Ballinger responds to King mailer
State Sen. Bob Ballinger responded last week to criticism from former legislator Bryan King, one of his four opponents in the May 24 preferential primary, who has referred to Ballinger as “Back Tax Bob” in campaign mailers.
Ballinger currently holds the District 5 seat in the Arkansas State Senate. The district includes a portion of Carroll County as well as parts of Crawford, Franklin, Johnson, Sebastian and Washington counties and all of Madison County. Legislative districts were redrawn after the 2020 U.S. Senate and Ballinger is now running to represent District 28, which includes all of Carroll County as well as all of Madison County and portions of Boone, Newton, Franklin and Johnson counties.
Ballinger is being opposed in the Republican primary by King — whom Ballinger defeated in the 2018 Republican primary for the District 5 seat that had been held by King — as well as Bob Largent of Harrison, state Rep. Keith Slape of Compton and Ted Walker of Huntsville. Jim Wallace of Eureka Springs is unopposed in the Democratic primary and will run against the Republican primary in the November general election.
A campaign mailer for King features a photo of Ballinger with the words “Back Tax Bob.” The mailer lists “delinquent taxes” of $2,161.14 for 2017, $1,732.09 for 2018, $900 for 2019 and $1,340 for 2021.
In an interview on Tuesday, April 19, with Harrison radio station KHOZ, Ballinger called King “delusional.” Ballinger also noted that there are no current state liens pending against him.
“It’s gotten to the point where he’s delusional,” Ballinger said. “There’s a recent article that came out Democrat-Gazette, listed a big long list of candidates who have tax liens. I’m not on that list because I don’t have any tax liens.”
Ballinger, who lost a home in Madison County to foreclosure several years ago and currently lives in a home in rural Johnson County that was purchased by his parents in 2020, acknowledged that he and his wife have had financial issues.
“We definitely aren’t rich,” Ballinger said. “In fact, we’ve had real money problems in the past. We were involved in real estate when the real estate crashed in 2008. We’ve had to work through some things, for sure, and we have eight kiddos.”
Ballinger said he and his wife regularly set up a payment schedule for their tax bill.
“So we file our taxes, and when we file our taxes, we have a tax bill, we set up payments, we pay off our taxes,” he said. “Do it every year. We’ll have zero taxes tomorrow. We’ll make our last payment. It’ll be zero taxes that are owed.”
He called King’s reference to back taxes a lie.
“All those back — I mean it’s a lie, is what it is,” Ballinger said. “In fact, one of them says 2021 taxes. Like, I don’t know if he’s got a crystal ball but I hadn’t even filed my 2021 taxes when it came out. It just shows you that he is willing to say anything and do anything. It’s just over and over.”
The numbers listed in King’s mailer, however, are based on Ballinger’s statements of financial interest, which are filed annually with the Arkansas secretary of state’s office and cover the previous calendar year:
• In an SFI filed Jan. 31, 2018, covering the calendar year 2017, Ballinger lists “Past Due Amounts Owed to Government” as $985.58 to “DFA” for “income taxes” and $1,175.56 to “Carroll County Tax Collector” for “county taxes.” The two amounts total $2,161.14.
• In an SFI filed Jan. 31, 2019, covering the calendar year 2018, Ballinger lists $1,732.09 owed to “Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration” for “state taxes.”
• In an SFI filed Jan. 31, 2020, covering the year calendar year 2019, Ballinger lists $900 owed to “State of Arkansas” for “2018 Taxes.”
• In an SFI filed Jan. 31, 2022, covering the calendar year 2021, Ballinger lists $1,340 owed to “State of Arkansas” for “2020 Taxes.”
Ballinger also noted in his interview that his name was not included in a recent newspaper article listing candidates for state offices who have current tax liens.
“I’m not on that list, because I don’t have any tax liens,” Ballinger said.
“In the interview, he clearly does not tell the truth,” King said. “I didn’t say anything about tax liens. What I said was back taxes.”
The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration issued a lien against Ballinger and his wife in November 2018 for unpaid state income taxes. A certificate of indebtedness indicated the Ballingers owed $1,732.09 for the tax period ending Dec. 31, 2017.
Ballinger, an attorney, told the Carroll County News at the time that he had not been aware of the lien. He said he and his wife had been making payments on their state tax debt and that a lien should not have been issued.
The state finance department released the lien in May 2019, writing in a letter to the Carroll County circuit clerk’s office that the debt had been satisfied.
Ballinger told the Madison County Record that his “calling to an active service in public office does not lend itself to producing a successful income.”
He echoed that theme in his KHOZ interview.
“Working in legislative, a lot of people act like you become a fat cat and get rich,” he said. “It’s terrible for a law practice. I promise you it’s terrible. But it’s what I’m doing. I’m called to do it. I’m not complaining a bit.”
Ballinger and his wife also were delinquent on personal property tax payments in Carroll County for four consecutive years, for tax years 2017 to 2020. After moving to Johnson County in 2020, they were also delinquent on personal property taxes in that county for the tax year 2020.
Ballinger said King’s focus on his tax issues is a distraction from the real issues of the campaign.
“Honestly from my standpoint, the truth is, I’ve got a record,” he said. “If you want to know who to vote for, you can look at all these other peripheral things. All these things could be important and you try to figure out what’s true and what’s not, but the best way to do it is, what’s your record? How have you done?”
At the same time that Ballinger has owed taxes to the state, he has collected more than $86,000 in per diem, mileage and other expense payments over the last three years in addition to his annual salary of $42,428. Ballinger received $32,254 for per diem, mileage and other expenses in 2019, $17,774 in 2020 and $35,975 in 2021.
King has said that if he’s elected, he’ll sponsor a bill prohibiting such payments to legislators with outstanding tax bills.
“You’re supposed to set an example,” he said. “Even Jesus said pay your taxes.”
King noted that Ballinger serves on the state legislature’s Joint Budget Committee.
“Somebody that can’t manage his own personal accounts doesn’t need to be managing a close to $30 billion budget,” King said. “The other thing I would say is, you shouldn’t be taking trips on the taxpayer dime while you’re delinquent in taxes, and you shouldn’t cash per diem checks.”
Offered an opportunity to comment, Ballinger replied via text message: “Are you doing a story on King skipping 73% of his votes while taking 100% of his salary and per diem?”
Ballinger didn’t elaborate on other questions, including whether he has filed his 2022 tax return and whether he owes state taxes on that return.
“When you guys demonstrate you are anything but a communication arm of my opponent’s campaign, we can talk,” he said via text message.