Tax session likely to be last for Arkansas governor
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson delivers his final state of the state address to lawmakers and kicks off what could be his last legislative session with the state sitting on a surplus of more than a billion dollars and the latest surge in COVID-19 cases is declining.
But the Republican governor and legislative leaders are unsure whether they can keep the session focused on the state budget or whether they will have to fend off further pushes for abortion restrictions and other proposals.
HUTCHINSON’S LAST SESSION?
Hutchinson, a Republican in his final year as governor, will deliver his final state of the state address to members of the House and Senate on the first day of Monday’s session. Term limits prohibit him from running for governor again.
Unless he recalls the Legislative Assembly for a special session, it will be his last as governor.
The session begins as the state has seen a drop in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, after hitting record highs during a surge fueled by the highly contagious omicron variant.
Hutchinson has enjoyed greater national exposure due to his role as president of the National Governors Association and his comments trying to distance himself and the GOP from former President Donald Trump. He also speaks just months after winning approval for a massive tax cut plan.
“It’s really important to highlight the successes we’ve had, but I also want to talk about the future,” Hutchinson told The Associated Press of his plans for the speech.
Most of the attention will be on Hutchinson’s proposed $6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year, which calls for a 3.3% increase in state spending. The proposal includes money for raises for state police troopers and to ease the state’s waiting list for services for people with developmental disabilities.
Senator Jonathan Dismang, who co-chairs the joint budget committee, said he expects there will be some “reduction” in increased spending or a desire to use existing fund balances in certain areas.
“I think we just have to be as conservative as possible,” said Dismang, R-Beebe.
Democrats, who have argued that recent tax cuts have come as the state is underfunding needs, are also likely to seek additional funding in some areas.
Hutchinson said last week that he also wanted to dip into the state’s surplus to pay for a nearly 500-bed expansion of the state’s prison system. Hutchinson said the project would cost between $60 million and $100 million and construction could begin early next year if approved.
Legislative leaders say there have also been discussions about allocating one-time money to state law enforcement agencies, though it’s unclear how much would be used and how the funding would be. structure.
The budget session is meant to focus on the budget, but bills that are not budget-related can be considered if there is support from two-thirds of lawmakers in both houses.
Legislative leaders have said they expect some non-budget bills to be introduced.
“I think fireworks will be out of budget, if there are fireworks,” said Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, who co-chairs the joint budget committee.
Republican Sen. Jason Rapert said he would try again with an abortion ban inspired by restrictive Texas law, which leaves enforcement to private citizens.
“We’re able to do even more here,” Rapert, of Conway, said.
Hutchinson and legislative leaders say they want to keep the session’s focus on the budget. The Republican governor also said the state should wait to see what happens to the Supreme Court, which will rule this year on Mississippi’s law that bans 15-week abortions. This ruling could weaken or overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade who legalized abortion nationwide.
“For me, the wise move is to make sure we understand the issues associated with the Texas enforcement program, which can be applied to other constitutional rights, and we are also awaiting guidance from the Supreme Court on the Mississippi case,” Hutchinson said.
Other non-budget items legislative leaders say they have heard of include a new attempt to limit how race is taught in schools.
The Legislature is also expected to pass proposals to reduce the costs of state health insurance plans, which Hutchinson and legislative leaders say they believe can be addressed during the fiscal session. .