Mixed Reactions On Vaccine Mandate By Members Of Arkansas Chamber Of Commerce

President Biden plans to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all businesses with more than 100 employees.
Credit Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas President and CEO Randy Zook says the business community’s reaction to a Biden executive order mandating vaccines has been "muted." He also said an upcoming legislative session to reform the tax code should include changes to the corporate income tax.

Late last week, President Joe Biden issued an executive order with far-reaching implications to require vaccines among employers with more than 100 employees, as well as federal employees and contractors and health care personnel. Those not seeking a vaccine must provide proof of negative COVID-19 tests on a weekly basis. Zook said his members have mixed feelings on the rule.

"Some people are calling it a gross overreach and others are saying, 'well, this takes the heat off of us.' So, there's kind of a mixed bag of reaction," he said. "I think everybody anticipates a very speedy resolution by the courts as to whether or not the president has the authority to drive this through OSHA, as he's attempting to do."

Zook said he does not anticipate his organizations to take a formal stance on the vaccine mandate. "I don’t anticipate our doing that. Now, some of my counterparts, our counterparts around the country – the Texas Association of Business, for instance – has already come out screaming, 'bloody murder, overreach and too much and too far' and all that. So, that may be representative, but I doubt it. I think most of us will wait for the resolution in court because, you know, beating your chest and pumping your chest doesn't accomplish much at the end of the day," Zook said.

Later this month, Arkansas lawmakers return to the state capitol to consider Congressional redistricting. Along with attempts to thwart the Biden OSHA rule, legislators may also contemplate legislation dealing with abortion and other issues. A special session is expected to follow on the heels of the close of the extended regular session. During the special session, legislators are expected to reform the state’s tax code and decide further spending of a nearly $1 billion budget surplus. Zook said his groups are supportive of lowering the top tax rate in the state to make Arkansas more competitive with surrounding states. Neither Texas nor Tennessee have a state income tax.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson and lawmakers want to drop Arkansas's top tax rate from 5.9% to as low as 5.5%. There may be other proposals considered, too. Zook said the state chamber’s position does not identify a particular proposal, but he wants to make Arkansas "a more competitive state" on taxes. "We do have the capacity for further reduction in income taxes. We'll work hard to make sure that corporate income taxes track along with individual income taxes," he said. "To be clear, we've not taken a position about phasing it out. We just need to be more competitive. Let me put it that way. Lower would be more competitive. We're not fantasizing about phasing it out. But you know, corporate income tax is much less predictable than individual income tax anyway, and it bounces around."

Net corporate income taxes brought in close to $600 million in the most recent fiscal year that ended June 30, 2021. Though inconsistent in its monthly contributions to general revenue, it has averaged a little over $400 million annually in the last decade.

You can watch Zook’s full interview in the video below.