Governor: Teacher pay raise not on call for special session

by Steve Brawner ([email protected]) 3,831 views 

Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s call for a special legislative session starting Aug. 8 will focus on tax cuts and will not include a pay raise for teachers, the governor said on Wednesday (July 6). He also said abortion rules may be part of the session call.

Hutchinson made the comments after a public appearance where he named Bill Jones, CEO of the Sissy’s Log Cabin jewelry store company based in Pine Bluff, to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.

“The core of the session, the reason it’s called, is to provide the tax relief,” Hutchinson told reporters.

The governor announced he was calling a special session July 5 after the Department of Finance and Administration said the state had a $1.628 billion surplus for fiscal year 2022, which ended June 30. Hutchinson said there is broad agreement in the Legislature for accelerating, retroactive to January 2022, the already approved reduction in the state’s top income tax rate from 5.5% to 4.9%. The reduction is scheduled under current state law to occur incrementally until Jan. 1, 2025.

The package would also accelerate an already approved cut in the corporate income tax, harmonize Arkansas law with the federal Section 179 depreciation schedule on the purchase of new and used equipment, and provide tax relief for Arkansans earning lower incomes. The governor said there was no support in the Legislature for a teacher salary increase, so he will not include it on the agenda.

“They want to wait till down the road to consider it, and so that is not on the table because of that lack of support there,” he said.

He called it a “disappointment” because he wanted to provide teacher pay raises this fall to allow Arkansas to compete with other states. The governor had first proposed raising teacher salaries to a minimum of $46,000 while implementing at least a $4,000 salary increase. He later scaled that proposal back to $42,000 with a $4,000 increase for the 2022-23 school year, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette has reported.

The governor said another issue to be considered is providing alternatives to abortion in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s overturning of the Roe v. Wade decision, which triggered a near-total ban on abortions in Arkansas.

“That’s come up in conversations,” he said. “I’ve mentioned that need. You know, what can we do more for maternal care? What can we do more for adoption services because of the increased number that’s going to be demanding that? And so that is a potential issue, although I’ve learned that I’m going to be able to address a number of those issues within our existing Medicaid program, so just stay tuned.”

He said he has not presented any specific ideas, but it is a potential topic.

School safety is another issue that could be discussed in the special session. Hutchinson has called back into action the Arkansas School Safety Commission, first appointed in 2018, to consider updates to its earlier recommendations.

The commission’s initial report is due Aug. 1, only a week before the special session, but the governor said he will be meeting beforehand with the commission’s chair, Dr. Cheryl May.

Jones is the governor’s final expected appointment to the Game and Fish Commission. He is vice chair of the Arkansas Game and Fish Foundation and a past president of the Pine Bluff chapter of Ducks Unlimited, among his other public service involvements.

“It’s been quite a long wait. I’ve dreamed of this my entire life,” Jones said after being announced.

Hutchinson said he interviews all his potential Game and Fish Commission appointments, which he said he considers equivalent to a judicial appointment. He said he looks for people who have experiences in outdoor hunting and fishing activities, understand the importance of public lands, and follow the science while being conservationists.

“I believe that this is God’s creation, and that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of it and to enjoy it,” he said.

Jones replaces Fort Smith businessman Bennie Westphal on the commission. Westphal was appointed in December 2020 to fill out the remaining term of Joe Morgan, who died in November.