From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
After every election, all members of the Senate get together to elect their leadership and choose committee assignments for the upcoming legislative session.
I’m very pleased to report that I will serve on both the Insurance and Commerce Committee and the Revenue and Taxation Committee.
Revenue and Taxation considers every piece of legislation that changes our tax code. In recent legislative sessions, the committee endorsed bills to reduce income taxes for individuals and businesses in Arkansas by $250 million a year.
The committee also endorsed legislation to exempt from sales taxes the purchase of equipment and replacement parts for manufacturers. Other bills lowered property taxes, by increasing homestead property tax credit.
We reduced corporate income taxes and extended the carry forward period for net operating losses, from five to 10 years.
All those tax reductions have a common purpose – to increase the purchasing power of Arkansas families, and to strengthen the economy by creating incentives for job creation.
The Senate Committee on Insurance and Commerce considers legislation that affects businesses from a different angle, in other words, if they change the regulatory and legal environment in which Arkansas companies compete.
Any new law must pass through the committee if it will affect banking, financial products and securities, the insurance industry, utilities, mortgages and housing.
Also, I’ll serve on the Joint Committee on Public Retirement and Social Security Systems.
All of the state’s retirement systems must get legislative approval for any changes in benefits, contribution rates or eligibility criteria.
I’ll continue serving on the Joint Budget Committee. Arkansas is a fiscally conservative state and we operate every year under a balanced budget.
That begins every fiscal year in the Joint Budget Committee, which reviews in detail every spending request by every state agency.
No matter how worthy a project, if we cannot afford it, we learn to live without it.
I’m also on the Legislative Council, which oversees state government operations during the interim between sessions. The Council signs off on major personnel decisions, transfers of money between divisions of state agencies and contracts with private companies.
Finally, I’ll continue serving on the Audit Committee.
Legislative Audit has a team of accountants who audit school districts, cities, counties and institutions of higher education to make sure your tax dollars are properly spent and accounted for.
On the negative side of the ledger, I must report that this year’s Senate adopted a biased and restrictive rule change that prohibits members of the minority party to serve as committee chairman.
This new rule overturns Senate tradition, which used to ensure that the most qualified members took leadership roles, regardless of party.
For example, in the 2009 session, Democrats held 27-to-8 majority in the Senate. However, Republicans were chairmen of the powerful Joint Budget Committee, the Joint Performance Review Committee, the Energy Committee and the Senate Rules Committee.
The Senate recognized legislative experience and an individual’s ability to understand complex fiscal issues.
For many years the Senate has had rules to prevent the minority party from stacking a committee. Those rules reflect the will of the voters. If Arkansas prefers one political party over another, that party determines whether bills become law.
But this year is the first time the Senate has arbitrarily decided to exclude individuals from leadership, simply on the basis of their party.
In effect, this rule allows newcomers to exert inordinate authority over the complex business of operating state government. It willfully excludes people who have years of experience and expertise - people with a proven track record of balancing budgets and promoting job creation.
Individually speaking, I’m very pleased with my committee assignments however, because they provide me the opportunity to more effectively serve my constituents.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.