Democrats in the Arkansas Legislature responded to Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s State of the State address Tuesday by detailing their priorities for the session that is just getting underway. In particular, they voiced concerns about the impact the governor’s proposed tax cut plan would have on the state budget.
Two freshmen representatives, Megan Godfrey of Springdale and Jay Richardson of Fort Smith, read a prepared statement saying that allocating money for highways and expanding pre-kindergarten education would benefit more Arkansans than expanding tax cuts .
"We worry that the proposed tax breaks for high-income earners will reduce our revenues even further, and we know that will come at the expense of our roads," Godfrey said. "We agree with the governor that Arkansans need tax relief and that’s why we know we can work with our Republican colleagues on a tax package that centers around middle class and working families."
Hutchinson wants legislators to implement a third phase of income tax reform which would flatten the rate for all taxpayers to 5.9 percent within four years. But the Democrats said an earned income tax credit would be more beneficial for the state as a whole.
"We believe in giving every working Arkansas family tax relief through an earned income tax credit and making a meaningful investment in pre-K for the first time in a decade," Richardson said. "And we know our roads need to be rebuilt."
The House Minority Leader, Rep. Charles Blake of Little Rock, said after Tuesday’s press conference that it’s too soon to say if Democrats will oppose the governor’s tax proposal, but wants Hutchinson's proposal and the earned income tax credit to be considered side-by-side. He’s urging constituents to reach out to their elected representatives and senators to ask for that to happen.
"If we’re truly worried about the working families in this state and putting more money in their pockets, putting more money back to local economies, then the proposal about working families and earned income tax credits is something we should all be taking serious looks at," Blake said.
But with Republicans holding a supermajority in both chambers of the legislature, he acknowledged that Democrats are at a disadvantage. Being in the minority party, "we don’t have too many red lines," Blake said. "We’re going to let Arkansans know about our priorities. So once we get to that line, we’re going to decide if it’s something we stand on or is this something that we can be... amenable about."
Regarding highway funding, Blake said, "I’m willing to listen." Last week Hutchinson told reporters he’d consider $200 million for highways to be a "big plan," while acknowledging many lawmakers and transportation officials would like to see much more.