Gov. Sanders touts tax cuts, budget tightening and support for Trump

by Roby Brock ([email protected]) 587 views 

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Sanders said she remains focused on reducing the state income tax to zero, despite some who have expressed concerns about fully eliminating the tax that could lead to a reduction in state services.

In a wide-ranging interview on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics and Capitol View, Sanders also said she planned to remain governor of Arkansas if Donald Trump reclaims the presidency this election cycle.

The interview was taped on Thursday (June 20) and aired statewide on Sunday (June 23).

Lawmakers completed a special session last week, called by Sanders, to reduce the top personal income tax rate from 4.4% to 3.9% and the top corporate income tax rate from 4.8% to 4.3%.

“People are generally happy when they’re paying less taxes, so that’s a big win, and when you’re competing with Texas on one side, Tennessee on the other, and even the other surrounding states that had a lower tax rate prior to the tax cuts we passed this week, it makes it harder for businesses to want to come in because their employees aren’t going to make as much money for how much they’re paying them,” Sanders said. “So it’s a great recruiting tool. It’s something that we hear constantly. They like what they see that we’re doing here in Arkansas.”

Sanders said she plans to remain prudent in her focus on reducing the personal income tax to zero.

“Our goal is ultimately to get to zero. How long that takes, I think, is a question. We want to be responsible about it. We don’t want to put our state in a bad position, but right now, we feel very confident that in those other areas, sales tax in particular, there’s a lot of purchasing power going on in the state, and we’re continuing to see extreme revenue come in from that,” she said, noting that there is more than $3 billion in reserves for an economic downturn.

Arkansas’ $6 billion state budget is largely funded by personal income taxes, business taxes and sales taxes. Nearly half of state revenues are collected from personal income taxes. Local governments are largely supported by property taxes and local sales taxes.

Critics of the income tax cuts claim that there are underfunded government services that the tax reductions could support. Sanders, who has asked her agency directors to find more savings and efficiencies in state government, said she has been putting more money in areas of importance and wants further belt-tightening in other areas.

“We’ve been able to heavily invest across the board in ways that we haven’t in the past, whether again on education, we made one of the single biggest investments that we’ve made in K through 12 education in our state’s history last year with the passage of LEARNS,” she said. “We’re continuing to look and evaluate programs. I think that sometimes people get lost on just putting more money into a problem, but if the program’s not effective, then it doesn’t matter how much money you put into it. And so we’re trying to make sure where we invest it matters and it makes a difference and I think that we have a responsibility to the taxpayers to frankly do more with less and that’s exactly what we’re doing. I don’t feel like we’ve underfunded critical services, but I’m happy to meet with legislators. I do it on a daily basis and talk with them if they have specific requests and programs – always happy to take a look at it.”

Higher education funding was cut in the most recent fiscal session after years of flatline growth or small increases. Sanders said this is one area where she thinks there is room for improvement.

“I think of all the places that could tighten their belt, higher education is certainly one. We pour hundreds of millions of dollars into higher education and frankly, I think we need to focus a lot more on the outcomes than we are right now. I would love to see us actually tighten the belt of higher education instead of throwing more money and getting less for it,” Sanders said.

A portion of the interview focused on Sanders’ position on several possible ballot initiatives this fall. She opposes an education amendment that would require private schools to meet public school reporting requirements, make pre-K universal, and add wrap-around services to low-income students. She claims the price tag for this program, by her estimates, could be over $1 billion.

She is not opposed to a proposal to eliminate the sales tax on diapers and feminine hygiene products, but she said income tax reduction would remain her top tax-cutting priority.

On a proposed abortion amendment that would allow for abortions up to 18 weeks and would accommodate exceptions for rape, incest, fatal fetal anomalies, or the health of a mother, Sanders said she is opposed.

“I’m a big advocate for life, and I’m never going to apologize for being pro-life and for us as a society focusing on the most vulnerable demographic among us, and those are the unborn. I’m going to continue to fight for Arkansas to be the most pro-life state in the country,” she said.

When asked about the exceptions for rape and incest, Sanders said those circumstances are “horrific” and “complicated.”

“I don’t think that there could be probably anything more awful or horrific or a more complicated situation and certainly don’t wish that decision on anybody, and I think that would be one of the most difficult things that we would have to face. But I’m always going to go on the side of life and protecting the unborn,” Sanders said. “I think for me as a parent, I think life begins at conception. I have seen the ultrasound and heard the heartbeat in the earliest weeks of pregnancy, and I think it’s very hard to argue that that isn’t a life and that we shouldn’t protect it at every stage, whether it’s in the womb, whether it’s a 5-year-old, a 10-year-old, a 25-year-old, a 55 or a 95-year-old. We are a culture that values life. In fact, I think it’s one of the things that separates us from so many other societies around the world is that we will do whatever we can to protect and uphold and value the sanctity of life. And when we start picking and choosing, when we do that, I think that really takes away from who we are as a society.”

Sanders has been vocal in support of the GOP nominee for President, her former boss Donald Trump. Sanders served as Trump’s White House press secretary before returning to Arkansas and running for governor.

“I think there are very few people that you’ll find that have been probably as publicly supportive of this president than I have. I feel very confident he’s going to win in November. I’m proud of the fact that I get to stand and support him, and I look forward to him beating Joe Biden in November,” she said.

“This election is very different in many ways than previous presidential elections. It feels the same to me, maybe in some ways, but you have two people who have now actually served as president, and they have very clear records of what they have done in the office, not just what they’ve talked about, but what they’ve actually done,” she added.

Would Sanders accept a role in the Trump administration, if asked?

“I love the job I have. I’m excited to be back in Arkansas. I think we’re doing really great things, and I look forward to keeping this job for the next six and a half years,” she said, implying she will run for re-election in 2026.

When asked if her answer was no, she wouldn’t join the Trump administration, Sanders said, “That sounds like I’m going to stay where I am.”

You can watch her full interview in the video below.