Arkansas Under Clinton

GEORGE BUSH, in pressing his campaign against Bill Clinton in the presidential race, is - either purposely or through ignorance - forgetting some economic realities about the states of the Old South.

The Bush campaign line is that Governor Clinton has subjected the people and the resources of Arkansas to the ravages of low-wage industries, rampant pollution of waterways, regressive taxes, and low-paying jobs. "The failed governor of a small state," Republicans like to call him.

But that taunt needs to be put into perspective. By a number of yardsticks Clinton has been a moderately successful governor of a state shackled by a legacy of poverty. For reasons rooted deep in their history, most of the Southern states have lagged far behind the rest of the nation in economic performance.

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As a result, Mr. Clinton and other Arkansas leaders of the modern era - like many of their counterparts in Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, the Carolinas, Louisiana, Tennessee, and even to some extent the president's adopted home state, Texas - have partly accepted unsatisfactory conditions in the name of economic growth.

These Southern leaders have, in effect, paid industries to locate in their poor region. They have donated land, forgiven or delayed taxes, and accepted wages well below national norms. Keeping income and property taxes low, Southern policymakers have used sales and gasoline taxes for general revenue, even though such taxes disproportionally burden lower-income people. And these states have settled for less than pristine air and sparkling streams to attract industry.

A pragmatist, Clinton has accepted some compromises in order to give a yank on Arkansas' economic bootstraps. And he's met with some success: According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, under Clinton both job growth and income growth in Arkansas have slightly bettered the national averages.

Clinton hasn't worked miracles as governor, and it's far from clear that he could duplicate even his modest economic achievements on a national scale. But at least the record should be kept straight.

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