A Service of UA Little Rock
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arkansas lawmakers weigh in on upcoming special session

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders named a new chair of the state Post-Prison Transfer Board (also known as the parole board) late Wednesday.
John Sykes
Arkansas Advocate
Lawmakers will return to the Arkansas State Capitol next week for a special session focusing on tax cuts and funding for the Game & Fish Commission.

On Tuesday, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders called a special session of the Arkansas Legislature. Andrew Collins is a state representative from Little Rock and the House Minority Leader. He said calling the special session doesn’t come as a surprise.

“No, I think we knew this was coming,” said Collins. “After we failed to pass the Game and Fish Commission appropriation at the end of the last fiscal session, I think we knew we’d have to come in here before July 1 to get that done.”

The last time a session ended without a state agency getting proper funding was in 2003 under Governor Mike Huckabee. Funding was held up for the Department of Human Services and the Department of Corrections when Republican senators used procedural rules to block consideration of a tobacco tax increase. This time around, it was just the one agency impacted.

“There were a group of legislators who had issues with the appropriation," Collins said. "I think the main sticking point was the salary for the director.”

Representative Collins said there were other issues that members had with the appropriation, but the director’s salary was a prominent one. Currently, the salary cap for the director of the Game and Fish Commission is just over $152,000. The new appropriation would have capped the salary at $190,000.

Joshua Bryant is a Republican state senator from Rogers. He said he thinks a lot of members were concerned that the process to make those changes for Game and Fish was rushed.

“And then of course you have 100 members of the house, and to get 75 of them to agree is always quite a feat,” Sen. Bryant said. “Especially when talking about issues that are important to certain geographic areas.”

Senator Bryant said while northwest Arkansas certainly has its hunting and fishing culture, the Arkansas delta works very closely with the Game and Fish Commission.

“They expect Arkansas Game and Fish to comply with the asks that come out of that constituency base,” Sen. Bryant said. “Whenever issues and topics that are sensitive and close to those members ruffle their feathers, they rightfully so need to make a stand. So, I think in this case, it was more about the politics and the people.”

The bill only got 62 yes votes on the May 9 version of it and never got a vote after the final amendments were added.

“While unfortunate, I think it proves the point to our agencies and to our executive branch that the legislature still controls the power of the purse and we would use it where and when appropriate,” Bryant said.

When asked if he thinks that power and authority are undermined when it costs $100,000 at a minimum to call a special session and it would have been cheaper to just make the appropriation during the fiscal session, Bryant said there’s always that argument.

“We've got our legislative council, which happens [this] week. So, we're already going to have 60 plus members of the legislature already on their way to Little Rock. They [called the special session] in a manner that reduces to the best they can the burden to the people.”

In addition to the Game and Fish work, Gov. Sanders has called for the legislature to cut taxes. On social media on Tuesday, the governor said, “I’m calling a special session to give Arkansans hurting from Bidenflation income and property tax relief. We will cut income taxes by nearly $500 million, property taxes by nearly $50 million.”

Rep. Collins doesn’t dispute that inflation is an issue that Arkansans are concerned with.

“People are feeling like their dollars are not going as far as they would like them to go,” Collins said. “I'm sympathetic in a sense to that. Using it as a political cudgel, I just think it's pretty self-explanatory and doesn't really merit anymore comment. There are people in our state who are hurting right now and could use some relief before that relief is really where I differ, and I think many Democrats differ from the governor in this proposal. Are you really helping people who need help with this proposal? I would say you're not really doing as good of a job as we could do to help people in the state.”

Sen. Bryant said cutting taxes is something Gov. Sanders ran on in her campaign.

“Her goal is to get us to 0% tax on productivity, which is our income and our corporate income,” he said. “I think her goal is ambitious and I think it's being wisely pursued in the sense that she's not she's not taking the surplus and spending that. She's taking the surplus, requesting that we hold it and reserve it to be able to address any future years of shortfalls. I think we've seen with the way the inflation is going and that our sales tax revenue is basically filling our coffers and to give it back to the people is wise. The programs that we do have are funded and so I think this is the best use for it.”

Rep. Collins said he’s not opposed to it— he just wants to make sure it goes to those who would most benefit from the tax cuts.

“People who are in need of it and, frankly, who aren't already wealthy is possibly a good use for it,” he said. "But I would say— look, there are a lot of other things that we need to be doing better as a state. Everybody, I think, would like to pay less in taxes and yet have a functioning thriving state. I think there's a recognition about among many of the people I represent, of course, not all, but many of the people I represent recognize that investment in public schools and rising crime in these things makes a difference.

"We're all connected. And so your interest is not just narrow. It's not just your own bottom line necessarily because what happens to your neighbor matters to. So, you know, sure, we'd all like to pay less in taxes. We all like to get more out of services, but you have to recognize for attention there. And I think many of the people I represent do recognize that and they're willing to maybe get a little bit less in the way of a tax break if it means better outcomes for the state as a whole.”

The items the legislature plans to consider include lowering the top individual income tax rate from 4.4% to 3.9%, cutting the top corporate income tax rate from 4.8% to 4.3%, and increasing the homestead tax credit from $425 to $500.

Matthew Moore is a reporter and producer for Ozarks At Large. Before going into journalism, Matthew spent time in the music production industry, working with artists such as Reba McEntire, Steve Martin, 2 Chainz and Chris Thile.