Governor says session to cut taxes of wealthy will begin Dec. 7; acknowledges surging COVID numbers

Governor Hutchinson has the votes to pass an income tax cut that will primarily benefit the rich and said at his weekly news briefing today that the session would begin at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 7.

The plan is to phase in a reduction in the state’s top income tax bracket from 5.9 to 4.9 percent — eventually a 17 percent tax cut on top dollar earnings, which an independent analysis said would primarily benefit the rich (73 percent of the benefit would go to the 20 percent of taxpayers making more than $98,000 a year. The top 1 percent, making more than $500,000 a year, will reap almost 30 percent of the cut.) Other taxpayers will receive some small benefits. The bottom 80 percent, more than 1 million taxpayers, will share about 27 percent of the money.

The governor said some other items would be included in his special session call, but the tax cut is the primary reason to meet. He said he was informed that majority support exists in the House and Senate for the tax proposal.

He was asked about a call today for more investment in services rather than a tax cut. He insisted the state had increased spending on services. “We are meeting the needs there and we will continue to do so,” he said. He said he didn’t see it as an “either/or” situation.

He insisted the tax cut was “balanced,” and not a preference for higher-income people, as independent analysis has shown. He said the legislation benefits all taxpayers. He cited the tax credit for those making less than minimum wage (a whopping 15 cents a day).

Other items in the session call are mostly technical corrections:

Shifting money between reserve accounts; fixing the process for appointing members of a new tax appeal commission; repealing a bill prohibiting manufacturer discounts on insulin that the governor said created problems for insurance companies; appropriation of additional federal pandemic relief money.

Bills also will authorize “security personnel” requested by the House and Senate. And a potential economic development bill is being considered, pertaining to recycling tax credits aimed at a potential project that could use them.

Other topics:

The Omicron variant of COVID-19: The governor said there are many questions, but no answers as yet. He said the state was sticking with a strategy of encouraging as many vaccinations as possible. He offered no specific ideas on improving the state’s general coolness to vaccinations. Health Director Jose Romero said no Omicron cases had been detected in Arkansas yet, but he expected they would be.

COVID cases: They are increasing. Today was the highest number of new cases since September.

The governor said he wished the increase was a statistical anomaly, but the increase in positive tests to near 10 percent suggest cases are really on the rise. Health Director Jose Romero echoed that feeling.

Hutchinson touted the vaccination numbers, though only about a third of doses given in the last 24 hours were first-time recipients. He said more than 80 percent of people 65 and older had had at least one shot, with more than 70 percent fully vaccinated,

Hospitalizations also were up today.

Q&A from reporters

No anti-abortion bill will be included in the governor’s call. The state already has a virtual total ban in law, he said. It is currently blocked by a federal court. Additional action by the legislature should await future legal precedent change by the U.S. Supreme Court, he said. He noted the legislature could add measures to the agenda by a two-thirds vote, but he hoped the legislature would accept his analysis to hold off. He wouldn’t say if he’d sign a bill if another anti-abortion bill was added, such as has been threatened to model the Texas vigilante-enforced anti-abortion legislation.

He said he hoped for a short session perhaps concluded in three days.

Romero said he believed the state was in another surge of COVID cases, though he didn’t know if it would match the previous surge. He also said flu could burden hospitals this year, complicating the effort to handle COVID cases. He repeated his mantra about vaccinations and other precautions, which the legislature has discouraged by law.



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