Gov. Asa Hutchinson began this year's fiscal session Monday with a call to cut the state's top income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent when lawmakers meet in 2019, a proposal that would amount to the biggest slash in state revenues since the Republican took office in 2015.
During each of the two general legislative sessions in Hutchinson's first term, the governor steered through tax cuts for middle and then low-income Arkansans. The total cost of those cuts each year is expected to be around $150 million. On Monday, Hutchinson's office said his proposed tax cut for the state's top earners would reduce revenues by $180 million.
Arkansans earning more than $75,000 a year would see a tax cut under the plan, according to a spokesman. The governor's previous cuts affected people earning less than that.
"It is important that we achieve this in order to have continued success in economic achievement and job growth," Hutchinson said in an address to both chambers of the General Assembly. He said an ongoing task force would examine ways to reduce revenues without harming services.
Hutchinson's tax cut proposal, however, is not the issue at hand for legislators during the 2018 fiscal session.
Lawmakers are being asked to renew funding for the state's "private option" Medicaid expansion program, which provided health insurance to about 285,000 low-income Arkansas.
In past sessions, support for the Medicaid expansion program has been difficult to find among conservative Republicans who are averse to the cost, which is mostly paid for with federal dollars. Funding for the program, also called Arkansas Works, has been approved in the past by slim margins.
In his speech, Hutchinson told lawmakers he expects President Donald Trump's administration to approve a waiver before the end of the session that would allow Arkansas to add a work requirement for Arkansas Works recipients.
Upon convening for the session, House lawmakers approved a resolution setting the length of the fiscal session at up to 45 days.
Read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
— John Moritz
12:50 P.M. UPDATE:
LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers have kicked off a legislative session focused on a proposed $5.6 billion budget for the coming year and still face questions about whether there will be enough support to keep the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion alive.
The House and Senate convened Monday for the start of this year's fiscal session, the fifth under a 2008 constitutional amendment that requires the Legislature to meet and budget annually. It'll take a two-thirds vote of both chambers for any non-budget bills to even be considered during the abbreviated session.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's budget proposal projects a $64 million surplus, most of which he's proposed setting aside as a reserve fund that he says can set the stage for future tax cuts. The remaining surplus money would go toward highway needs.
Check back for updates and read Tuesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.
— The Associated Press