In roughly two weeks, House Republicans in the state legislature are expected to roll out a policy plan that might serve as the foundation for their candidates hoping to take the House majority this fall. The platform is expected to offer a blueprint of what GOP lawmakers would do in the 2013 legislative session if they win that majority.
What that agenda might be won’t be much of a mystery based on public comments and interviews on the subject from the Arkansas blog-o-sphere.
The Arkansas Patriot blog first reported on comments made last week by Rep. Mark Biviano (R-Searcy) about the policy agenda. Here are a few details from his speech:
- Reigning in government spending through performance-based budgeting for state agencies
- Tax reform, including eliminating the capital gains tax
- Fixing Medicaid
- Several pro-life measures
- Reforming unemployment benefits
- Instituting voter ID requirements
Also, education reform will be front-and-center on the GOP agenda. From hints we’ve detected here and there, there will be an emphasis on more school choice for parents. It is unclear if this involves vouchers, more charter schools, etc. at this time.
Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Hot Springs) has been leading the policy development and is the new House Minority Leader. His interview with the Arkansas News Bureau touches on some of the subjects Biviano mentioned, particularly income tax reform.
From the Arkansas News Bureau:
One of the key points in the plan will be cutting the state income tax. Westerman said Arkansas “has a disadvantage in our tax rates compared to our neighboring states in the income tax.”
“Income tax is something that helps everyone who’s working, and it gives employees and people on fixed income an immediate raise,” he said. “I’m not saying that lowering income taxes is going to fix the economy, but I think it’s part of the equation to make Arkansas more competitive.”
The idea is likely to meet some resistance.
Rep. Hank Wilkins, D-Pine Bluff, a legislator since 1999, said he does not buy the argument that Arkansas is at a disadvantage because of its income tax rate, noting that the state has fared better than most during the economic downturn.
“If you lift the income tax in and of itself out of the context of the entire revenue stream, then that could create problems for Arkansas,” Wilkins said. “We don’t need to make rash … cuts here and there in order to (curry) favor with voters without telling the voters the whole story, and that is that we put them at a disadvantage in some other way if we lift that one thing out of the total tax context.”
A challenge for all politicians — Republicans or Democrats — will be to reformulate the overall tax code to find the revenue needed for massive tax reform. See more thoughts on the subject here.
Also, Gov. Mike Beebe (D) has two more years in office and would be an unlikely advocate of a tax overhaul that didn’t have a low-risk threshold.