By John R. Schirmer
The Arkansas Tax Reform and Relief Task Force last week dismissed the consulting company which it hired to look at ways to make the state’s tax structure more competitive with surrounding states.
“We let the consultant go,” according to Sen. Larry Teague of Nashville, a member of the task force. “The company did the basic research for us. Our leadership thought the legislative staff can finish it.”
The consulting firm prepared a 180-page interim report on Arkansas’s tax system, which Teague said included “a list of taxes and no recommendations.”
The task force “has a lot to do. We’ll meet in February. We looked at the income tax [Jan. 8], corporate and individual,” Teague said. “I can’t tell where we’re going. Some cuts are not doable.”
Teague said pre-budget hearings were conducted Jan. 9-11 in preparation for the Legislature’s fiscal session in February. Teague is chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and co-chair of the Joint Budget Committee. He presided over the hearings Jan. 9 and 11.
The “big six” state agencies make up about 96 percent of the budget, Teague said. “We talked about higher education and health [Jan. 11], DHS and K-12 Wednesday morning [Jan. 10] and community punishment and the Department of Correction Wednesday afternoon.”
Legislators reviewed the budget submitted by Gov. Asa Hutchinson. Teague said the meetings were “a little contentious at times.”
Most agencies have a surplus appropriation, Teague said. “Some members are frustrated by over-appropriation and want to dial it back. There are a lot of reasons for extra appropriations. There’s no reason to get too uptight about them.” The committee approved Hutchinson’s budget.
Teague said Legislators should look at the financial problems which have hit the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. The facility is cutting 600 jobs, including 268 filled positions. “UAMS is as big an economic engine as any in the state,” Teague said. “I want to take care of UAMS. Their fund balance is low. That could damage their bond ratings. I’m concerned about that.” UAMS has “a $30 million-$39 million hope. I hope to help them.”