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The Legislature's tax-overhaul task force on Wednesday authorized the Bureau of Legislative Research to issue a request for proposals from consultants to help the task force.

The approval of the task force's co-chairmen, Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Sulphur Springs, and Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, will be required before the final form of the request for proposals is issued Monday, Hendren said.

The task force needs to hire a consultant because "there are so many [tax] exemptions that we have no idea that are even on the books," Hendren told reporters after a two-hour meeting. "When you've got a great big project and the margin of error is 1 percent or 2 percent, 1 or 2 percent makes tens of millions of dollars worth of difference, so we have to get it as close to right as we can."

The task force didn't discuss what hiring a consultant would cost the bureau during its meeting.

Afterward, Hendren said the Legislature's health care task force's consulting costs tallied nearly $1 million a year and "almost $2 million before it was said and done.

"I am hopeful that this won't be that expensive because we are not talking about something that is nearly as complicated as federally managed programs like Medicaid and health care, so I am not going to guess how much because I don't want to give expectations about what people who are going to submit the proposals should submit," he said. "But I think it would be considerably less than what we saw for health care task force consultants."

The proposals from consultants will be due at the bureau at 4:30 p.m. July 10, and the summaries of the proposals will be released to the task force's members on July 24 under a timeline presented by Jill Thayer, legal counsel to bureau Director Marty Garrity. The task force will meet Aug. 4 to select three consultants to interview and then decide which consultant to hire on Aug. 11, after hearing presentations from the three consultants. The Legislative Council will consider the task force's recommendation on Aug. 18, Jean said.

At the end of Wednesday's meeting, Jean said, "Before we leave here and talk to the press and the people that are pushing us right and left and the pressure is on, remember what this task force is set up to do, to modernize and simplify the Arkansas tax code, to make Arkansas tax laws competitive with other states and attract businesses, create jobs for the state and ensure fairness to all individuals and entities under the state's tax laws."

Jean's admonition came after Republican Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin recommended in a letter dated Monday that the task force should aim to simplify the tax code, lower the tax burden and "embrace transformation" as the key to lower spending and providing "tax reform and relief."

"I am excited about the possibility of bold comprehensive tax reform and relief that result in pro-growth tax policies to help Arkansas compete and grow jobs," Griffin said in his two-page letter. "Transformation could potentially save hundreds of millions of dollars by reducing the cost of government, which can then be used for tax reform and relief for hardworking Arkansans and critical needs such as education, public safety and infrastructure."

Asked about Griffin's letter, Hendren said, "There is lots of people with lots of ideas and recommendations.

"But our encouragement is, let's do recommendations, after we do the research," he said.

Asked about Griffin's letter, Jean said: "I appreciate the input from everybody. But we don't need to make decisions before we get the facts."

Gov. Asa Hutchinson said, "I appreciate Tim's work and ideas on the Transformation Advisory Board, and I value his continued support in my efforts to lower the income tax rate in Arkansas.

"It is important for the task force to work toward a consensus in its effort to simplify the tax code and make suggestions for broad based tax reform. I applaud the legislature for this initiative. I expect to have the opportunity in the future to make more specific proposals for the task force's consideration," the Republican governor said in a written statement.

Metro on 06/08/2017

Print Headline: Tax task force sees expert-advice need

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