Arkansas lawmakers open special session focusing on tax cuts
Members of the Arkansas House and Senate met Tuesday to kick off a special legislative session aimed at lowering income taxes for the state’s top earners.
The legislature is meeting primarily to vote on Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s proposal to lower the state’s top individual income tax rate from 5.9% to 4.9% over a four-year span.
As was the case in another session earlier this year, lawmakers debated whether or not certain bills should not be considered, since they’re unrelated to the intended purpose of the session. While neither chamber heard debate on the governor’s tax plan, senators argued over two bills that would give income tax credits to law enforcement agents.
Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin said the bills should not be excluded because of rules prohibiting bills not related to the governor’s call for a session from being heard.
“I don’t see how in the world a bill dealing with a tax credit is not germane to the subject of dealing with tax cuts and tax credits generally,” Griffin said. “The legislature gets a lot of leeway, and I can’t save y’all from what y’all have the ability to do, which is to kill anything, to overrule me, to do whatever.”
The bills, Senate Bill 8 and Senate Bill 9, are both sponsored by Sen. Jason Rapert, R-Conway. Rapert accused officials, including Gov. Hutchinson, of delaying the bills since another legislative session that took place earlier this year.
“The governor’s Task Force [to Advance the State of Law Enforcement in Arkansas] put in months of work and recommended that we pass a tax credit to support law enforcement officers. That promise has not been fulfilled to this point, and Arkansas is 49th lowest in the nation in terms of our pay for the average law enforcement officer,” Rapert said.
While Lt. Gov. Griffin sided with Rapert that the bills could be heard, lawmakers overruled his ruling and the bills will likely not be heard during the legislative session. Sen. Jim Hendren, I-Gravette, said it’s clear the bills are not relevant to the call issued by the governor for lawmakers to debate cutting income taxes.
“[The call]’s very specific about why we have been called down here, and in fact it mentioned specifically to provide a non-refundable personal income tax credit for up to $60 for individuals having an income up to $24,700,” Hendren said. “That’s pretty specific, and I guess the question that we’re asking before the Senate today is, is a different tax credit that’s nowhere mentioned in the call germane to that?”
Aside from the governor’s tax cut proposal, lawmakers will consider bills relating to state funding, insulin rebates, and a bill that would allow legislators to employ security personnel. Lawmakers will convene again Wednesday morning to possibly advance the governor’s tax cut proposal as well as other related bills.