On Monday, at the opening of the 91st General Assembly’s fiscal session, I proposed to legislators that when they convene next year, that we pass legislation that will cut the marginal individual tax rate in Arkansas from 6.9 percent to 6 percent. That will be a reduction of $180 million.
This tax-cutting proposal is a continuation of my goal to reduce the tax burden on Arkansans. Over the first three years of my administration, we cut taxes by $150 million without reducing essential services. Last year, we passed Act 141, which exempts military veterans’ retirement pay from state income tax.
My challenge for further tax cuts was part of my State of the State address, in which I proclaimed that the state is stronger than ever. Arkansas is booming, in fact. We have incredible entrepreneurs who take risks, invest capital, and create jobs and growth.
Arkansas is competing successfully nationally and around the world thanks to the creative thinking, hard work and cooperation among the General Assembly, the state agencies and local economic leaders. We are strengthening our education system and workforce through reading initiatives in schools, computer science education, and enhanced training for trades such as welding, diesel repair, and nursing. We have changed the way we will fund universities so that our support is based on the achievements of students and not school enrollment.
And we did all of this without reducing benefits or eliminating essential services.
We are transforming government in bold and responsible ways that include combining agencies, targeted cuts and hiring freezes when appropriate, and eliminating unnecessary regulation.
We can measure our success by the numbers: Our unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, down from 5.6 percent when I took office. More Arkansans are working than ever before. Our economy grew faster than three-fourths of the other states. Fewer people are on Medicaid than when I took office. This is all great news.
We have signed more than 300 agreements with Arkansas-based companies, and national and international firms to expand or to move here. Our recruiting has brought in $7 billion in investments and created more than 11,000 jobs in Arkansas; 60,000 jobs have been created in the past three years.
With a good wind at our back, this is not a time to rest. For all the progress we’ve made, we still have much work to accomplish, starting with the budget for next year. My proposed budget is conservative and cuts spending where necessary without cutting back on essential services. The reductions in spending that I propose in next year’s budget leaves a projected surplus of $64 million.
I have asked all agencies to redouble their efforts in increasing efficiencies without cutting the services that are essential. We accomplished that with the $150 million in tax cuts. Naysayers said then that we couldn’t do it. But we did it.
My most important message to the legislators is that everything we do is for the benefit of all Arkansans. Their work matters. What happens in the state capitol makes a difference in the day-to-day lives of people.
And we cannot rest in our work until everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, whether you live in Gurdon or in Gravette; whether you were born in Tyronza or in Texarkana.
The work before us is not easy, but I know we are up to the task.