Arkansas governor touts strong budget in midst of pandemic, lays out goals for teacher pay, tax cuts

Arkansas governor touts strong budget in midst of pandemic, lays out goals for teacher pay, tax cuts

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KAIT/WMC) - Before a packed Arkansas General Assembly, separated by plexiglass and masks, Gov. Asa Hutchinson delivered his annual State of the State Address Tuesday morning.

Hutchinson started the speech addressing the ongoing 11-month global pandemic, and the Capitol storming last week.

“We saw a mob attack the heart of our democracy and they must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” said Hutchinson.

The governor referenced tax cuts by his administration over the years.

“We have moved $800 million from the government checkbook into hands of individuals across our state,” he said.

On Arkansas’ budget, Hutchinson touted, “We have an unallocated fund of over $200 million and we have beat forecasts in the 6 months of this budget by over $300 million.”

The governor said the state is beginning this session in the best budget position in over a decade. Despite the pandemic, Hutchinson says his administration has created more than 2,002 new jobs in the last year.

He discussed his emergency declaration, which has sparked lawsuits.

“The current emergency rules are in place until Feb 27,” he said. “Prior to that date you need to act. I trust you will affirm the emergency and continue the rules: Telemedicine, educational waivers, immunity liability for business and health care workers.”

Hutchinson announced he was working on another raise for Arkansas teachers. The goal is to increase average teacher salary by $2,000 over the next two years.

He also addressed Arkansas being only one of three states in the U.S. without a “Hate Crime Bill.” The governor read letters he’s received in support of his proposed hate crimes legislation, which already faces a steep path in the Senate.

“My only request is that you listen and make your own judgments on the bill,” Hutchinson said.

He said the main objection he hears is it provides more protection for one group than others.

“This law applies equally to all people,” said Hutchinson. “Enhances penalty for targeting regardless of race (group) that is targeted.”

The governor also talked about tax cuts worth $50 million. Hutchinson is asking to reduce the sales tax on used cars that sell from $4,000 and $10,000. The current tax is 6.5%, and he wants to lower it to 3.5%.

Hutchinson is also asking to lower the tax rate for new residents to 4.9% over five years. He hopes it will attract new Arkansans and create jobs.

The governor finished his address with a quote by Robert Kennedy given after the death of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “What we need in the United States is not division. What we need in the United States is not hatred. What we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness but love and wisdom and compassion toward one another and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or be black.”

He said those words ring true today, calling on prayers for the nation and its leaders.

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