Editor’s note: Commentary from Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R). Opinions, commentary and other essays posted in this space are wholly the view of the author(s).
This week, the State Capitol was buzzing as the final days of preparation before the upcoming legislative session came to an end. Monday, Jan. 9, 2017 will mark the beginning of the 91st General Assembly of the Arkansas State Legislature.
The state legislature has changed a lot throughout our state’s rich history. Over the years, members of the General Assembly have expressed positions and perspectives as diverse as the people of Arkansas, themselves.
And there is always change. For example, today, Republicans hold a large majority in the Arkansas Legislature. But a few decades ago, former Representative Preston Bynum from Benton County was the only Republican member of the House. Once during the 69th General Assembly in 1973, the chamber broke into caucus, and the Speaker of the House joked, “Democrats caucus will meet in the Committee Room. Republicans caucus in the phone booth.”
Even though times are different in our state legislature, ultimately, our democratic system has remained effective due to our legislature’s willingness to work together, regardless of party, to accomplish good things for Arkansas.
I am pleased with the great contribution our state legislature has made in recent years. Most recently, the Arkansas Legislature has gained national attention for its success in improving the fairness of our state’s tax administration. Arkansas adopted several reforms to change the state tax regulations and create a more fair system for taxpayers, such as eliminating the requirement that taxpayers pay or post a bond before an independent hearing could be held.
The adoption of these reforms earned Arkansas designation as the “Most Improved” state in a recent report by the Council on State Taxation. According to this report, Arkansas now ranks as a top 10 state in fairness of tax administration.
This is just one example of the good things that happen when the Arkansas Legislature works together for the people of our state. I look forward to working with the general assembly on further reforms and improvements in the upcoming session.
This year, I am proposing an economic development initiative to create a tax cut for low income Arkansans, as well as a tax cut for retired military service members. In education, I am proposing a number of initiatives, including the ArFuture Grant Program and a new Higher Education Funding Formula. In terms of government efficiencies, I am proposing a reform of the state pay plan, ongoing improvements to address foster care, repurposing tobacco settlement funds to decrease the disability waitlist and more.
All of this will focus on my priorities of economic development, education and efficiencies, and I look forward to working together with the legislature to make them a reality during the 91st General Assembly.