BY STATE REPRESENTATIVE NATE BELL –
Last week the House passed a significant tax cut measure. With a vote of 95-2, the House approved a bill to reduce the income tax for most middle class Arkansans by 1%. This bill reduces state income tax rates for those making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year. A family or individual making around $50,000 will see a savings of $300 a year on their state tax bill. The House amended the proposal to preserve a portion of previous cuts in the capital gains tax, so it will now head back to the Senate for amendment approval. When it receives final approval, SB6 will be the largest state income tax cut in Arkansas history.
This tax cut is part of the Governor’s executive recommendations for a balanced budget which was released in Joint Budget Committee this week. Governor Hutchinson’s proposals call for a $50 million increase in K-12 education which reflects the recommendations of the Adequacy Study prepared by the Education Committee last year. The Governor’s proposed budget for education also includes $65 million to improve school facilities across the state.
The Governor is also proposing to use $5 million of surplus funds to establish computer science programs in public schools. A bill has now been filed in the House which would require every public high school to offer at least one computer science course. I am co-sponsoring this bill.
The proposed budget calls for a 1% cost of living increase in pay for state employees and adds $4 million dollars for the Department of Human Services division which oversees the foster care program. Most other state agencies will see 1% across the board cut if the recommendations are approved. The Department of Finance and Administration advises us that the cuts can be made without layoffs or reduction in services.
Small increases in funding for the Department of Correction and county jail reimbursements are also included in the Governor’s proposal. This proposal is only the beginning stages of the budget process. Regardless of the Governor’s recommendations, the General Assembly has the ability to make changes it deems necessary.
During the third week, the House also passed legislation requiring write-in candidates to notify their county election commission of their intent to run 90 days prior to the election. Supporters of the bill explained this is needed to ensure a space is provided on the ballot for those who want to vote for the write-in candidate.
I am expecting a variety of proposed legislation to make its way to the House floor this week. House members have now filed over 200 bills with many more at various stages of the process. I’m currently working on 28 drafts or bills at various stages of the process and although it’s near certain that I won’t file all of them, each of them is important and requires careful study, collaboration and time.
This week, the Public Health, Welfare, and Labor committee continues its discussion on reauthorizing the Private Option and formal debate on bills related to the subject are progressing. A bill ending the program in 2016 and creating a legislative task to propose health care reform changes for the following year has passed the Senate.
I will continue to update you and remember you can watch all House committee meetings held in the Capitol and all House floor proceedings live at www.arkansashouse.org. You can follow bills that I am sponsoring or co-sponsoring at this link: http://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/assembly/2015/2015R/Pages/MemberProfile.aspx?member=Bell