From the historic hallways of the most beautiful state Capitol in our great nation, this is Senator Keith Ingram.
Now that the election is over, political observers are already discussing the impact on next year’s legislative session.
First of all, it came as no surprise that Arkansas voters demonstrated once again that they are very conservative.
The Senate will have four new members, but two of them have previous legislative experience in the House of Representatives, so they are not total newcomers.
The governor will submit a balanced budget to legislators next week, and the big question is whether or not he will propose another tax cut.
In the past three sessions, the legislature has enacted income tax reductions for families across the economic spectrum, as well as a host of tax reductions for businesses.
The cuts have saved Arkansas families and businesses about $250 million a year.
Until the governor has proposed a balanced budget, we won’t know if this trend will continue when the legislature convenes in January.
If further tax reductions are on the agenda, it may be necessary to phase them in over an extended period, to make sure that vital services are not disrupted.
For example, the very successful Arkansas Medicaid program known as Arkansas Works is facing a critical juncture.
The same holds true for similar Medicaid programs in states all across the country.
The United States Supreme Court will soon hear a legal challenge from opponents of the health care program, and the outcome of the court case will have a tremendous impact on our state budget.
Arkansas Works has been known by several names since we first created it 10 years ago. It has been called the Private Option, Medicaid Expansion and Arkansas Works.
It has been a life saver for thousands of Arkansans, in some cases literally so, because it allows working families to buy affordable health insurance.
A second obstacle for renewal of Arkansas Works is that it requires a supermajority of legislators to approve the appropriation that funds it. That means 75 House members and 27 senators must vote for it, in order for the appropriation to pass.
In every legislative session, a majority of Democrats and Republicans have supported it, but it is always a struggle to line up the supermajority that is needed. The 2021 session will be no different.
One area that will not be a major concern this session is highway funding, because on Tuesday Arkansas voters approved Issue One.
It makes permanent the current half-cent sales tax that was scheduled to expire in 2023. The amendment will generate $205 million a year for the state Transportation Department to maintain roads and bridges.
Cities and counties will each get $44 million a year for streets and roads.
Voter approval of the amendment means that legislators will probably not focus on highway funding as much as we did last year.
Instead, we’ll concentrate on other budget issues, such as health care, public schools, higher education and prisons.
From the Capitol, it is always my great honor and sincere privilege to serve you as your state Senator. This is Keith Ingram.