Hutchinson expects fight on tax cut plan

By ANDREW DeMILLO The Associated Press
This article was published January 6, 2017 at 4:00 a.m.

LITTLE ROCK -- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson expects a tougher fight over his $50 million tax cut plan than what he encountered two years ago, when he won approval for a much larger reduction for thousands of middle-income taxpayers.

In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the legislative session that begins Monday, Hutchinson said he wouldn't support rolling back a grocery tax cut enacted four years ago to help pay for a larger reduction in taxes. The Republican governor has proposed cutting taxes for 657,000 Arkansas residents making less than $21,000 a year, but some GOP lawmakers are pushing for a larger reduction.

Hutchinson also said the Legislature should hold off on any changes to the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion while Congress debates the future of the federal health overhaul that enabled it, and expects the state will able to resume executions this year.

Tax cuts

Hutchinson said he doesn't support an idea floated by some lawmakers to halt a grocery tax cut enacted in 2013, and said he didn't believe there was support in the Legislature either.

"It would be considered a tax increase because it's a cut that is already in place and has already been promised, so you would be reneging on what has been a commitment," Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said he expects it won't be as easy to pitch the tax cut like two years ago, when lawmakers approved his $103 million in reductions for middle-income residents.

"I realize we've got to sell it and we've got to compete with the other ideas that will be in the marketplace," Hutchinson said.

Medicaid

The Legislature shouldn't make changes to the state's hybrid Medicaid expansion, he said, because of Congress' work on repealing President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

He noted the new restrictions to the state's program, which uses federal funds to purchase private insurance for the poor, just took effect Jan. 1.

"We don't need to be upsetting that apple cart when we just loaded the apple cart," Hutchinson said.

Executions

Hutchinson said he expects the state will be able to resume executions this year after an 11-year delay due to court challenges and drug shortages. The U.S. Supreme Court is weighing whether to review a state court's decision upholding Arkansas' death penalty law, and one of the state's three lethal injection drugs expired Jan. 1.

Hutchinson said he doesn't think the state should find a replacement for the drug until the high court says whether it'll take up the case, and doesn't see a need for the Legislature to make any changes to the execution law.

"We need to stick with what we've got right now, for the reason that if you change the protocols it will start a new round of litigation that will delay any final resolution," he said.

Abortion

The governor said he's likely to support anti-abortion legislation that would prohibit dilation and evacuation, a second trimester procedure that abortion supporters say is the safest and most common. Similar laws against the procedure are in effect in Mississippi and West Virginia, while bans approved in several other states have been put on hold due to legal challenges.

"I want to watch how it might be amended through the legislative process and reserve final judgment until I see what the final bill is, but it seems like an appropriate step and consistent with my pro-life positions," he said.

State Desk on 01/06/2017
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