Category Archives: Legislature

Math beats myth, this time

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Wednesday saw the triumph of math over myth, in one state.

That would be Kansas, where the Legislature overrode Gov. Sam Brownback’s veto of tax increases made necessary by his previous tax cuts. We’ll see how this applies to Arkansas later in the column.

What happened in Kansas was in 2012, Brownback pushed through the Legislature huge tax cuts that weren’t accompanied by sufficient spending decreases. He said the tax cuts would spur big economic growth. They didn’t.

The state ever since has been a fiscal mess, and a cautionary tale for other governors. This year it faced a $900 million budget deficit along with an order by its state Supreme Court to increase funding for public schools.

The return of recess?

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Can more time in recess and less time in class help students learn better? That’s a question some schools in Arkansas will try to help answer.

Under state law, elementary students must have 40 minutes of physical education each week and 90 minutes of additional physical activity, such as recess. That’s 18 minutes per day.

Act 1062 sets up a pilot program for the 2018-19 school year that basically triples that amount in some schools. In addition to physical education, students in grades K-4 will get 60 minutes of “unstructured and undirected play” each day, while students in grades five and six will have 45 minutes. Two schools in each of the state’s 15 education service cooperatives – groups of school districts that share resources – will participate, along with two more schools not involved in cooperatives. The Arkansas Department of Education will write the rules. The results will be studied and used to enact future policy.

State tax cuts: First answer ‘How?’ and then ‘How much?’

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Your state taxes were cut by $100 million in 2015 and about half that much this year. In 2019, Gov. Asa Hutchinson and state legislators intend to cut them again.

But with state budgets growing tighter, “How?” is a more important question than “How much?”

To answer both questions, and others, legislators during this past session created a task force that will study the state’s tax code before producing proposed legislation by September 2018, 16 months from now.

The Tax Reform and Relief Legislative Task Force met for the first time Monday and elected two level-headed and practical-minded co-chairmen, Rep. Lane Jean, R-Magnolia, and Sen. Jim Hendren, R-Gravette. Jean is co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, while Hendren, Hutchinson’s nephew, has co-chaired two other task forces, one for school employees’ health insurance and one for health care.

For the rest of us, there’s non-teacher retirement

By Steve Brawner
© 2017 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

Could Arkansas’ efforts to strengthen a program serving 43,000 offer an example for Congress to fix programs serving 60 million?

During this past legislative session, Arkansas lawmakers took steps – baby steps for sure, but steps – that might shore up the state’s Teacher Retirement System. Actuaries had determined it would take the system 29 years to catch up with the payments it will make to current and future retirees, and that’s too much. In the past, 30 years was considered acceptable, but the Government Accounting Standards Board has lowered that number to 18. Anything longer risks hurting the state’s bond rating and increasing the borrowing costs for schools and roads.