By Jeri Pearson
Governor Asa Hutchinson gave the State of the State Address to the 93rd General Assembly on Jan. 12 and opened by acknowledging the “historic challenges besetting our nation, [and the] global pandemic that has impacted every aspect of life…”
He also noted the “violent mob assault our nation’s capital,” and said, “They attacked the foundations of our democracy… And when the election is over, then we need to come together, united to strengthen our democracy and heal our land.”
Hutchinson said while we all have our political principles and convictions, that we dare not abandon, we can still find solutions and ways to work together for the common good.
Legislation to support healthcare workers and public tools needed to defeat the pandemic and boost the economy, as well as assure police officers have the highest standards and are fully funded, trained and supported.
He said he also want laws to increase accountability and oversight, and he wants action taken to reward teachers.
“In each regular session, we have lowered taxes on-hard working Arkansans, and this year the individual income tax rate has been reduced to 5.9%,” Hutchinson said. “In total, as a result of our all of our income tax cuts, we have moved $800 million from the government checkbook into the hands of individuals across our state.”
Hutchinson also noted teachers’ pay has been increased and the state has become a nationally recognized leader in computer science education.
“We have, for the first time, devoted state resources to expand high speed internet in unreached areas of our state. $86.8 million has been invested in the Rural Connect Grant program. This has provided internet access to over 70,000 Arkansans, who previously lacked service.”
Another boon to the state is the equalization of sales tax collections, now that online transactions are treated the same as sales from Main Streets small businesses.
The reduction of state employees by restructuring some government organization resulted in 1,700 fewer state employees than in 2015, an estimated annual savings of $77 million. Legislators begin the session with, “the best budget position in more than a decade… and an unallocated surplus of over $200 million. And after six months into our current budget year, we have exceeded our revenue forecasts by more than $300 million,” Hutchinson said, and noted more than 53,000 more Arkansans are employed today than in January of 2015.
The Governor said several letters were received asking the state to support hate crime legislation. “The main objection that I hear from my conservative friends is that it gives some people more protection than others. Or it has been phrased, ‘if you’re going to do it for one group of people, why wouldn’t you do it for another?’
Hutchinson said the legislation applies equally and hopes the legislature will move to pass the act. “If you are Hispanic, and you are targeted, it applies. If you’re a Jewish, it applies. If you’re a Caucasian, it applies. Or African American or any other race, it applies equally. It enhances the penalty for targeting regardless of the race that is targeted.” “The only way we can come together on this issue is for us to listen to each other, and to step into other’s shoes who live in a different world than ours. When we do this, then we can come together and find the best solution. … Let’s not be the last to enact it. But let’s lead and do what is important for so many.”
Hutchinson said he would continue supporting children suffering from abuse, support for foster children, and noted state is the number one pro-life state in the nation.
The Governor also commented on the state’s tax rate and the effects of lowering the income tax.
“Six years ago, we started cutting the income tax rate in Arkansas… because of our measured approach and our emphasis upon private sector growth, we have lowered taxes, fully funded K-12 education, increased funding for higher education, and created not only a surplus, but the first Long-Term Reserve Fund in history. And now we are poised to do more.”
Hutchinson said $100 million in his proposed budget has been set aside for the Long-Term Reserve Fund increase.
“And we have set aside over $50 million for tax cuts for middle- and lower-income Arkansans,” he said. “Let’s work together to determine the best way to get this done.”
Hutchinson has asked for two specific tax cuts proposals as part of his budget package.
“Let’s reduce the sales tax on used cars that sell from $4,000 to $10,000. Currently, the sales tax rate is 6.5%. We can reduce that to 3.5% and give relief to thousands of Arkansans who depend upon used vehicles for getting to work and school.”
Hutchinson said to pay for tax cuts, we need to continue to grow our economy and bring people to Arkansas.
“If we can lower our tax rate for new residents to 4.9% for five years, then we will attract new Arkansans who will create jobs, spend money, and pay taxes,” he said. “By just lowering our tax rate to 5.9%, we have seen people return to our state and invest in our future.”
According to one study, Arkansas ranked number 10 in the nation for the number of people moving into our state.