I recently sat down with incoming Speaker of the House Davy Carter to discuss his plans for the legislative session that begins on Monday. Carter is entering his third and final term as a state representative from Cabot. He was elected as Speaker this past November.
Speaker Carter agrees with essentially every other state legislator I have talked to: Medicaid is by far the biggest challenge facing the state. So, how do we fix it? The Speaker declined to offer a specific plan at this point, saying only that there are plans being developed and they will revealed in the coming weeks as the session gets underway.
After the existing crisis in Medicaid is solved, Carter said he would like to see a vigorous debate on the state’s tax policy:
“Tax cuts are still on the table. Beebe has proposed the grocery tax cut. I think that we ought to give new consideration to looking at the personal income tax brackets. That’s been something that I don’t think is very equitable within the current system. The top rate kicks in at $13,000 above the poverty rate. It’s too low. We’re not talking about cuts for the wealthy. These are real working people. The down side to that is the way the forefathers set the code up, the lion’s share of the revenue comes from personal income tax. The changes are very difficult, but I’m advocating that we debate all of these things.”
On the grocery tax, Carter said he’s ‘unconvinced’ that it’s the best place to target for reform in this economic climate. What other other taxes would he like to see cut or reformed?
“There will be some other tax issues that people are interested in. You’ve got manufacturers that now have a sales tax exemption on certain things, but not on used parts. The manufacturing community will tell you that if they have a plant in Rogers and they need to make a $10 million capital investment but they have a plant somewhere else where they don’t have that tax, they’re going to spend that money in a different place.
I’m advocating we debate all of these things. We’ve got to figure out how much money we can take out of the budget and Medicaid is a big part of that. There are a lot of moving parts.”
“I’m open to discussing all [of the tax cuts],” Carter said. “I’d like to see us reform the income tax brackets first.”
Finally, I asked the Speaker if he would support cutting or eliminating the state’s capital gains tax. He said he is yet to see any capital gains tax bills and his position would be determined by what the bill looked like.
As for any specific legislation that the Speaker has his eye on or anything he might propose himself, he said he has delegated most of that responsibility to Rep. Westerman and the rest of the caucus — his role is to focus on money, fixing Medicaid, and helping facilitate debate.
“I’m not personally going to have a big legislative agenda where I’m going to be proposing a lot of bills,” Carter said.
On an issue near and dear to my heart — government transparency — Speaker Carter said he does not have any particular reforms in mind. When asked if he supports having committee votes recorded so the people of Arkansas can see how their representatives are voting, the Speaker said a mechanism already exists to do that:
“It takes 2 committee members’ votes to call for a recorded vote. There are too many bills that come through, most of them everybody is for or against. It’s an easy process to get a recorded vote.”
In addition, he said the House already live streams their committee meetings online.
(You can read AAI’s thoughts on recorded committee votes in their new Action Plan for Arkansas, starting on Page 77 here.)
As for any other procedural reforms he would like to implement, the Speaker said he was unaware of any House rules that need to be changed:
“Bills will be filed, the Speaker will assign those bills to a committee, they will have to be germane to the subject matter of the committee. The House rules have been around for a long time and they have morphed, if there have been issues.”
The legislative session begins on Monday. Stay tuned to The Arkansas Project for full coverage, on-ground from the capitol.