Local law­mak­ers pre­view state’s Gen­eral Assem­bly

Dalby, Hickey dis­cuss top three con­cerns to be ad­dressed dur­ing Arkansas’ leg­isla­tive ses­sion

Texarkana Gazette - - FRONT PAGE - By Karl Richter

ED­I­TOR’S NOTE: This is the sec­ond part of a two-part re­port pre­view­ing 2019 state leg­isla­tive ses­sions from a local point of view. This story fo­cuses on the per­spec­tives of Texarkana, Ark.’s state rep­re­sen­ta­tives. An ear­lier story re­ported on Texarkana, Texas’ del­e­ga­tion to Austin.

Three is­sues—re­duc­ing bu­reau­cracy, low­er­ing taxes and fund­ing trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture—will be the main con­cerns of the Arkansas leg­isla­tive ses­sion about to con­vene, Texarkana’s del­e­ga­tion said in an in­ter­view Fri­day.

Rep. Carol Dalby, R-Texarkana, and Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr., R-Texarkana, spoke about their ex­pec­ta­tions for the 92nd Arkansas Gen­eral Assem­bly set to be­gin Mon­day in Lit­tle Rock. But first they ad­dressed an is­sue of peren­nial con­cern in Texarkana: whether the state’s bor­der city in­come tax ex­emp­tion will re­main in place.

The an­swer is that Texarka­ni­ans will prob­a­bly con­tinue to avoid state in­come taxes, es­pe­cially since the Leg­is­la­ture’s tax-over­haul task force—on which Hickey serves— re­cently ended its work with­out rec­om­mend­ing nix­ing the bor­der city ex­emp­tion. Still, no one can pre­dict what in­di­vid­ual law­mak­ers will do, Dalby and Hickey said.

“The gov­er­nor has come out in sup­port of our tax ex­emp­tion. He feels like it’s vi­tal for the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment and the vi­tal­ity of Texarkana, Ark. The task force did not come out with a rec­om­men­da­tion to do away with it. With all that be­ing said, any­body can file a bill,” Dalby said.

“Any mem­ber while we’re in ses­sion could file a bill to elim­i­nate it. So we just have to be dili­gent, and if it comes up, then we will ad­dress it at that point,” Hickey said.

IN­COME TAX RE­DUC­TION

Be­cause Repub­li­cans hold a 76 to 24 ma­jor­ity in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives and a 27 to nine ad­van­tage in the Se­nate, pas­sage of a mea­sure to re­duce the state’s in­di­vid­ual in­come tax rates is al­most cer­tain. But what form the fi­nal leg­is­la­tion will take is a work in progress.

Hutchin­son has pro­posed a fouryear plan that would re­sult in a top rate of 5.9 per­cent. The tax-over­haul task force has rec­om­mended im­ple-

ment­ing the plan in three years, with a two-year plan as its sec­ond choice. A third plan, which would re­sult in a top rate of 6.5 per­cent af­ter three years, is the task force’s last choice.

Some of the plans would re­sult in higher taxes for some peo­ple, so they would re­quire the votes of a super-ma­jor­ity—27 se­na­tors and 75 rep­re­sen­ta­tives—to pass.

Dalby and Hickey have their eyes on the is­sue and are wait­ing to see which spe­cific pro­posal the leg­isla­tive process even­tu­ally will pro­duce.

“They are still work­ing on that bill. We have not seen the gov­er­nor’s bill, and we’ve not seen whether the tax task force bill is go­ing to re­main the same, so we’re kind of in a wait and see,” Dalby said.

GOV­ERN­MENT AGENCY CON­SOL­I­DA­TION

Repub­li­can Gov. Asa Hutchin­son’s am­bi­tious plan to con­sol­i­date state agen­cies that re­port to him, re­duc­ing the num­ber from 42 to 15, of­ten will be at cen­ter stage dur­ing the ses­sion. “It is a mas­sive bill,” Hickey said. Hickey serves on the Se­nate’s State Agen­cies and Gov­ern­men­tal Af­fairs Com­mit­tee, which has the task of vet­ting the 1,500-page con­sol­i­da­tion bill. The com­mit­tee must be sure that any agency with good rea­son to be in­de­pen­dent is not con­sol­i­dated with oth­ers mis­tak­enly, he said.

“The thing we’re want­ing to do sit­ting on State Agen­cies is make sure that we give due dili­gence to the bill and that also we al­low the stake­hold­ers to have a voice in this, and the com­mu­nity mem­bers. …

“We def­i­nitely want to put our time into it. I’m go­ing to do ev­ery­thing I can to make sure I read ev­ery word in that bill,” Hickey said, adding that he al­ready has some con­cerns.

“I’ve started go­ing through it, and I do have ques­tions when­ever we get into com­mit­tee on that,” he said.

HIGH­WAY FUND­ING

Just main­tain­ing Arkansas’ high­ways costs $400 mil­lion to $478 mil­lion a year, so find­ing the fund­ing to im­prove roads be­yond that is a chal­lenge, Hickey said.

“Un­for­tu­nately, the need to bring our in­fra­struc­ture in Arkansas back up to where it needs to be takes a lot of money. … There is no way in the world that you can take that out of gen­eral rev­enue, be­cause it’s not there,” he said, adding that do­ing so would be un­de­sir­able any­way be­cause Arkansas tax­pay­ers would bear all of the fi­nan­cial bur­den. A fuel tax in­crease, how­ever, would shift some of the cost to peo­ple who do not live in the state.

“If you put it on as a fuel tax some way, some­how, then it’s spread out not only among the pop­u­la­tion in Arkansas, but it’s spread out across any­one that’s trav­el­ing through,” Hickey said.

Vot­ers could pass a bond is­sue to pay for high­way im­prove­ments, but the re­sult­ing fi­nanc­ing ex­penses would add 25 to 27 per­cent to the over­all cost, he said. And us­ing an amend­ment to the state con­sti­tu­tion as a fundrais­ing mech­a­nism would make the law too dif­fi­cult to change at pace with evolv­ing tech­nol­ogy and other cir­cum­stances.

RAISES FOR TEACH­ERS

Both Dalby and Hickey sup­port Hutchin­son’s pro­posal to raise the start­ing pub­lic teacher salary from $31,800 to $36,000 a year, an­other mea­sure ex­pected to have broad sup­port.

Dalby pointed out that lo­cally, teach­ers are paid more than some of their coun­ter­parts else­where in Arkansas.

“For­tu­nately, Texarkana, Ark., School Dis­trict al­ready pays above the min­i­mum. I’m sup­port­ive of (the raise). Cer­tainly our teach­ers are never get­ting paid enough, I don’t think. But we’re lucky here,” she said.

The 92nd Arkansas Gen­eral Assem­bly con­venes Mon­day and will last for 60 days un­less the Leg­is­la­ture votes to ex­tend it.

Staff photo by Hunt Mercier

■ Rep. Carol Dalby and Sen. Jimmy Hickey Jr. ex­plain their goals for 2019 on Fri­day in Texarkana, Ark. The two pre­viewed the Arkansas Gen­eral Assem­bly that will be­gin on Mon­day.

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