Leg­is­la­ture in ses­sion, sim­pli­fy­ing taxes

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - CE­CILE BLED­SOE Arkansas Sen­a­tor

LIT­TLE ROCK — State gov­ern­ment will get off to a fast start in 2019, when the leg­is­la­ture con­venes in reg­u­lar ses­sion on Jan. 14 and takes up pro­pos­als to lower in­come taxes and sim­plify the tax ta­bles.

Leg­is­la­tors and tax of­fi­cials are call­ing the pro­posal the “two – four – five point nine” plan. That’s be­cause it would phase in rates for all tax­pay­ers of 2 per­cent, 4 per­cent and 5.9 per­cent.

One of the main ques­tions is how quickly to im­ple­ment the full amount of tax re­duc­tions. There are some who want to phase it in over four years, oth­ers pre­fer to do it in three years and some be­lieve it can be fully im­ple­mented in two years.

Oth­ers want to pro­ceed more cau­tiously with tax cuts, to make sure the re­duc­tion in state rev­enue does not force cut­backs in es­sen­tial ser­vices.

There also are sup­port­ers of re­duc­ing the num­ber of tax ta­bles to one, in­stead of three.

Un­der the state Con­sti­tu­tion the ses­sion must last for 60 days. Leg­is­la­tors may ex­tend it, and in the past cou­ple of decades they have gen­er­ally lasted 80 to 90 days.

Also this year, there will be height­ened in­ter­est in the amount of teacher pay raises. The leg­is­la­ture ap­pro­pri­ates fund­ing for pub­lic schools, and to de­ter­mine how much to spend on pub­lic ed­u­ca­tion leg­is­la­tors con­duct an ad­e­quacy as­sess­ment. It is a thor­ough re­view of the fi­nan­cial needs of pub­lic schools.

In this year’s ad­e­quacy re­port, the Se­nate and House Com­mit­tees on Ed­u­ca­tion voted to rec­om­mend teacher pay raises of $1,000 a year, in­clud­ing raises for teach­ers with a mas­ter’s de­gree.

The ad­e­quacy re­port rec­om­mends an­other $1,000 raise for teach­ers in the sec­ond year of the bi­en­nium, which is Fis­cal 2021.

The com­mit­tee rec­om­men­da­tions are sim­i­lar to pro­pos­als by the gov­er­nor to raise the min­i­mum teacher salaries by $1,000 a year for the next four years. The plan would bring the min­i­mum teacher salary from $31,800 to $36,000 a year.

Leg­is­la­tors on the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tees also rec­om­mended an in­crease in the school fund­ing for­mula to al­low for a gen­eral 2 per­cent in­crease in teacher salaries, in or­der to pro­vide raises for teach­ers who earn more than the min­i­mum.

Adding up all the cat­e­gories, per pupil fund­ing in FY 2020 should be $6,883, the Ed­u­ca­tion Com­mit­tees rec­om­mended. In FY 2021 it should go up to $6,985.

For the cur­rent bi­en­nium, the per pupil foun­da­tion fund­ing rates are $6,713 in FY 2018 and $6,781 in FY 2019.

The gov­er­nor has pro­posed re­duc­ing the num­ber of state agen­cies from 42 to 15. By 2021, the sav­ings would be­gin at about $15 mil­lion a year, and likely would grow over time.

Bud­get is­sues will dic­tate law en­force­ment pol­icy, specif­i­cally reg­u­la­tions within state pris­ons and reg­u­la­tions gov­ern­ing parolees. For ex­am­ple, the gov­er­nor has pro­posed adding 30 pa­role of­fi­cers to the state De­part­ment of Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tions in or­der to lower their aver­age caseload.

The de­part­ment now em­ploys 489 pa­role of­fi­cers with an aver­age caseload of 98. Adding 30 of­fi­cers would lower their aver­age to 90, ac­cord­ing to the di­rec­tor of the de­part­ment. Last year the de­part­ment su­per­vised more than 57,000 of­fend­ers on pro­ba­tion or pa­role.

•••

Ed­i­tor’s note: Arkansas Sen. Ce­cile Bled­soe rep­re­sents the third dis­trict. From Rogers, Sen. Bled­soe is chair of the Pub­lic Health, Wel­fare and La­bor Com­mit­tee.

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