” he said.

Little Rock-based group Regnat Populus 2012 proposed the measure. It is also supported by The Better Ethics Now Committee, which includes former Democratic U.S. Sen. and Gov. Dale Bumpers and former GOP U.S. Rep. John Paul Hammerschmidt and former Republican candidate for governor Jim Keet.

On June 6, several state political leaders voiced support for the measure if it gets on the ballot, including Gov. Mike Beebe, Attorney General Dustin McDaniel, ex-Lt. Gov. Bill Halter and several lawmakers.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor is in France and has not reviewed the opinion.

“At this point, his support for the initiated act has not changed,” DeCample said.

The chairmen of the state Republican and Democratic parties also signaled their personal support for the measure, which would also limit gifts to elected officials.

But Republican Lt. Gov. Mark Darr and former House GOP leader John Burris questioned aspects of the provision limiting direct corporate contributions to candidates.

Darr spokesman Sarah Beth Lowe said Darr still questions the initiative and didn’t plan to make an additional statement because of the Supreme Court decision.

Burris said Monday he still believes Arkansas’ measure would be unconstitutional because of previous court rulings and Monday’s opinion from the court.

“Looking at it on a face level you can see that it is definitely related,” he said. “The Supreme Court has now reaffirmed twice that corporations are allowed to be involved in the process, whether you think it’s right or wrong is really irrelevant.”

He said the other rulings that show the initiative would be unconstitutional are the 2003 FEC v. Christine Beaumont opinion by the U.S.

Supreme Court and the 2011 U.S. v. William Danielczyk opinion in U.S. District Court.

The Beaumont opinion upheld federal law banning non-profit groups from directly contributing to a candidate. The Danielczyk opinion deemed the restriction unconstitutional, but only in that specific case.

“There is a mixture of case law on this issue and a Supreme Court opinion is necessary,” Burris said.

Bumpers said concern about the constitutionality of the proposed act largely stems from concerns that it bans all corporate donations.

“All it is does is restrict them from making their $2,000 maximum contribution to a political candidate,” he said. “It is a nuanced distinction truthfully. It’s just frustrating to me. Every day we are finding resistance in the business community because they are confused what this ballot initiative does.”

He said that while he may not agree with the Citizen’s United ruling, he doesn’t see the sense in trying to pass an Arkansas law that violates it just so that law could be struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court like Montana’s.

“As long as Citizens United is on the books, we have to live with it, as much as I hate it,” Bumpers said. “Federal law prevails over state law, always.”

 

Airport Enplanement Numbers Up At Arkansas Hubs

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Roby Brock

6/21/12

Enplanements at Arkansas’ three largest commercial airports are trending higher in 2012, mirroring a federal report issued Wednesday (June 20) showing a 3.4% gain during the first quarter in total U.S. travel and tourism spending.

For the first five months of 2012, enplanements at Little Rock National Airport (Bill & Hillary Clinton Airport) total 464,554, up 10.07% compared to the 2011 period. Enplanements during May totaled 110,057, up 9.52%.

If the trend continues, 2012 could mark the end of five consecutive years of enplanement declines at the Little Rock airport. Enplanements at Little Rock National during 2011 totaled 1.103 million, down 1.92% compared to the 2010 period.

January-April enplanements at the Northwest Arkansas Regional Airport (XNA) totaled 175,922, up 1.29% compared to the 2011 period. (As of June 20, XNA had not posted its May figures.) April enplanements at XNA reached 48,412, up from 45,549 during April 2011.

Enplanements at XNA totaled 562,747 during 2011, down 1.38% compared to 2010. During 2010, XNA had 570,625 enplanements, up 5.49% over 2009. XNA’s first full year of traffic was 1999, and the airport posted eight consecutive years of enplanement gains before seeing a decline in 2008.

For the first five months of 2012, Fort Smith enplanements totaled 35,799, up 10.8% compared to the 2011 period. May enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport totaled 8,202, up 9.53% compared to May 2011.

Enplanements at the Fort Smith Regional Airport during 2011 eked out a 0.12% gain over 2010, marking two consecutive years of enplanement growth at the airport. For the year, the airport posted 86,234 enplanements compared to 86,129 during 2010.

TRAVEL, TOURISM GAINS “Real spending on travel and tourism increased at an annual rate of 3.4 percent in the first quarter of 2012 after increasing 4.4 percent (revised) in the fourth quarter of 2011,” noted Wednesday’s report from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis. “The increase in real spending on tourism primarily reflected increases in traveler accommodations and in food services and drinking places.”

According to the BEA report, prices for travel and tourism goods and services increased 6% in the first quarter of 2012 following a 1.7% dip in the fourth quarter of 2011.

“The upturn in prices for travel and tourism goods and services reflected upturns in the prices for fuel related to transportation services and in the prices for traveler accommodations,” explained the BEA report.

Figures in the BEA report include: • In the first quarter of 2012, total current-dollar tourism-related spending was $1.4 trillion and consisted of $848.6 billion (59%) of direct tourism spending — goods and services sold directly to visitors — and $577.9 billion (41%) of indirect tourism-related spending — goods and services used to produce what visitors buy;

• Total tourism-related employment was 7.6 million in the first quarter of 2012 and consisted of 5.4 million (71%) direct tourism jobs — jobs where workers produce goods and services sold directly to visitors — and 2.2 million (29%) indirect tourism-related jobs — jobs where workers produce goods and services used to produce what visitors buy;

• Prices for passenger air transportation increased 11.9% in the first quarter of 2012 after increasing 6.5% in the fourth quarter of 2011; and,

• Prices for traveler accommodations increased 6.3% in the first quarter after decreasing 8.3% in the fourth quarter.

NATIONAL AIRLINE STATS American Airlines is the primary carrier at Arkansas’ three largest commercial airfields. The airline, now in the process of bankruptcy reorganization, had 6.665 million U.S. enplanements during May, up 1% compared to May 2011. Year-to-date, American reports 30.925 million enplanements, up 0.3%.

Airlines for America (formerly the Air Transport Association) has predicted that from June through August, U.S. airlines will carry an average of 2.24 million travelers globally every day, just slightly head of the 2011 pace. However, the group study notes that total passenger volumes are 5% below the summer 2007 all-time high of 217.6 million.

Of the 206.2 million total passengers expected to travel on U.S. airlines this summer, 26.8 million will travel on international flights, also ahead of the 2011 pace, according to the Airlines for America report. In the U.S., 179.4 million passengers are expected to fly this summer, comparable to summer 2011.

U.S. airlines carried 730 million total system passengers during 2011, up 1.3% from 2010, according to the federal Bureau of Transportation Statistics. Domestically, the airlines carried 637.5 million passengers, up 1.3% from 2010. Internationally, the U.S. carried 92.5 million passengers, up 1.7% from 2010.

The top five U.S. airlines by enplaned passengers during 2011 were: Delta: 113.485 million Southwest: 110.587 million American: 86.042 million US Airways: 52.921 million United: 50.474 million

 

Unpaid taxes top $1 billion

Monday, June 25th, 2012

State writes letters, files liens to collect

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

6/25/12

LITTLE ROCK — More than $1 billion in unpaid taxes and fees is thought to be owed to the Arkansas government, equal to about a fifth of the state’s $4.7 billion fiscal 2013 general revenue budget.

The state Department of Finance and Administration is doing all it legally can to claim the delinquent personal and business taxes and fees, Field Audit Office administrator Walter Anger said.

“We’re actively going after it every day,” Anger said. “It’s just very, very difficult in some cases.”

The state filed liens against about 30,000 Arkansans and businesses over delinquent taxes last year.

The department was able to resolve about 21 percent of liens issued by the state, but some cases can drag on for 10 years, Anger said.

He cautioned that the unpaid billion is a best guess.

“If someone doesn’t file a return, we estimate,” Anger said. “Once they come and file a correct return, that could reduce [the amount] significantly.”

The estimated tax assessments are based on gross income figures and don’t include exemptions that people can claim to lower their tax debts, said Tim Leathers, deputy director of the finance department.

“That kind of inflates the number,” he said. “It makes it look at lot larger than it is.”

Until tax forms are submitted, the department can’t verify the actual tax amount, he said.

The department takes several steps to resolve a debt before it files a lien. First, the department sends a letter to inform the person of the debt. Then, the department alerts him that the debt will be assessed. At that point, he has the right to an administrative or judicial appeal. After a taxpayer exhausts his appeals, the department levies its assessment.

If the tax matter isn’t resolved, the department has the authority to file a lien against the person in circuit court. The lien stands for 10 years and collects a 10 percent yearly interest and court costs.

Between June 1, 2011, and May 31, 2012, nearly 12,000 liens expired, Anger said.

A lien is a legal claim or hold on a piece of property as security for the payment of a debt. It has the same force as a judgment issued by a circuit court.

Liens can be issued for 41 state taxes, including individual income tax, corporate income tax, sales and use taxes, withholding taxes, motor fuel taxes, and all other taxes administered by the department, he said. Liens are filed against individuals as well as businesses.

The finance department’s 22 collection workers call and send letters to those who owe taxes, much like a credit-card company would in pursuing collection of a debt, Anger said.

“But we are not as mean,” Anger said.

Some who owe the state back taxes stop answering their phones or move to avoid paying, he said.

Once a lien has been filed, the department can attempt to resolve the matter by entering into a payment plan with the person, garnishing his bank account or tapping his state tax refunds. It’s not uncommon for people to have more than one lien issued against them, Anger said.

The department can also issue a writ of execution ordering a county sheriff to seize a person’s assets and sell them to resolve the tax debt. Any court costs or sheriff’s fees incurred while trying to collect the tax are added to the debt, according to the department.

As of last week, Anger said, Arkansas has 197,092 liens filed.

State Land Commissioner John Thurston also collects delinquent property taxes and auctions property if the taxes aren’t paid. Much of the money he recovers goes to county governments.

Counties hold delinquent properties for one year after the taxes are due. After that year, they notify the land commissioner of the delinquency. The commissioner’s role is to see whether the property owners wish to pay the taxes. If the taxes still aren’t paid, the commissioner can sell the property at a public auction and use the proceeds to pay the back taxes, which are remitted to the counties where the property is located. Such sales also get the property back into a situation where someone is paying taxes on it again.

As of Friday, the commissioner was holding 47,242 parcels that are delinquent on $36 million worth of taxes, fees and penalties, commissioner spokesman Nikki Heck said.

Of that, about $31.5 million in taxes, interest and fees would go to the counties where the property is located. The state would get about $4.6 million in penalties and fees.

If an auction brings in more than is needed to pay the back taxes, penalties and interest, the commissioner’s office will hold the excess for four to seven years. If it is not claimed by the former property owner, the money goes to the county were the property is located.

THE LAW

Gov. Mike Beebe said he is confident that the department and the commissioner are working hard to collect on the debts.

“I’m convinced that they are doing everything they can to collect them, and I’m convinced they’ll collect a large portion of them, but some of it you won’t ever collect … because of people just absconding, leaving the state,” he said. “It’s a collection process like anything else. It’s the same problem that creditors have when people don’t pay their bills. We do have a few more tools than the average private business has because we can put a lien on refunds or sell property.”

In real-estate cases, he said, the state can eventually collected the taxes.

“The system is set up so that property, after a certain period of time, gets forfeited to the state, the state sells the property and then money goes to pay the taxes,” Beebe said. “That part of the billion dollars is automatically collectable.”

“If they [the finance department] need more tools that are constitutional, that are legal, I’m happy to be supportive,” Beebe said.

The state’s tax law is called the Arkansas Tax Procedure Act of 1979, or Arkansas Code Annotated 26-18-101.

After Arkansas implemented the 1979 law, Leathers said, it became the model for many states in resolving tax delinquency. Some changes to the law have made enforcement easier, such as requiring that taxes be paid up before tobacco and alcohol beverage sellers can renew their licenses.

“What we have now, without exercising some extraordinary police power that no one wants the government to have, is working well,” Leathers said.

Some states, like California, Connecticut and Rhode Island, post lists online of people and businesses who owe the most in delinquent taxes. Arkansas clerks publish such lists in local newspapers.

Virginia’s tax code allows the state treasurer to hand off unpaid taxes to collection agencies within six months after they become delinquent.

In Missouri, a person whose taxes are delinquent may not run for office. Candidates must file affidavits with the state Department of Revenue stating that they are not aware of any tax delinquencies. A candidate whose taxes are delinquent has 30 days to resolve the matter or be kicked off the ballot and barred from running in the next election.

SPENDING A BILLION

The state’s total budget is more than $24 billion a year. It includes special revenue, such as motor fuel taxes; cash funds, like the college tuition fund; and federal funds.

General revenue comes mostly from two state sources – the income tax and the sales tax.

Before this fiscal year ends Saturday, the state is expected to have collected more revenue than the department forecast for the year.

The May revenue report, released June 4, showed that Arkansas was more than $67 million ahead of forecast for the fiscal year. The finance department director, Richard Weiss, said at the time that there was a strong possibility that the state would be $100 million above forecast by the end of the fiscal year.

Still, Beebe said there are a “bunch” of needs in the state and the $1 billion in unpaid taxes, if collected, would go a long way in addressing them.

“It would solve the Medicaid problem for a while, for one,” Beebe said.

The Department of Human Services has estimated that the state will fall as much as $450 million short in its Medicaid program by fiscal 2014, and Beebe has already warned Arkansans to expect fewer public services and possibly higher taxes to fill that gap.

House Budget Committee Chairman Kathy Webb, D-Little Rock, said “if [she] could wave a magic wand and have that billion dollars,” the money would go to further cut 1 the state’s 1/2 percent sales tax on groceries.

The grocery tax could not be eliminated, however, because Amendment 75 to the state constitution requires that one-eighth of a percentage point of it be used for conservation matters, such as the Game and Fish Commission.

Webb said that after filling the Medicaid gap, she would propose putting any remaining money into the Medicaid Trust Fund.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, said that when the state isn’t collecting all of its tax revenue, that increases the burden on people who do pay their taxes.

If people and businesses who are delinquent on their taxes started paying what they owe, he said, “I would look for a way to cut taxes and then make sure we adequately fund higher education in this state.”

 

Beebe leaves today for France mission

Monday, June 25th, 2012

Arkansas Democrat Gazette

6/23/12

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe will leave for France today to discuss agricultural issues with the French government and to meet with companies considering expanding or locating in Arkansas.

He will return Friday.

Spokesman Matt DeCample said Beebe was invited by the French government, which is paying for the majority of the trip.

DeCample said Beebe will spend an extra day in the country, at Arkansas’ expense, and will meet with prospect companies and French companies with operations in Arkansas.

The state’s portion of the trip’s cost is estimated at $25,000, and another $5,590 will come from private foundation funding.

While Beebe is there, he will meet with five companies, according to a schedule provided by the Economic Development Commission: Zodiac Aerospace, the parent company of Amfuel; Saint-Gobain; Dassault Falcon Jet; Saint Jean Industries; and Pernod Ricard.

Grant Tennille, director of the commission, said there are 10 companies in the state that are owned by French parent companies.

Tennille said Beebe will arrive in France on Sunday and will be the guest of the French minister for Agriculture and Food from Monday until Wednesday night to discuss potential imports of French products to Arkansas and exports of Arkansas products to France. He will head back to Arkansas on Friday after a day and a half of meetings with companies.