Gov. Asa Hutchinson spoke mostly in broad thematic terms to a joint legislative session this morning.
He said it was a time of change, with challenges in technology, terrorism, the global marketplace and a reduced confidence in government. But he said he believed Arkansas would have a strong voice in the world marketplace.
His specifics have been outlined previously:
* Eliminate unnecessary boards and commissions.
* Realign state agencies
* Fund higher education based on student “progress” not enrollment. He promised a program to pay the entire cost of education for people who seek vocational or two-year training, as opposed to a four-year college. Here’s that promise:
It is essential that we, as a state, give every high school student a simple promise:
If you pursue a high need job skill or degree, then we will assure you that all your tuition and mandatory fees will be paid through a two-year college program or technical school.
It is a simple promise with a big return for our state and the next generation. It is called ArFuture Grants and it will require a mentoring program for the student. It will require working in the state for three years after college. But it will be created with existing program funds and used in combination with other education funds that are already available.
Because of ArFutures, it will be not only possible, but practical, for a student to get two-year degree or certificate without any student debt.
* Reform the tax code. He’s sticking with a $50 million cut for those making less than $21,000, but acknowledged many want more and said he’d appoint a “blue ribbon” task force to come up with a recommendation for a plan to get to a reduction in the top tax rate, now just under 7 percent. He also again promised to support an income tax exemption for income from retired military pensions.
* Improvements to foster child care.
* Divert tobacco settlement money to those on the waiting list for community care for people with disabilities.
* Review criminal justice to ensure incarceration policies are “right” and balanced between public safety and giving people a second chance.
“I’ve lived the Arkansas dream,” Hutchinson said, with references to family and faith. He quoted Winthrop Rockefeller’s promise after his election as a Republican governor 50 years ago. “Now is not the time for party politics. …. As governor of Arkansas, I intend to represent all.”