You can find a wide range of opinions on Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s revised tax cut plan, which was unveiled last week. Hutchinson and key legislative leaders unveiled a smaller $97 million tax reduction proposal that would bring the state’s highest individual income tax rate to 5.9% within two years.
While supportive of the measure, Republican Senate Majority Leader Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, said it could go further.
“I can always argue it doesn’t go far enough, but I’ve learned the longer I’ve been around, when you can get a win, you better take it. I’m very, very happy with this plan,” Hester said.
The biggest argument for the tax cut among Republican lawmakers is not for a “trickle-down” effect. Hester said legislative support rounds out four years of previous tax cuts for lower income Arkansans and makes the state more competitive regionally with states with lower or no income tax rates.
“I think even a bigger concern is getting our tax rate in line with the states around us in this region. So, when there is industry looking to come to this area, Arkansas doesn’t immediately get written off because of our upper income tax bracket,” he said.
Democratic freshman State Rep. Nicole Clowney, D-Fayetteville, said the state’s priorities require more funding, not less.
“I’ll tell you if there’s one thing I’ve learned after being at the capitol for these few weeks, it is that resources are limited there. I have real concerns that cutting taxes, particularly for the highest-earning Arkansans is going to cut services and result in losses that we just can’t afford right now,” Clowney said.
Education is one of those areas where Clowney would like to see more spending. She’s supportive of the governor’s budget plan to raise teacher pay in Arkansas to a starting salary of $36,000.
“[I’m] happy to sign on as a co-sponsor to that legislation, but it’s just the tip of the iceberg. We need to do so much more for our schools,” she said.
Hester and Clowney both appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics.
With the governor’s tax cut plan revised and likely to quickly pass through the heavily Republican legislature, attention will turn to highway funding as another big item for the 92nd General Assembly.
Clowney says conversations are happening, but not much consensus has formed yet. For her, she’s absorbing arguments for what may make the most sense.
“Right now, I am sort of learning and listening when it comes to highway funding. I know that this is something that has been talked about for so long before I came on board and right now, I’m just sort of trying to take it all in and figure out where we’re going to stand on it,” Clowney said.
Hester suggests that there will never be enough money to meet all of the needs that are out there, but he’s against some of the tax increase proposals that have been floated, such as a wholesale tax on motor fuels and an extension of the half-cent sales tax.
“I think there’s always avenues to go to rather than raising taxes,” he said.
Hester supports transferring existing general revenues that are auto-related to highway funding and he’s not opposed to user fees such as a registration charge for electric cars that will use roads but not pay motor fuel taxes. Whatever the final plan is, he thinks it should be voted on by the state’s citizens. But depending on if the plan proposes raising taxes, he’s unlikely to even vote for the referral.
“I made a commitment to the voters when they elected me in District 1 that I would not do that, and I’m not going to do it. I do believe there’s a majority of Republicans and certainly a majority of the Democrats that are going to be supportive of sending an initiated act out,” Hester said.
Clowney and Hester have each rolled out legislation this week unique to their interests.
Hester wants to replace two statues of Arkansans in the U.S. Capitol. Currently, U.M. Rose, a lawyer, and James P. Clarke, a former governor and U.S. Senator, are Arkansas’ two representative statues in the National Statuary Hall at the capitol in Washington, D.C.
Hester is pushing for civil rights pioneer Daisy Gaston Bates and Navy SEAL veteran Adam Brown to replace Rose and Clarke.
“I’m pushing for Adam Brown and Daisy Bates because both of them stood for something much bigger than themselves. Certainly, Adam Brown gave his life for our country. If you’ve read his books, such a heroic thing, he overcame so many obstacles. I think it’d make us very proud that he represents us,” Hester said.
Others have suggested Johnny Cash and Sam Walton as statue replacements. A Senate meeting this week will debate the legislation.
Clowney filed a bill this week known as Crump’s Law. It allows for more sick leave for firefighters when battling cancer. The proposal honors Nathaniel Crump, a Little Rock firefighter who lost his fight against cancer in 2017.
“Crump’s Law provides one year of sick leave for firefighters who are fighting certain types of cancers. Under Arkansas law, we already recognize the fact that certain types of cancers are linked with fighting fires,” Clowney said.
“The reason why I chose this as my first piece of legislation is because I know that it’s not something that anybody wants. Nobody wants firefighters returning to fight fires while they’re also fighting stage 4 cancer. There’s not a person in the legislature that wants that, so at this point, it’s just coming up with a solution for how we avoid it,” she added.
You can watch Hester’s and Clowney’s full interviews in the videos below.