In the final months of his governorship, Asa Hutchinson hopes to pull off a “very simple, hopefully quick” special session where lawmakers will use the state’s $1.6 billion surplus to lower its income tax and establish a $50 million grant program to fund school safety initiatives.
The term-limited Republican governor also said work will continue to expand broadband access across the state and create jobs, and that he looks forward to seeing the report his Future Mobility Council is set to deliver in November. The governor was the featured speaker Tuesday at the Little Rock Rotary Club’s weekly meeting.
When he took office eight years ago, Hutchinson said, one of his goals was to grow the private sector of Arkansas’ economy faster than the government sector.
Part of that push was to lower its individual income tax rate to be more competitive with neighboring states, he said, citing Texas and Tennessee specifically. Neither have an individual income tax.
During his tenure, the tax rate has been lowered from 7% to 5.5%, and Hutchinson said he hopes the special session will result in a 4.9% rate. He also mentioned Utah in his talk; that state has a 4.85% individual income tax rate.
On the school safety proposal, the governor said the state’s surplus funds could be used by for things like “surveillance,” “fencing” and “secure doors.”
On broadband, Hutchinson said the state has already awarded $392 million in grants (see a rundown of those here) and reached 100,000-plus households with high-speed internet access, but it has 110,000 more households to reach. “So we're going to be investing more money in rural broadband in the coming months,” the governor said.
Concerning job creation, he touted the work of the Arkansas Economic Development Commission team, led by Mike Preston, and said more than 500 incentive agreements had been signed with companies across various industries since he’s been in office.
In addition, Hutchinson said Arkansas will surpass Pennsylvania and become the No. 1 steel producer in the country when the state's largest project announced to date — U.S. Steel's new $3 billion mill taking shape in Osceola — is completed. It’s expected to open in 2024.
He also said U.S. Steel President and CEO David Burritt has praised the state as business friendly and relayed that the plant will open here before the company could have obtained a permit ahead of starting such a project in Pennsylvania.
On the Future Mobility Council report, Hutchinson said, “The transportation future might look different than it does today. And so we're looking at autonomous vehicles, drone delivery, that we’re already doing here in the state. And we want to make sure that we can have support for those blossoming industries and new technologies.”
Also on Hutchison’s agenda for his final months in office is the inaugural "America Leads: An Ideas Summit" set for Oct. 19 in Bentonville.
The event is hosted by America Strong and Free Inc., the governor's political action group.
Hutchinson told Rotarians on Tuesday to “stay tuned for more” from the group.
He has been considering a run for president in 2024, and that was apparent when he spoke Tuesday about how Europe is preparing to ration power. Hutchinson recently returned from an economic development excursion there and said European countries, especially Germany but also England and Austria, have mostly relied on Russia for energy and have been impacted by that country being heavily sanctioned for starting a war with Ukraine.
The energy crisis in Europe will affect the country’s and the state’s supply chain, Hutchinson said. He believes the United States needs a long-term strategy to achieve energy independence and to supply energy to its allies.
The governor added that Europe values and needs American leadership.