Highest Fives For Everyone (Gwen Moritz Editor's Note)

by Gwen Moritz  on Monday, Jul. 9, 2018 12:00 am   3 min read

Back this week by popular demand — one person actually did ask — is the Moritz Scale of Political Bad Behavior. Designed in 2009 with the same color-coding as the old Homeland Security Advisory System, the scale was originally designed to help gauge the magnitude of a political misstep.

Back in those halcyon days when all we had to worry about was the Great Recession, we actually had minor scandals, like the director of the new Arkansas Scholarship Lottery handing out high-paying jobs to his old buddies from South Carolina. But that was when things like cronyism and nepotism still raised eyebrows. Now politicians have to engage in flagrantly illegal behavior to get any notice.

As disgusted as I am with what Micah Neal and Jon Woods and Henry Wilkins and Eddie Cooper were doing to rip off taxpayers and enrich themselves, I think I might be even more disgusted with Mickey Gates. Neal, Woods, Wilkins and Cooper were legislators who apparently succumbed to the overwhelming temptation to use their positions for personal gain. (Yes, Neal succumbed almost immediately after being sworn into the House of Representatives, but he was under the tutelage of Woods, who flaunted some really nice sports memorabilia thanks to the kickbacks he was getting from people doing the Lord’s work of ripping off Medicaid and educating reliable conservative voters.)

Gates, on the other hand, ran for a state office in 2014 knowing full well that it had been more than a decade since he performed the rock-bottom duty of a state resident by paying his taxes. And after being elected, he kept not filing. His debt to the state, according to the charges against him, now totals more than a quarter-million dollars, including penalties and interest.

That’s not moral weakness, something that may even elicit a little compassion when it’s not part of a grand conspiracy. That’s chutzpah.

Gates was arrested late last month and charged with six state crimes related to his failure to file and pay state income taxes during the years 2011-17. He had not actually filed since 2003, but the statute of limitations is six years for this particular crime. Exactly how anyone who isn’t living off the grid — much less someone who is receiving a paycheck from the state government — can get away with not filing a tax return for a decade and a half is a question that has not been answered.

The whole timeline is bonkers. After not filing for eight years, Gates was told in 2011 — while he was serving as a justice of the peace on the Garland County Quorum Court — that he was being audited, and that audit was completed in 2015, the year he was sworn into the House of Representatives.

When the State Police started investigating earlier this year, Gates said he was making payments of $1,500 a month on a settlement of $30,000 that was supposed to cover his tax bill for 2003-07, and he thought the revenuers at the state Department of Finance & Administration had taken care of his returns for 2007-15.

While calling his tax bill an “albatross around my neck,” he acknowledged to investigators that he had not filed for 2016 or 2017. That’s a special magnitude of denial.

There’s no question that the former legislators who have been convicted of being on the take get a 5 on the Moritz Scale. And so does Mickey Gates, who should resign from the Legislature even though he has not been convicted. It’s criminally bad behavior for anyone to evade their obligation to pay taxes, and especially for someone who pretends to be a public servant.

Email Gwen Moritz, editor of Arkansas Business, at GMoritz@ABPG.com and follow her on Twitter at @gwenmoritz.



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