I am always a little embarrassed to confess, my dear wife being my primary confessor, that the arrival of Daylight Saving Time makes a profound difference for the better in my disposition. I am even more embarrassed when she replies, as she does every near-spring, “Tell me about it.” Which immediately depresses me, a little — her reminder that I’ve been something of a jerk the past few months, since the annual autumn “fall back.”
Now that we have again sprung forward, however, all of us who struggle against early darkness and gray skies can be shed of the morose and look about us for the blessings some decent temperatures and the return of the sun, after serial days of foul and dangerous weather, have brought us.
• The General Assembly has adjourned, having done a couple of good things and, measured against the potential, minimal damage. The Private Option insurance program for Arkansans without medical coverage, whose doctor and hospital bills have been paid, through higher premiums, by those who do have insurance has been given a chance to work. It may fail. But it is the first significant step in decades toward addressing a national dilemma that sees the U.S. economy and the Arkansas state budget sandbagged by the cost of health care. “Unsustainable” remains the mantra of Private Option critics, who use the same term against the larger Affordable Care Act, the Obamacare that brought about the Arkansas experiment – as if the old way of providing treatment for the low-income and indigent was sustainable, was working just fine. As if they had offered any serious alternative.
The state will end the fiscal year on June 30 with a treasury surplus of about $130 million, chump change against a $5 billion general revenue budget (not including federal funds, which will almost triple total state spending) but will provide a cushion against the emergencies, some of them predictable. The good news is that gluttony did not prevail; only about 20 percent of the surplus was committed during the legislative session.
• Barely had we gained another hour of daylight before the announcement, not altogether unexpected, that northeast Arkansas would gain about a thousand new jobs in a feed mill and poultry processing plant in Clay and Randolph counties, respectively. They will not be jobs that can finance a European vacation; the top average hourly wage will be less than $14 per hour, and in food processing, especially, the employees will deserve every nickel of it. Still, they are jobs, honorable, and for a state (and a region thereof) in need of jobs they are reason for optimism.
• Can it possibly be considered a blessing that two state constitutional officers have been publicly humiliated and driven from office, with one in imminent danger of the pokey? A stretch, perhaps, but some good could come of their self-inflicted wounds.
In the case of former Lieutenant Governor Mark Darr, who resigned weeks ago under pressure from his fellow Republicans and the rest of the political establishment, his expense accounts and campaign finances being something less than exemplary, the uproar highlighted yet again the silliness that is the office he held. What too many aspiring politicians had treated as a stepping stone was demonstrated, quite vividly in Darr’s case, to be a millstone for taxpayers — a job with virtually no responsibilities yet which commanded a staff of four and a six-figure annual payroll.
And our former state treasurer: we were in our third day of Daylight Savings when Newport’s Martha Shoffner, a Democrat who couldn’t seem to decide whether she was guilty when offered a plea bargain to federal corruption charges last year, had the decision made for her by a jury of 12 tried and true: guilty on all 14 counts. (Another 11 counts are pending, to be tried later). The primary blessing in Shoffner’s case is that she is no longer supervising billions of dollars in state investments, having resigned last year after her indictment was unsealed. But there remains, as with the office of lieutenant governor, the open question of whether the treasurer’s position as a stand-alone, independent entity ought to be preserved; abolishing either or both would require amending the state constitution.
Remarkable: neither Darr nor Shoffner evidences any real understanding of what got them in trouble.
• Here’s the real blessing: spring training has begun. Baseball is just around the corner. Winter fades, life begins anew.
• • •
Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and the host of Arkansas Week on AETN.