Yesterday I visited with state Rep. Mark Biviano (R-Searcy) for our Advancing Arkansas interview series, previewing the upcoming legislative session. One might call his goals “very ambitious.”
Biviano, who serves as the Policy Director for the House Republican caucus, said he has three main objectives for the session: reform Medicaid, reform the tax code, and reform education. And when it comes to Medicaid, he said the issue is much more complex than simply a “yes or no” on expansion:
“All you hear about Medicaid right now is expansion — but we feel very strongly that the current system needs to be reformed. We need to look at improving efficiency, eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse.”
Biviano said discussion about reforming the current Medicaid system must take place before expansion is considered. Specifically, Biviano said there will be a drug testing provision for entitlement benefits on the table; he also wants to consider requiring co-pays to offset some of the cost of the programs.
As for tax reform, Biviano listed several forthcoming changes. One reform will be the further trimming of the state’s sales tax on groceries, although he is unsure if the changes will include just a further reduction or an elimination, as Governor Beebe promised during his first campaign for chief executive — the caucus has not yet seen the governor’s proposal.
Other tax reform will include restructuring the state’s income tax code:
“We have X amount of revenue available in the budget. Looking at where we can get some tax relief will be high on our list.”
Biviano said that, more specifically, the reforms will mirror a plan written by Rep. Charlie Collins that gradually decreases income tax brackets, cuts income tax rates for those in the 2nd lowest bracket, and eliminates two of the brackets altogether. Currently, Arkansans making just $32,600 fall into the highest income tax bracket. (You can read more about Rep. Collins’ tax reform plan here.)
“We are certainly going to have some ideas about where revenue can be created or where budgets can be trimmed to allow for tax relief. The scope will depend on the revenues available,” Biviano added.
The third item on Biviano’s agenda is education reform:
“We are looking at the school choice issue: improving charter schools and improving the process for charter schools. Also, offering the ability to provide tax scholarship credits that will allow parents a choice in financial assistance.”
Biviano also hopes to see a special needs voucher passed as a part of overall education reform. He said this provision would allow parents of children with special needs — those with learning disabilities, attention deficit disorder, etc. — to make the best school choice for their own situation. He said he envisions himself being more directly involved in proposing some of these reforms.
What other possible reforms might be on the table?
“There will be a voter ID bill, drug testing for entitlements, a pain-capable abortion bill, and legislation that will put a cap on the growth of government based on the previous year’s growth,” Biviano said.
As for personal goals for the session, Biviano’s focus is clear:
“Education reform is definitely a personal goal and to see that the plan we have laid out is executed with conservative principles and values. The voters expect us to follow it and to make it as bipartisan as possible. These policies are good for all Arkansans.”