Arkansas governor discusses state response to COVID surge, budget priorities
Gov. Asa Hutchinson says when he reveals his balanced budget proposal to the Arkansas General Assembly this week he plans to advocate for more funding for law enforcement, the developmentally disabled and financial reserves . Hutchinson also said he does not plan to propose more tax cuts despite an expected large surplus at the end of the state’s fiscal year in June.
Hutchinson, who appeared on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, also discussed the state's response to surging cases of the omicron variant, a $3 billion steel mill project for east Arkansas, the Jan. 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol and his future in politics.
When asked if he is done proposing tax cuts, Hutchinson said he did not foresee any more efforts while he is in office as the recent special session laid out a four-year blueprint for income tax reduction.
“We have set in place tax cuts that take us to 5.5% this year. It’ll go down to 5.3% next year, and they’ll be triggered down to 4.9%. So, it is set for a couple years down the road,” Hutchinson said.
The governor will propose his balanced budget to the Joint Budget Committee on Tuesday.
“I’ll be presenting a budget that actually increases the investment in law enforcement through our state police. We’re increasing our investment in the child welfare system and in our developmentally-disabled waiting list, trying to make progress on that,” Hutchinson said. “I hope that we can leave the next governor a very good fiscal position where many of those decisions will have to be made in the next regular session of the legislature.”
Last week Arkansas reported record numbers of positive tests for of COVID-19. Cases increased by nearly 7,500+ daily for four straight days.
Hutchinson said he’s closely watching hospitalizations, as omicron seems to be rapidly infecting many people. But symptoms are not as severe for those who have been vaccinated.
“You can measure the record number of cases, which is a great concern in itself, but with the omicron having less severe consequences, as we saw with delta, you have to really just look at the hospitalizations," Hutchinson said. "Right now, we are still almost one-third less than we were in hospitalizations as compared to the peak of the last delta pandemic.”
Staffing issues at hospitals is another concern, and Hutchinson believes there will be great strain on hospital personnel during this spike. He has deployed the Arkansas National Guard to help in some capacities, but expects more money and staffing help will be needed.
The governor defended his handling of the crisis over the past 22 months, saying political constraints have taken potential options – such as mask requirements, vaccine mandates, or school and business shutdowns – off the table.
“Of course, you’d have to have legislative support, which you can’t get. So, that option is really not realistic and it’s not fully accepted enough to even justify it,” Hutchinson said. “The steps that can be taken are not practical and not realistic.”
Gov. Hutchinson also discussed other topics in the interview including:
The Jan. 6th U.S. Capitol attacks – “I would describe it as an attempt to disrupt through violence the normal transition of power that is historically peaceful in our nation and is the foundation of our democracy. And so, you can describe it in about as severe terms as you wish, because it was an attack on what makes America special in our democracy and the passage of power through the voice of the people, which is the election.”
On Republican elected officials not mentioning Trump on Jan. 6th – “President Trump will historically be associated with that. He called people to Washington. Some that were there with supporting Trump or out of curiosity, but whenever that invasion of the Capitol occurred, it crossed every line, and he’s sufficiently associated with it.”
The $3 billion steel mill project in northeast Arkansas – “We’re still waiting on that final decision, but as we’ve said, we are in the driver’s seat. We’re in the best position for that.”
His potential Presidential bid – “[N]o decision will be made on that future until after I leave [office]. But you’ll see plenty of activity on my part that indicates I want to influence the national debate… I try to present a common-sense conservatism, and I believe that’s captured some people and say, ‘Wow, it’s not all about the past.’ It can be about the future.”
You can watch Hutchinson’s full interview in the video below.