Arkansas legislators on Tuesday advanced a nearly $500 million income tax cut package, rejecting efforts to include a tax credit for law enforcement officers.
The votes against adding the credit were a setback for some GOP lawmakers who are trying to expand the scope of a session called this week to take up the tax cut package. But the Legislature still faces fights over attempts to take up other measures, including a ban on critical race theory in schools and an abortion ban like the one in Texas.
The House and Senate Revenue and Taxation committees endorsed identical versions of the tax cut, the largest in the state’s history. The proposal would cost Arkansas about $498 million once fully implemented in 2026.
“I believe the plan strikes a fair balance between working Arkansans and also job creators,” Republican Sen. Jonathan Dismang said before the vote.
Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson is pushing for the cut after the state reported ending the last fiscal year with a nearly $1 billion surplus, and legislative leaders say there are more than enough votes in the majority-GOP House and Senate to pass it.
But advocacy groups said the cuts are skewed toward higher income Arkansans and that the state should instead focus on increasing funding for needs such as services for the developmentally disabled.
“That is money that can get spent on the state budget for things that support children and families,” said Rich Huddleston, executive director of Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.
Legislators on Tuesday defeated efforts to take up $3,000 income tax credits for law enforcement officers. The Senate overruled a decision by Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin that the measure was relevant and could be considered, and a Senate panel later rejected an attempt to add the credit to the tax cut package.
“If we back the blue, we should put the money where our mouth is,” Republican Sen. Jason Rapert, the credit’s sponsor, told the Senate. The credit would cost the state $25 million a year.
Opponents, however, said the credit would not help increase officers’ pay and would leave out firefighters and other first responders.
“It does not change their salary and we should worry about their low pay,” said Hutchinson, who said he’s directed his public safety secretary to work on a plan to raise State Police pay and look at ways to encourage local governments to raise law enforcement salaries.
“The answer is let’s increase the salaries.”
The tax credit is among several proposals some GOP lawmakers are trying to add to the session’s agenda. They also include a proposal to implement Texas’ unique abortion ban, which is being challenged in federal court.
The Legislature can expand the session’s agenda once they take up items on the governor’s proclamation, but doing so would require a two-thirds vote of the House and Senate.
Senate President Jimmy Hickey said he didn’t believe there were enough votes in his chamber to expand the session’s scope.
Another proposal supporters hope to get considered would ban public schools from teaching “divisive” concepts about race. The measure follows efforts in other GOP-led states to ban critical race theory, a way of thinking about America’s history through the lens of racism that isn’t typically taught in public schools.
Legislative panels also endorsed incentives aimed at helping the state lure a $2 billion steel mill expansion, including offering tax credits for recycling equipment.