State Chamber CEO pleased with Legislative Session

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 139 views 

Randy Zook, CEO of the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce and Associated Industries of Arkansas, says his groups accomplished nearly every goal in the recently completed legislative session with the exception of tort reform.

But Zook said that issue may be revived through a ballot initiative.

On a scale of one to 10, Zook said it was “a nine-plus result.”

“We had a good session,” Zook said in a Talk Business Arkansas interview. “There was not much damage done, that’s always our first concern. … There was no legislation that undermined business in any way.”

Zook said that accomplishing multiple tax cut measures was a major accomplishment for the state chamber. Capital gains tax relief as well as sales tax reductions on utility expenses and replacement parts sales taxes for manufacturers were among the major highlights.

He also touted the chamber’s support for the $1.1 billion Big River Steel superproject, which will not only employ 500 high-wage workers once completed, but will also boost construction jobs by 2,000 workers over a multi-year period.

The chamber also endorsed the “private option” health insurance plan later in the session, a move seen by some as helpful to securing the supermajority of votes needed for the measure. Zook said the business community supported the “private option” to help the rural health care economy, to protect businesses from taxes if nothing was done, and to aid workers needing health insurance.

“I think people are now realizing that this may have been the best-looking horse in the glue factory,” he said. “I think we’ve come out with a good solution to a challenging issue.”

Zook noted that lower wage jobs don’t necessarily allow employers to provide benefits like health insurance.

“We’re going to have a lot healthier workforce as a result of this because most of the people who are eligible for this benefit are already employed, they’re the working poor,” Zook said.

Tort reform, which was a contentious battle in the 89th General Assembly regular session, failed to be referred as a proposed constitutional amendment to voters for 2014. The state’s business community and legal community locked horns over competing proposals regarding tort reform. In late 2011, the Arkansas Supreme Court struck down major provisions in a tort reform law that was passed nearly a decade ago.

Zook said discussions are underway to organize a ballot initiative for a tort reform law.

“If I had to guess, I’d say yes, there likely will be,” he said. “We’ve got to judge the support across the state. My hunch is it’s there.”

He added that he thought a decision on whether or not to pursue a ballot measure would be made in the next 60 days.

Link here for the video interview with Zook.