LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Tuesday that he’ll call the Legislature back into session next week to take up a tax cut plan, and that he hoped lawmakers would hold off on efforts to enact an abortion ban similar to one in neighboring Texas.
Hutchinson said the planned special session was set to begin Dec. 7, with its focus primarily on the tax cut package that calls for reducing the state’s top income tax rate from 5.9% to 4.9%. The package, which also includes corporate tax cuts and a low-income tax credit, would cost the state $135 million in the current fiscal year and grow to nearly $498 million when fully implemented in 2026.
“I hope we have a short session, we do the business and we keep our focus on the tax cuts, which was the plan all along,” Hutchinson told reporters.
Hutchinson is pushing for the tax cuts after the state ended its fiscal year in July with a nearly $1 billion surplus. A coalition of advocacy groups earlier Tuesday called on the Legislature to focus on funding needed services rather than a tax cut they said would primarily benefit higher earners.
’Instead invest those funds in programs that will take us up from near the bottom of states in our educational and health outcomes and make Arkansas a great place to live,” said the letter from the groups, which included Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Hutchinson said the state has been increasing funding for services, even with the tax cuts it’s enacted over the past several years.
“We are meeting the needs there and will continue to do so,” he said.
House Speaker Matthew Shepherd and Senate President Jimmy Hickey said there is more than enough support to pass the tax cut package, with up to 70 representatives from the 100-member House signing on as co-sponsors.
While the session’s agenda will include several other items, Hutchinson said he does not plan to include a proposal to enact neighboring Texas’ unique law banning abortions six weeks into pregnancy.
Lawmakers, however, could vote to extend the session to take up abortion or any other items with a two-thirds vote of both chambers after the items on the agenda are considered.
Hutchinson declined to say what he would do if the Legislature passed such a measure. But he said he believes the Legislature should wait to see what happens with cases pending over Texas’ ban and other prohibitions. The U.S. Supreme is weighing whether to block Texas’ law and will hear arguments Wednesday over another ban in Mississippi.
Another case is working its way through the courts over a law Hutchinson signed this year banning nearly all abortions. That law was blocked by a federal judge.
“Let’s wait on that decision and then we’ll know if any additional action needs to be taken by Arkansas or the states,” Hutchinson said.
Republican Sen. Jason Rapert said he was frustrated by Hutchinson’s decision and said he planned to push for a ban similar to Texas’ during the special session. Rapert said his proposal would allow private citizens to enforce the ban, as in Texas.
“This is a strategy and a tool that’s available that we can use right now and pro-life legislators know we pick up a tool and use it when we have it,” Rapert said.
Legislative leaders also said they would prefer to keep the session short and focused. Hickey said he didn’t think there would be votes to take up the abortion ban, noting it would extend the session.
“Once we open the session for anything, it’s opened up,” Hickey said.