Gov. Asa Hutchinson told Arkansas lawmakers that the state of the state “is exceptional,” as he outlined his legislative priorities on Day 2 of the 91st General Assembly.
In a joint session of the House and Senate, which included the Arkansas Supreme Court and the state’s other constitutional officers, Hutchinson harkened back to his predecessor 50 years ago, former Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, whose progressive views helped influence generations of Arkansas politics. Rockefeller was sworn into office in his historic first term on this exact day – January 10, 1967 – a half century ago.
Hutchinson told the capitol audience that Arkansas was at a key moment in state history that will be defined by change.
“Every generation faces change, but in today’s world the change comes at a faster clip than ever before,” the governor said in his upbeat 25-minute address. “But while change defines our place in history, we must not be driven by the wind. We must be anchored and confident that our character and our values shape the future of Arkansas and the decision we make as leaders.”
Hutchinson kicked off the 2017 general session pointing back to the inauguration of the state’s 37th chief executive, former Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller. He said that like then, the state has a “moment in history” where the three branches of government are facing special challenges that will define the state’s future progress.
“There is not a more exciting time to be an Arkansan,” the governor said. “The state of our state is exceptional.”
The popular GOP governor noted that Arkansas’ population base will likely cross the 3 million mark in 2017 at a time when many other states are seeing major population declines.
In the rest of his address, Hutchinson gave a robust assessment of the Arkansas economy and business environment and outlined many of his key priorities for the session, ranging from his $50.5 million tax reform package and his goal of improving the state’s education opportunities at all levels.
Hutchinson told the members of the legislature to remain focused on assuring that Arkansas is competitive in the global marketplace, and put in a position where every child has access to a world-class education.
“We help shape the global economy because we are global leaders in agriculture, medicine, retailing, manufacturing and energy,” he said “Our voice is experienced, strong and needs to be heard. We are in a position to shape the global marketplace. We do this through engagement – by education and exchange.”
Hutchinson also reiterated his administration’s momentum in growing the economy through continuing pursuing investments in Arkansas from abroad. He said he will continue to seek foreign direct investment to create jobs, boost the economy and capitalize on the central location of the state.
The Republican governor closed his speech by telling a personal story of being raised on a farm by parents who didn’t have much, but “we believed we had everything important — family, faith and opportunity.”
“Let me conclude by reaffirming a commitment Gov. Rockefeller made to the people of Arkansas at that historic changing point in history 50 years ago,” he said. “Now is not the time for party politics. I was elected by Republicans, Democrats and Independents; by people of all races and all creeds, from all walks of life.
“As governor of Arkansas, I intend to represent all, and so I dedicate my administration to the people of Arkansas. May God bless each of us as we work to make sure the Arkansas Dream is possible for everyone,” the governor concluded.
After the governor’s speech, Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, commended Hutchinson for his commitment to reform the state’s tax base and said he would back off his $105 tax reform proposal in deference to the governor.
“As always, the governor is very thoughtful from every position and direction,” Hester said. “Hearing the governor be vocal and say that he is supportive of the (Blue Ribbon) tax reform commission, I’m going to back down on my personal wishes for the increased income taxes as this time, knowing that I will have the governor’s full support for overall reform in two years.”