Statewide GOP candidates talk tax plans, problems with Obamacare

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Candidates for statewide elective office descended on Fort Smith on Saturday (Feb. 8) talking unreasonable tax cut plans, Obamacare and the role of the lieutenant governor's office.

Prior to the Ronald Reagan Dinner, hosted by the Sebastian County Republican Women, former U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, took aim at Democratic candidate Mike Ross' tax cut proposal presented to the public this week. The plan called for a phased-in tax cut for all tax brackets at a total cost estimated at $574.5 million.

In describing the differences, Hutchinson said the tax cut proposal from Ross is not a reasonable plan that could work within Arkansas’ budget.

"Our plan reduces the income tax rate for those in the middle income category in Arkansas and the revenue loss is about $100 million for our state. Mr. Ross released his plan and there's two things. One, there's no start date to it, so if you have a plan to reduce taxes, you really need a start date and he does not have that. It's just really a promise to the future. And secondly, his really would cost us $500 million plus, which is not a reasonable plan to begin with of recurring revenue to have that kind of loss to the state that would hurt education, that would hurt essential services that we have."

Even with the price tag of Ross' plan well over a half billion dollars, Hutchinson said his opponent's tax plan does nothing to lower tax rates or create jobs within the state of Arkansas.

"Our goal is to ultimately reduce the high individual tax rate in Arkansas from 7% down, and that's not his objective. His objective is simply to index the rates to keep them at the same high percentage rate that we have now. And so there's no job creation benefit, we're still not competitive to our surrounding states. So two different objectives. Two different costs. Mine has a start date, his does not." (A brief video interview with Hutchinson can be viewed at the end of this story.)

And while Hutchinson may have been a vocal skeptic of Ross' tax cut proposal, at least one Republican candidate for lieutenant governor said he was excited at the level of cuts Ross was proposing and said even if the state's top two constitutional officers continue to hold different political affiliations, the plan showed that Ross is willing to entertain Republican-friendly policies.

"As you know, recently candidate (Mike) Ross has suggested his own income tax reduction plan and I'm very, very excited that he's into that policy arena and I'm also excited about the level of income tax reduction he thinks we need in Arkansas," said Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville.

Without going into specifics, Collins said he would want big changes made to the proposal, though he said the plan itself was on the right track.

"While I would dramatically restructure the plan overall, I think with a couple of those parameters — (primarily) reducing income taxes to the tune of $575 million a year — we've got a lot that we can work on together to get some great progress for Arkansas."

Collins sidestepped a question about the possibility of retiring U.S. Rep. Tim Griffin, a Little Rock Republican, exploring a race for the lieutenant governor's office, instead talking about what he hoped to accomplish in the largely ceremonial position.

"I think the relationships I've built in the (State) House and the (State) Senate, that I can help be a very effective liaison between the executive branch and our (possible) next Republican (governor) of Arkansas and both the House and the Senate."

He explained in detail, as well, why he was seeking the office versus running for a third term in the House from his Fayetteville district.

"I think with a statewide platform, I can help build and champion and get more support for this message of economic freedom (and) making our state more competitive with the states around us," explaining that moving from the House to the lieutenant governor's office would allow him to take a jobs creation message across the state instead of having a limited voice as one of 100 representatives.

U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, who has made eliminating Obamacare a central message in his race for U.S. Senate against incumbent Democrat U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor, addressed a CBO report released earlier this week that projects 2 million fewer full-time employees in the workforce by 2017 as proof that the new health care law is hurting Arkansas workers. But instead of focusing simply on jobs, Cotton said the report shows that the legislation is leaving millions without coverage even after the bill's passage in 2010.

"It confirms our worst fears that we had about Obamacare. For instance, it projects that there is going to be the equivalent of 2.5 million job losses over the next ten years because of the impacts of Obamacare in places like Fort Smith, or like my hometown of Dardanelle, or all across America. It also confirms the botched rollout of the law is going to significantly drive down the number of people who are enrolled, which is going to drive up the cost to the taxpayer in terms of paying higher premiums or the bailout of insurers. And finally, it says that in 10 years, we still going to have 30 million Americans uninsured. That's the exact number the President was using five years ago to sell Obamacare. So after all the trillions of dollars of new spending and new taxes and canceled plans and loss of access to doctors, we're still going to have over 30 million Americans uninsured."

Cotton took time to layout what he is proposing for changes to the law during the next few years, should he be elected to the Senate.

"In the short term, we have to focus on laws that stop the immediate harms of Obamacare. For instance, the legislation we passed in the House in November that would allow people to stay on their plans by grandfathering those plans into the future. Or to prevent people from having to pay the income tax penalty. They can't get insurance under Obamacare because they can't' afford it. So those are the kind of short term measures we can pass."

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Once President Barack Obama leaves office in January 2017, Cotton said he and his colleagues in Congress would be able to implement long-term solutions.

"In the long-term, though, we do have to repeal it because it is a fundamentally flawed law, but we have to replace it with market-based reforms and empower patients and doctors that address the problems of the pre-Obamacare system  — the high cost of health insurance and the lack of access, especially for people with pre-existing conditions."

Cotton said the way to tackle such problems was with more choice for consumers, including the ability for buyers to purchase insurance outside of their home state. He also proposed encouraging the increased use of Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) and tackling the high level of medical malpractice lawsuits. He also proposed creating a high-risk pool so "people with pre-existing conditions can get coverage in their state and then transition that coverage to employer-based coverage or individual market-based coverage, all of which would encourage competition. That would increase access and quality and it drives down prices."

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