Arkansas Democrats outline legislative priorities, draw differences with Governor’s plan

by Roby Brock ( 654 views 

House Minority Leader Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, discusses legislative priorities.

Arkansas Democratic legislators held a press conference after Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s inaugural address on Tuesday (Jan. 15) to draw differences in their priorities over the governor’s stated goals.

Two new lawmakers, State Rep. Megan Godfrey, D-Springdale, and State Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, offered formal comments in a dual presentation in the newly renovated Old Supreme Courtroom at the state Capitol.

After two lower income tax break packages in previous sessions, Hutchinson is promoting a tax cut plan that would reduce the top tax bracket in Arkansas to 5.9%. He has also called for teacher pay raises, a state government reorganization plan, and an undefined as-yet highway program.

Richardson said Democrats believe an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) would go further to help working families, and he added that roads and pre-K education funding should come before top-end tax breaks.

“We believe in giving every working Arkansas family tax relief, through an Earned Income Tax Credit. And making a meaningful investment in Pre-K for the first time in a decade. And we know our roads needs to be rebuilt. All these should be higher priorities than a tax break for the richest 13% in our state,” Richardson said. “All Arkansans need tax relief, but it doesn’t make sense to a give a tax cut to the wealthy, if the rest of us have the sacrifice so much just to afford it.”

“We look forward to working with Governor Hutchinson. His speech today gave us hope that we can agree on fundamental issues and those are the areas where we can make progress together this session. I know my Republican colleagues can agree that every child in Arkansas deserves to
go to pre-K. Every county in Arkansas deserves to have safe roads that are properly maintained and funded,” said Godfrey, who delivered a portion of her remarks in Spanish.

Democrats only hold 24 of the 100 seats in the Arkansas House and nine of the 35 seats in the State Senate. They do not represent majorities on any of the House or Senate committees.

House Minority Leader Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, said after Tuesday’s press conference that he’s not sure where Democrats may draw a line on the governor’s tax plan. He wants a debate on the EITC as well as other proposals that were discussed. He’s hopeful that other proposals will at least be considered despite the Democrats’ minority status.

“If we’re truly worried about the working families in this state and putting more money in their pockets, putting more money back to local economies, then the proposal about working families and earned income tax credits is something we should all be taking serious looks at,” Blake told content partner KUAR.

“We’re going to let Arkansans know about our priorities. So once we get to that line, we’re going to decide if it’s something we stand on or is this something that we can be, let me find the right word, amenable about,” Blake said.