Preventing changes to the minimum wage act that voters approved, finding more money for pre-Kindergarten funding, and promoting an earned income tax credit over high-end tax cuts are current priorities for Democratic members of the Arkansas General Assembly.
Democrats hold a superminority of votes in the Arkansas House with 24 of 100 seats and just nine seats out of 35 in the Arkansas Senate.
House Minority Leader Rep. Charles Blake, D-Little Rock, said he believes the power of his caucus’ arguments will prevail in the issues that matter most to legislative Democrats.
“We represent people,” Blake said on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics. “All of us represent 30,000 people in the House and 90,000 people in the Senate. If people see these plans side by side, see the contrast, what we’re asking for is people to be engaged… It is democracy. It is a process.”
Blake said he believes that legislators will not create exemptions to the state’s new $11 per hour minimum wage law, which was voter-approved with roughly 68% support. A bill by State Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Berryville, would carve out exemptions for younger workers, non-profits and businesses with fewer than 50 employees.
Blake said he’s “absolutely” certain that the bill won’t pass and his caucus is opposed to any changes to the measure approved by voters.
“No compromises. The people have voted on this. 68% of the people, of Arkansans, said yes let’s raise the minimum wage, let’s do it gradually over the next four years to raise the minimum income. It helps us raise the median income. So, this is something that I don’t know why we’re having this discussion. Even in Bob’s counties, all of his counties that he represents, over 65% of the people have voted for it. So I think we’re sent here to listen to our constituents, not to tell them what’s best for them,” Blake said.
While Gov. Asa Hutchinson is proposing a tax reform plan that would lower the state’s top tax rate to 5.9%, Blake said Democrats will resurrect their argument from previous sessions and a recent task force study to push for an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC program is a refundable tax credit for low- to moderate-income working individuals and families, particularly those with children.
“It’s one of those things where when you show people the contrast, of the earned income tax credit, putting more money in working family’s pockets, which then puts more money into local economies compared to giving the top 2% a tax cut, I think people are going to see which plan works best,” he said.
When reminded that the governor was re-elected with 65% of the vote while campaigning for his tax plan, Blake said legislators were also re-elected to represent their respective districts.
“If people start calling their representatives, people start calling their senators, saying hey let’s take a look at the earned income tax rate. Let’s really take a look at benefiting working families. I think people will start listening,” Blake said.
Blake also defended positions seeking more money for pre-K funding saying he is “visiting with the governor’s office” to find more dollars in the budget. He also said that Democrats want reforms to Arkansas Works, the Medicaid expansion program. Blake said there need to be changes to the broadband requirements to maintain enrollment, calling it a “broken system.”
Watch his full interview in the video below.