Arkansans prepare for upcoming tax season
I’ll begin this week with a reminder and hopefully some helpful information. While Arkansas state tax and federal returns are not due until April 15, thousands of Arkansans may begin filing soon in the hope of a refund. This year, the IRS will begin accepting and processing returns on January 31. (This is a later date than previous years due to the government shut down last fall.)
Because we realize that many citizens need assistance in preparing their taxes and filing returns, we would like to remind you about the free services offered to many Arkansans. The Internal Revenue Service offers its Free File electronic tax filing program to all taxpayers. Those taxpayers who earned less than $58,000 in adjusted gross income in 2013 are also eligible to receive free online filing help. Visit www.irs.gov for more information.
Arkansans making less than $52,000 a year and members of the U.S. Armed Services are also eligible for free in person tax filing assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. VITA sites are typically located in community centers, libraries, and schools. You can find one near you by calling 1-800-906-9887.
Arkansans over the age of 60 can also find free assistance through the Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) program. For those locations call 1-888-227-7669.
If you are not eligible for free assistance, it is always best to get multiple estimates before choosing a service. Arkansas Attorney General Dustin McDaniel has more advice concerning tax preparation services on his consumer website at www.gotyourbackarkansas.org.
Last Monday was a holiday for all state offices, including the legislature, for the Martin Luther King celebrations. Senator Mark Pryor visited Monticello for the program Monday night!
Tuesday the Arkansas Veterans Commission met and voted to recommend a site in North Little Rock as the location of the new Veterans Home to State Director of Veterans Affairs Cissy Rucker. The 52.7 acre site across from Fort Roots is now a nine-hole golf course. The site was described by some as serene with a small lake nearby. (A location near Searcy was their second choice.) Although another two weeks may pass before Rucker declares her final choice, the NLR site seems inevitable. However, rest assured we all want the best possible location and site for our veterans.
Several more discussions centered around Arkansas’ private-option health care plan and its funding. This will surely be the hot topic for the upcoming fiscal session. More than 70,000 Arkansans have enrolled so far in the program and, should it not be funded, there is no Plan B. Those folks will have no insurance and the entire state budget will have to be reworked.
Another hearing was held this week on the practices of the Arkansas Securities Department Commissioner. He has been accepting “donations” to certain nonprofit organizations in lieu of collecting fines levied by his department. More than $17,000 in these “donations” were made to an out-of-state organization of which he was president, rather than put into the state treasury for general revenues. The commissioner asserts he has the power to do this because the Arkansas securities laws do not say he can’t.
The commissioner, with this unbelievable sense of presumptive powers, seems to think companies would rather make a donation (of his discretion) rather than pay a fine. After the latest hearing, he said he will not allow any more contributions at all. I can predict that legislature will be passed in 2015 that will certainly put an end to that practice—lest he forget!
The big brouhaha was settled this week relating to the popular names of the three constitutional amendments on the November ballot. The secretary of state’s office will use the names suggested by the Attorney General’s office. Wistfully, this may be the beginning of cooperation and a good faith measure between the respective offices.
Dirk Haselow, state epidemiologist with the Arkansas Health Department, visited the legislature Friday and shared information that 25 Arkansans have died from the flu thus far this season. The youngest was 2-months old and the oldest was 77-years old. He said the department is investigating a number of other deaths to see if they were related to the flu.
He also revealed that this year’s flu deaths hit the age group from 25 to 50 hardest. The average age of flu victims this year is 49. He said he wouldn’t be surprised if the total number of deaths hits 50 by the end of the season. He informed us that there are plenty of flu shots available and it is not too late to get one. I have had two terrible cases of flu in my life and I’d encourage you to get a shot. I don’t ever wish to be that sick again.
We also learned last week that 734 students lost their lottery scholarships at semester because they didn’t achieve any academic progress during the first semester. The legislature passed a law in 2013 making this the result of lack of any achievement. There was concern that some students may take the money and not attend class. Now they must attend classes and make some degree of progress toward a degree or lose the scholarship. We will be monitoring this cause\effect issue in the future.
This completes my report covering nearly every topic of interest to southeast Arkansas that we have discussed this week. (I left out broadband and GIS surveys.) I hope you found something of interest. Thank you for allowing me to represent you. I hope you will remember none of us will agree 100 percent on any topic. I try to be there, be alert and represent the will of the majority of my constituents. It’s not all about “me”. If you think I can help you, call me. I’ll give it my best effort.