State Of State Address: Arkansas Succeeding, Must Embrace Rapid Change

Jan 10, 2017

Gov. Asa Hutchinson preparing to address a joint session of the General Assembly.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

Governor Asa Hutchinson delivered the State of the State address Tuesday to a joint meeting of the Arkansas Legislature. The Republican governor told the Republican-controlled legislature that it is working in historic times, defined by rapid change.

This article has been updated with additional remarks from the governor.

Hutchinson quoted former Republican Governor Winthrop Rockefeller.

"It is true that you have been allocated an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I. A moment subject to special scrunity, laden with special challenges, and rich with special opportunities," Hutchinson recited. "I believe that together we can become worth of the moment."

He provided his modern spin, "We must govern and lead not only with a spirit of cooperation, but within the context of our time, our time in history. What defines our time in history? Our place in history is defined, I think you will agree, by change. Every generation faces change and today's world though the change comes at a faster clip than ever before, " said Hutchinson.

Hutchinson pinpointed shifting federal healthcare policy, global trade, and a decline in public trust in government as challenges Arkansas must embrace.

“We must not be driven by the wind. We must be anchored and confident that our character and values will shape the future of Arkansas," said Hutchinson, "and the decisions we make as leaders."

The governor also outlined his agenda for the legislative session, which began on Monday. At the top of his list is a $50 million income tax cut for low-income earners. He highlighted ambitions for the 91st General Assembly.

- Scale down the size of government, commissions, and boards through efficiences.

- To tie higher education funding to degree complete rather than enrollment.

- To implement a $50 million income tax cut, for low-income earners. This would be offset in part by eliminating exemptions for manufactured homes. He also announced his intention to create a Blue Ribbon Commission to study further cuts as acknowledgement that some members want more cuts.

- To exempt retiree pay for military members from income taxes.

- To make technical college tuition free if students graduate on time and work a high demand field in Arkansas for a period of years.

- To increase the budget of the state's rapidly expanding foster care system.

- To redirect Tobacco Settlement funds to a disability wait list for community based care.

- To create mental health crisis centers, in large part to assist law enforcement and corrections.

Some Republicans, like State Senator Bart Hester, have called for even greater tax cuts, targeted to wealthier earners.  But the senator from Cave Springs says he’s satisfied with what he heard.

(left to right) State Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) and Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department Director Scott Bennett presenting the governor's highway bill to a committee. File photo 2016.
Credit Jacob Kauffman / KUAR

“If we get behind what he’s wanting this time he’s saying hey I’m going to created this, what I’m calling a red ribbon commission – we’re a red state,” said Hester. “But, I’m very optimistic that with the governor’s support we can do an overall, comprehensive look at corporate tax, income tax, any kind of subsidies or exemptions and I’m very comfortable with that,” Hester said about the governor’s promise to explore further tax cuts with a Blue Ribbon Commission.

Democrats, making up less than a quarter of each chamber, don’t have many surface level problems with the governor’s agenda. Minority Leader Michael John Gray said that doesn’t mean the party won’t have something to say.

“I think where our caucus is, we’re not going to come in and blatantly disagree with anything on the surface. We want to the substance of it, we want to see the real priorities. When the rubber meets the road what’s really going on with this policy,” said the representative from Augusta. “If we have an opportunity to have conversations around helping to shape that some, that’s where we want to play a role.”

The governor said the state of the state is "exceptional."