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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK Arkansas gubernatorial candidates Governor Asa Hutchinson, Republican,(from left), Jared Henderson, Democrat, and Mark West, Libertarian, greet each other following a debate Friday, June 29, 2018, during the Arkansas Press Association Convention in Eureka Springs. Rusty Turner, editor Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, moderated the debate.

Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jared Henderson said Monday they each want to protect the ARKids First health insurance program for children, and Arkansas' version of Medicaid expansion for low-income adults, and use state and federal funds for quality after-school and summer school programs.

The two candidates agreed more often than they disagreed during a forum for three gubernatorial candidates sponsored by The Arkansas Out of School Network and various faith-based groups, and attended by more than 200 people at New Hope Baptist Church in North Little Rock.

Libertarian candidate Mark West, who opposes Arkansas' version of Medicaid expansion for low-income adults, said the state should make it a priority to provide health care to children by increasing competition through the free market and reducing the cost of health care to expand access, and that he opposes using public funds for quality after-school and summer school programs.

Henderson said the state's progress to expand health insurance to children through its ARKids First program is one of state's proudest achievements, and protecting the program must be one of the next governor's top priorities. He said it's impressive that 96 percent of children have health insurance coverage in Arkansas and he wants to figure out how to provide health insurance to the other 4 percent of children who lack it.

"Our biggest threat to that often comes from the federal government," he said, adding federal funding for the program through the Childrens' Health Insurance Program was in jeopardy in Congress last year.

"We need to make sure that whether we are voting on federal officials or whether we are voting on state officials that we are going to vote in people that make it a top priority and raise the alarm when we have people letting us down and jeopardizing that funding," said Henderson of Little Rock.

Hutchinson said Republican Gov. Mike Huckabee developed the ARKids First program in Arkansas and won enactment of the program with bipartisan support.

He said that children should have access to health insurance without any barriers and he supports the ARKids First program and wants to make sure it remains a strong program.

Hutchinson said first lady Susan Hutchinson has been a strong advocate for child advocacy centers for children and "we need to protect Arkansas kids."

West said that he wants to work at reducing the cost of health care to expand access to health care to children.

He said he intends to focus on the free market and "try to fight what is driving the cost increases in health care, so we can begin opening that access to more people and make it more affordable for everyone."

West said so much money is taken out of local communities by the state government and federal government and communities often only get "breadcrumbs" in return, so he wants to keep more tax dollars in local communities for health clinics.

Henderson said that "we are living in the richest country in the history of the world, and I think given that we should see and treat health care as a right."

Henderson said Arkansans need to elect people who will work on reducing what he called the outrageous costs of prescription drugs and other health care costs.

Hutchinson said a three-fourths vote is required in the 100-member House of Representatives and 35-member Senate to reauthorize the use of state and federal funds for the Arkansas Works version of Medicaid expansion, and he issued a line-item veto of a provision barring the use of these funds for the program in 2016.

"That was a political risk [and] that was a hard-fought battle and, yes, I think we have reached the point that we are beyond that," he said.

"I think it is going to be easier in the future [to reauthorize funding for the program] because we have reformed it, we have strengthened it and we have proven its worth, as well," Hutchinson said.

Both Henderson and Hutchinson said they support using public funds for quality after-school and summer school programs because the programs will help keep children out of trouble and empower them.

But West said he doesn't believe that public funds should be used for such programs.

"I know this is going to be an unpopular answer but .. I think what we need to do is stop sending the money to the state and to the local government, keep it in our communities, so we can put more money into after-school programs," West said.

Henderson said the state needs to do more to help small business owners who need $5,000 to $10,000 in seed capital, lack health insurance and need to 15 to 20 hours of basic training to be successful.

"In the next legislative session there is going to be a big debate around the next round of tax cuts," he said, with the Legislature's tax overhaul task force considering a tax-cut plan that reduces state revenue by $280 million a year.

"So is that the best investment of our money or can some of those funds go to provide some seed capital for entrepreneurs across the state?"

Hutchinson has proposed reducing the state's top individual income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 6 percent, which he projects will reduce state tax revenue by about $180 million. He said he wants to finance the tax cut through economic growth and efficiencies in state government.

Hutchinson said that 70,000 jobs have been created since he became governor in 2015 and the average wage of the jobs created through incentive agreements is $20 an hour.

"We are putting $2 million into small innovative companies that are startup, that might be in the technology area and so we are doing that microinvestment portfolio that can help our technology companies [and] can bring some of those small businesses to the state," he said.

A Section on 08/14/2018

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Archived Comments

  • RBear
    August 14, 2018 at 6:30 a.m.

    Henderson continues to prove he is a candidate with a vision for growth for the state. Henderson knows our state's future is with its up and coming workforce which much be educated and trained to make the state attractive to corporations. That means teachers should be compensated appropriately to attract the best and brightest. It also means investment in schools to help ALL children reach their fullest potential. Sitting back and blaming parents doesn't grow the state and in some ways, hinders our state's economic potential.
    Henderson also knows that small businesses are core to growth while rebuilding the state's infrastructure that has been neglected after years of a Republican legislature that has cut spending on economic needs. Republicans have proven to be shortsighted, resulting in our state's lack of vision for growth. That has manifested itself in a 0.0 GDP growth at a time when the rest of the nation grew at 2.2%. We were 49th with only ND below us with negative growth. That's the economic "miracle" Hutchinson touts.
    AR was in the last quartile in personal income growhth as well as non-farm payroll growth being only 0.2%. According to the BLS, in April 2018 we were 49th in average weekly wages, with only MS below us. In other words, for all the things Hutchinson claims the trend lines are not in AR's favor. His answer to help improve things? A tax cut for the upper middle and upper class. We've already had a tax cut for the rest and things haven't improved. What this tax cut will do is cut into infrastructure spending.
    Hutchinson wants to give teachers a salary increase about equal to his tax cuts for the wealthy. In other words, that would put a double hit on the state's budget which would not be recoverable. I agree with increasing teacher salaries, but let's not cripple our state by giving money to the wealthy.
    Henderson clearly has a plan for growth that shows vision. Hutchinson is just replaying the Republican playbook which has resulted in a maintenance economy.

  • PopMom
    August 14, 2018 at 6:33 a.m.

    Personal finance and business classes should be emphasized in high school more than advanced math. If you are not going to be an engineer, you do not need Algebra 2 and calculus. Everybody needs to know how to handle their finances. Too many business people buy small businesses without a realistic business plan.

  • PopMom
    August 14, 2018 at 6:41 a.m.

    RBear, I agree. Asa is saying the right things to get reelected, but you can't have all these improvements in education while you give tax breaks. Improvements in education, however, always pay for themselves eventually because you have decreases in crime and increases in high wage earners. There is a lag time between spending on the schools and the improvements in the community so short sighted people do not favor the better schools. It's good to see Jared advocating for schools. Unfortunately, I used to be good friends with the Hutchinsons, and I am going to spend too much on democratic races to turn the House blue to spend on this race. While I am on my soapbox on education, schools should teach a foreign language at an early age when it is easy for the child's brain to absorb it. Instead, we wait until they are older and it is more difficult for them to learn a new language.

  • LRCrookAtty
    August 14, 2018 at 10:09 a.m.

    Rbear..."A tax cut for the upper middle and upper class."
    I agree with the bulk of your argument and we need another direction for Arkansas. We need to grow infrastructure as well as educational opportunities in Arkansas.

    However, this consistent argument of tax cuts for the upper/middle class is unnecessary is just a blatant outright misdirection. The reason is that only workers in those two classes pay taxes, the rest either gets all of their tax payments returned or get more than they paid in returned. Any tax cut and I mean ANY would be for the middle or upper class. Also, any tax cut would create a greater tax cut for the wealthy because they pay a much greater percentage of the taxes.

  • LRCrookAtty
    August 14, 2018 at 10:13 a.m.

    PM...I do not necessarily disagree with the needing of financial classes, but right now they are not required to take Algebra 2 and very few districts if any offer calculus. I believe we can do away with family associations and other (what I like to call dumbing down classes) and require both of what you suggest as well as my suggestions. To many young ladies are still not pushed to excel in their math classes and would make great engineers in an area that is underserved by you women.

  • LRCrookAtty
    August 14, 2018 at 10:20 a.m.

    PM...On the foreign language issue, I fully agree. We moved back here from Arizona, and my son, who is a rising sophomore, had 3 years of Latin (in Arizona), he took Arabic in Abu Dhabi and had french and Japanese in North Carolina. However, the school district he is in now will not accept these because they do not teach any of them except french and said a one semester class was too short (even though it was taught as though a full year course) to allow him credit. He was already done with Algebra 2 in the 8th grade in Arizona, and we had to petition the school board to allow him to take Pre-calculus in the 9th grade over at the high school. After traveling over the last 10 years (Arkansas to Texas to Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates) to Minnesota to North Carolina to Arizona and finally back to Arkansas) we have seen school districts in many states and one foreign country. Arkansas is failing our children horribly. I am considering a boarding school (we looked at the Arkansas School for math and Sciences, however they said he was too advanced), to try an push his academics. However, he is a boy and wants sports, which most we have looked at do not have.

  • tweedyboy57
    August 14, 2018 at 11:23 a.m.

    Lower The Taxes Huch' on the well off when those dollars could be used to dig AR out of the 42nd ranking in Education. Agree that Coding is important. More spending on Tech and Internet Access in Rural counties where its really abysmal. More Money to fight Opiod and Meth addiction. 70,000 jobs paying $20 hr. WHERE?

  • RBear
    August 14, 2018 at 12:14 p.m.

    LRCrook partially agree, but there are some flaws in your argument. The lower and lower middle do pay taxes, but the effective rate is not as much partly from lower rates and partly from breaks. But they still pay taxes. Otherwise, the legislature in the last session talked about and voted on a whole lot of nothing, which they didn't. However, granting a tax cut to the upper middle and upper class just two years after granting the last break shows fiscal irresponsibility on the part of the governor and the legislature. It's more about political favors than anything at that point.
    I don't mind granting tax cuts to those segments IF the state's economy is booming and showing signs of sustained improvement. But our state economic numbers aren't showing that and Asa can't mask that fact. As it stands, our Republican leadership is putting the state in a dangerous fiscal position by promising spending for votes (teacher raises) and still pushing cuts. It sounds a lot like Trump, but Asa doesn't have the luxury Trump has in putting the state in debt.
    Henderson at least understands the need for good fiscal planning and keeping the state financially sound while still providing investment businesses can point to as reason to move here. I'm for someone who has a vision for the future of the state and not someone trying to undercut the state to score some votes.

  • LRCrookAtty
    August 14, 2018 at 12:27 p.m.

    Rbear..."...the effective rate is not as much partly from lower rates and partly from breaks. But they still pay taxes."
    The "effective" rate is all that matters. The fact that money comes out of their checks but returned at the end of the year does not mean they "pay" anything. If you really want to look at it correctly they basically "loan" the money for a short period of time. It is a fact that 10% of the people pay ~90% of all taxes. Therefore, a tax cut will benefit those top 10% more. Then those top 10% can take that tax break and buy a yacht (I know this on the surface sounds bad), but that yacht company makes a sale, the employees of that company keep their job, and if enough of the 10% buy those yachts it could increase the need for more employees. The more that we can get those top 10% and even the top 25% to spend their money buying luxury items the better it is for businesses and the employees of those businesses.
    We need to do something about the wasted money on the "administration" of our public school systems. This is where the private systems outperformed the public schools. No group has to oversee the private systems and they produce a much larger graduating class ready to begin a college career. Like you have said many times, our "capitalist" society is full of social engineering and the bail outs for farmers is just the latest. One of the biggest is everyone in the State of Arkansas that owns real or personal property pay for every child that goes to school. So in that way, we spread the wealth to others. However, that wealth needs to stop being wasted on administration and spend it in the classrooms.

  • RBear
    August 14, 2018 at 1:02 p.m.

    LRCRook I know you're going to hate this, but numerous studies have shown that when tax cuts are passed on to the wealthy the economy doesn't improve that much if any. While there's the concept that cuts imply consumption, that's not the case usually. Even if the cuts are pumped into investments, most of those are for companies not headquartered or with a presence in Arkansas. So the money goes out of state.