With the funding secured for the next fiscal year, GOP gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson says he will support the private option because it is the “law of the land,” but he promised reforms to the controversial program, which he labeled a “pilot project.”
In a lengthy interview with “Talk Business & Politics” host Roby Brock for this Sunday’s TV program on KATV Ch. 7, Hutchinson said if he’s elected Governor, he will closely evaluate the private option to see if it is “the right path of the future.”
“Now the dust is settled. We know that they have funded the private option. We know that there are no short-term budgetary impacts on it,” Hutchinson said. “So in 2015, just like [Rep.] Kim Hammer said – who changed his vote from a no to a yes – he said now we’re going to see if it works. I view this as a pilot project. In fact, it will be a smaller pilot project with the limitations on the marketing aspect of it.”
Hutchinson said it was crucial to monitor the long-term costs of the program and whether or not it accomplishes the policy goals outlined. He also said that voters could expect “continued efforts” aimed at reforming the program from his administration.
“The private option was a start. The whole design is reform. You can expect more reform of the private option and health care policy in Arkansas to make it unique to this state and make it work for this state. And, a key criteria for me is I want incentives for people to work, and not incentives for people not to work,” he said.
Health savings accounts (HSAs) are one reform Hutchinson has keyed in on. He personally has an HSA and while he said he’s hopeful they will work, he also expressed skepticism.
“It’s not that complicated, but it takes some guidance to get it done. But also it takes cash. You’re looking at the private option for those who are on marginal incomes. They’re not high-income individuals and so their cash flow is strained. You have to have a cash flow capability to really put a health savings account into place,” Hutchinson said.
When asked if he was supportive of the private option as the policy of the state of Arkansas, Hutchinson replied, “Oh, sure. It’s the law.”
“And our legislature by two-thirds, or three-fourths vote approved it and so the debate is ended for now. But the debate will continue. So I support the pilot project that you see in place now and we want to see how it works,” Hutchinson restated. “I will evaluate it just like all the other legislators will in terms of what’s the long-term cost impact and what’s the benefit we’re getting from the state, and does it promote work and encouragement to work in our society.”
PRIMARY CHALLENGE, TAXES
In the interview, Hutchinson also discussed expectations for his primary challenge from Curtis Coleman, clarified his comments regarding the AEA teachers’ union, and explained why his tax reform plan will make Arkansas more competitive with surrounding states.
Hutchinson said he would be satisfied with a “50% plus one” victory over primary challenger Curtis Coleman.
“In terms of expectations, I just want to win,” Hutchinson said.
He said he is different from Coleman in that he has been elected to office and has a voting record for conservative principles, such as a tax cuts, a balanced budget, and Constitutional conservatism.
Hutchinson said his tax cut plan will help middle income Arkansans. He has proposed a first-year plan as Governor to reduce the income tax rate from 7% to 6% for Arkansans earning between $34,000 to $75,000 a year, and from 6% to 5% for those earning between $20,400 to $33,999 annually. Hutchinson estimates his first-year plan could cost around $100 million, which he says can be found in growth revenue or a budget surplus.
Does Hutchinson see a total elimination of the income tax?
“No, it would be very doubtful, if not impossible, without raising other taxes. I don’t want to raise the sales tax. I don’t want to raise property taxes, which is not an income stream for the state any way,” he said. “This is just reduction and reform you can do based upon the normal growth, and hopefully, faster-paced growth that we can have by giving tax cuts to the middle class.”
“If we can get it down to 5%, all of a sudden we’re competitive with Texas and Tennessee,” Hutchinson added, noting that each state has to be evaluated with its total tax burden on citizens.
A week ago, Hutchinson and the probable Democratic nominee, Mike Ross, exchanged campaign salvos over Ross’ endorsement by the Arkansas Education Association (AEA).
A Hutchinson spokesman described the AEA as a “left-leaning” organization and said its endorsement for Ross was a case of the AEA and its national affiliate, the National Education Association (NEA), putting “their liberal ideals ahead of our kids.” Hutchinson says he stands by that characterization.
“Of course we’re not disavowing the statement. Whenever you look at the NEA, the national teachers’ organization, the national teachers’ union, they have supported Obamacare. They’ve been advocates of the Democrat majority in Congress, including Mike Ross. They’ve been team players. Of course, we’re not surprised that the union would endorse Mike Ross,” he said.
“Now, Mike Ross tries to equate the union with all the teachers in Arkansas and of course that’s wrong. We have tremendous support among the teachers. My sister was a public school teacher. My kids graduated from the public schools. I’m an advocate for teachers – they’re going to be the solution to education problems in Arkansas,” he added.
Hutchinson also said he wasn’t seeking the AEA endorsement, but merely accepting an invitation to talk to the teachers’ group. He said he would accept invitations from other groups he’s not aligned with to discuss policy issues related to the Governor’s race.
“If they invite me to meet with them, then I’m happy to do so,” he said. “I believe in meeting with political adversaries because you learn from them. They’re part of the political operations in Arkansas, so absolutely I’ll meet with them. I just didn’t expect their (AEA) endorsement.”