On Wednesday, Nov. 14, Governor Asa Hutchinson presented his balanced budget for the next biennium to the Joint Budget Committee of the General Assembly.
In his remarks, Governor Hutchinson highlighted several key aspects of his budget, including his commitment to raise the minimum salary for teachers by $4,000 over the next four years. This would make Arkansas’s minimum teacher salary the highest among neighboring states.
The estimated cost of this proposal is $60 million. In addition to the increase in adequacy funding through general revenue commitments, Governor Hutchinson today released a budget letter requesting that $60 million be transferred from the Educational Adequacy Fund to the Public School Fund for the sole use of implementing the teacher salary increases. To view a copy of the letter, click HERE.
The Governor also emphasized his commitment to public safety by increasing the budget for the Arkansas State Police by $2.3 million. This new funding will allow for 24 new State Troopers over the next two years and will establish an annual trooper school in order to maintain troop strength. His budget also includes $900,000 for the new Northwest Arkansas Crime Lab in Lowell.
Governor Hutchinson underscored his and the legislature’s shared commitment to further reduce the state’s income tax rate. His budget allocates $111 million in tax cuts over the biennium for the 2-4-5.9 plan developed in partnership with the Legislative Tax Reform and Relief Task Force. This plan would reduce the state’s top marginal rate from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent over four years; simplify tax tables and brackets; and provide for a sizable increase in standard deductions.
The 2-4-5.9 plan, if passed, would be the third major income tax cut of Governor Hutchinson’s administration. This includes the $100 million middle class tax cut of 2015 and the $50 million tax cut for low-income Arkansans in 2017.
Additional items of note in the Governor’s budget include: $2.5 million annually for the state’s Crisis Stabilization Centers; $1.13 million increase for the Division of Ag; $1.55 million increase for UAMS; additional savings to the state’s Long Term Reserve Fund; continued funding of the Governor’s computer science initiative; and estimated savings of $7.5 million from transformation efforts in year two of the biennium.
Following the budget presentation, Hutchinson issued a statement about the new budget. Hutchinson’s statement is printed below:
“This budget reflects a number of shared priorities between the Executive and Legislative branches of government. It reflects a strong commitment to teachers and education needs, as well as public safety. It reflects our continued commitment to tax cuts; continued savings through the Long Term Reserve Fund; and increased funding to the Division of Agriculture. Tools to spur economic growth also remain a top priority in this budget.
“This budget decreases spending in some agencies and reduces our reliance on one-time funding for ongoing budget needs,” added Governor Hutchinson. “Furthermore, in year two of the biennium, it recognizes estimated savings from my proposed plan to transform state government. This responsible approach meets the important needs of our state and supports our collective priorities. I look forward to working with the legislature on the details of this budget in the 2019 session.”