State Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, says he’s comfortable accelerating the tax cuts the governor wants to fast-track with a $1.6 billion surplus on hand and money in a state rainy day fund, but he’s reluctant to commit for new spending, including teacher salaries, until more data is collected.
Appearing on this week’s edition of Talk Business & Politics, Disang said he also wants voters to be reminded that there have been other tax cuts for low- and middle-income Arkansans that have already happened.
“We are accelerating. We have already put in place, in fact, until January 1, 2022, a low-income tax cut and a middle-income tax cut. When we combined [tax] tables, they came to roughly, if I remember correctly, about $150 million just for all those individuals who earned less than $84,000 a year,” he said.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson has called a special session Aug. 8 to consider an accelerated plan for previously planned tax cuts to lower the state’s top rate from 5.5% to 4.9%. Disang says other cuts — including a reduction in corporate taxes, enacting a federal depreciation incentive for equipment purchases and tax relief on the first $10,000 earned by each citizen — could happen now with the budget surplus. growing.
“We currently have over a billion dollars in our rainy day fund. There is $1.6 billion in the core that will be a new surplus amount. We can set aside a significant portion of that to make sure that if we have a change and collections start to dry up, that we have the ability to fund the state government at the level it needs to be funded. So I feel like we have the right backstop to be able to take advantage of the environment we’re in right now, revenue-wise,” Disang said.
TEACHER’S PAY, ABORTION REGULATIONS
Governor Hutchinson says there is no legislative consensus on teacher pay raises in the special session. Arkansas teachers currently have a minimum wage of about $36,000. Surrounding states have higher salaries and nationally there is a teacher workforce shortage.
Disang said there have been increases in Arkansas teacher salaries and improvements in benefits packages. He said the Legislature is currently in the midst of an appropriations study that helps lawmakers determine recommendations for school-related spending. He wants that process to end, which won’t happen before the special session.
“Right now, we’re in the middle of what’s called a feasibility study. It’s a legislative body, both the House and the Senate are looking at this, and one of the things they’re going to look at is what we need to do for teachers. As we have done in the past, we will follow the procedures before, and this is something we will take up when we go into regular session.
“Really, it was nothing against the teachers, per se, it was against not wanting to increase spending in this particular session. Members were pleased to see the reduction in revenue, but again, no increase in ongoing spending. And then there’s also a lot of unknowns about how it would affect the school district. We didn’t want to put mandates on school districts that they weren’t able to afford as much as they were able to continue that increased pay for teachers,” Dismang said.
Hutchinson has also said he is considering potential abortion-related issues in calling the special hearing in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Disman said those items are likely to be budget-related, not policy-related. He thinks the policy should wait until the regular session in January 2023.
“There’s been some discussion about matching the adoption credit with that at the federal level. I think that’s part of what the governor is talking about again, but I haven’t had the conversation directly with him. And then the crisis pregnancy centers ,” Disang said.
“I don’t think so [abortion exemptions] it will be debated now, but I think it should be debated in the future. You know, as long as I’ve been here, I’ve felt like there should be an exception for rape and incest, and I know we passed a bill that doesn’t have that in it, but I think it’s something we should consider, but I don’t think it’s something we should do during this special session,” he added.
You can watch Senator Dismang’s full interview below.