Gov. Asa Hutchinson listed teacher salaries, government transformation, infrastructure and tax cuts as his four top agenda items for the next legislative session during the first of four planned Town Hall meetings at UCA (University of Central Arkansas) Downtown on Monday.
“We wanted to have the first Town Hall right here in Conway,” Hutchinson said, nothing the area’s growth and location of three colleges. “I’m very proud of what’s happening here in Faulkner County.”
He said that, if re-elected, he plans to ask the Arkansas General Assembly to raise minimum pay for teachers by $4,000 over the next four years. Hutchinson, a Republican, faces Democrat Jared Henderson and Libertarian Mark West in the general election Nov. 6.
He said if the legislature raises the minimum teacher pay $1,000 per year for the next four years, “then we would be the highest in the region.”
He said the increase would impact salaries for teachers in more than 70 districts.
Hutchinson said he also plans to reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies by nearly 65 percent — from 42 to 15 — “without sacrificing any services.”
To achieve that, he plans to assign more than 200 boards and commissions to larger umbrella departments, create a Department of Transportation and Services and create an Inspector General position to help oversee them.
“It will provide better efficiency, better management,” he said.
Hutchinson said he’s committed to improving infrastructure.
“We have got t be able to invest more in our highways,” he said, adding that he wants the legislature to put forth a ballot initiative for 2020 to allow “voters to vote up or down” on a revenue stream for highways.
Lastly, Hutchinson said he plans to reduce the personal income tax rate from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent over the next four years.
He then opened the floor to questions.
Sen. Jason Rapert asked the governor to clear up the “unfounded notion” that his plan would merge teachers’ retirement system with others in the state.
“There’s not any serious consideration given on merging retirement systems in Arkansas,” Hutchinson said. “The teachers’ retirement system serves teachers well. That’s off the table. They need to relax.”
A representative of the Ozark Society who didn’t give his name asked the governor if he planned to continue the moratorium at the Buffalo River Watershed. Hutchinson said yes.
“The Buffalo River is a national treasure,” he added. “It’s something we’re very proud of here in Arkansas.”