After nearly three months, the work of the Arkansas General Assembly is nearing completion. And while there is more work to be done, I am very pleased that all of my legislative priorities have passed.
The first item we tackled was the $50 million tax cut for lower-income Arkansans. This builds upon my $100 million tax cut for the middle class from 2015 and sets the stage for future reductions as we work towards a long-term goal of flattening Arkansas’s tax rate.
I was also pleased to sign the retired military tax cut into law. This will eliminate the state income tax on military retirement pay. We want to make Arkansas an even better place for military retirees and their families.
Another priority we accomplished was redirecting a portion of the Tobacco Settlement Funds to decrease the backlog of those on the disability waitlist. This underscores our state’s commitment to those in need.
When it comes to education, I eagerly anticipate the outcomes of our new Higher Education Productivity Funding formula. It’s a model that will focus on student success and program completion instead of just enrollment numbers.
In Arkansas, student achievement is paramount. To help students complete their degrees, we created the Arkansas Future Grant program. Now, students who are pursuing a high-demand field of study, like computer science or welding, will receive funding for two years of tuition and fees at an Arkansas community or technical college. This will increase educational opportunities for our high school graduates.
When it comes to managing the use of taxpayer dollars, it’s important to always be looking for ways to be more efficient and cost-effective. During the session, we did this by eliminating over a dozen unnecessary boards and commissions. Additionally, we proposed realignment of several agencies to improve their delivery of services; and we created the Transformation Advisory Board, who are volunteer citizens, to help find ways to improve state government and the services it provides.
For state employees, legislation was passed to reform the state pay plan, and for our law enforcement community, I signed the Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers bill into law – which will help reduce the incarceration rate of those with mental illness and increase public safety.
And last, but certainly not least, we separated the dual holiday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and General Robert E. Lee, in addition to supporting Civil War education in the classroom. This initiative was especially meaningful to me, and I could not be more pleased with the outcome and bipartisanship of this bill’s passage.
Thanks to the great work of the members of the 91st General Assembly, our state has enacted measures that drive economic development and identify better ways to serve Arkansans. As governor, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished this session, and I look forward even greater milestones as we reach those in the future.
Editor’s note: Guest commentary from Gov. Asa Hutchinson, as provided by the Governor’s office.