From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
In a hasty special session, the legislature approved $500 million in income tax cuts for individuals and businesses.
We also created a grant program that will distribute $50 million to public schools for safety measures to protect students in the event of a school shooting.
For example, the grants can be spent for doors that lock automatically and two-way radios that keep school staff in contact with law enforcement.
The tax cut was supported by a majority of lawmakers, in spite of the risk that Arkansas may have to return as much as $900 million to the federal government.
Federal relief funds can be used for a wide variety of purposes, but they may not be used to pay for tax cuts.
Arkansas has allocated a major portion of our relief funding to expand broadband in isolated parts of the state.
We also used it to help small businesses that were more severely affected by the pandemic, and workers who lost their jobs.
Water systems throughout Arkansas have asked for funding to upgrade aging infrastructure.
The loss of $900 million, or even half of that amount, would be devastating to many of those projects.
The prudent course would be to wait until we know for certain the outcome of a court case, in which Arkansas and other states are questioning whether federal relief funds can be used for tax cuts.
We should know by September, or soon after, so there is no urgency to cut taxes right now.
There are parts of the tax cut bill that I like, because they’ll benefit small businesses.
However, the bulk of the tax cuts will benefit the wealthy. The legislation will make our tax code more regressive, for example, middle class families will pay the same tax rates as people who make $100 million a year.
An attempt to raise teacher salaries was not successful, because it required a two-thirds majority in each chamber in order to introduce the bill.
Even though teachers won’t get a pay raise out of this special session, I’m encouraged about next year.
In the fall, the Senate and House Education Committees will recommend funding levels for public schools, and I’m hopeful that their recommendations will include significant raises for teachers.
If we’re going to compete for well-paying jobs, our teacher salaries need to be competitive with neighboring states.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.