News » The Week That Was

'Being poor is a ... personal choice'

Also, end to coal burning planned and state budget unveiled.

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Tweet of the week

"Being poor in America is a personal choice, unless there are mitigating circumstances. A homeless man can go to school, get a job driving a truck making $70k per year and in 20 years become a millionaire. In America you can work hard and change your future — if you choose." — Rep. Stephen Meeks (R-Greenbrier, @RepStephen Meeks) Nov. 17. The tweet received overwhelming critical attention on Twitter and beyond, and Meeks' Wikipedia page was updated to read "Meeks's solution to the homelessness crisis in America is for the homeless to drive trucks until they become millionaires." On Nov. 18, Meeks apologized "to anyone I offended" for what he described as a "poorly worded tweet expressing my belief in the American dream."

End to coal burning planned

Under a settlement agreement filed in federal court, Entergy Arkansas will quit burning coal at its White Bluff plant by the end of 2028, its Independence plant by the end of 2030 and will shutter its remaining operating plant at Lake Catherine by the end of 2027.

The Sierra Club and the National Parks Conservation Association filed both the suit and the settlement of the suit last week. The plaintiffs notified Entergy in writing in January and February of their intent to sue Entergy for violation of the Clean Air Act.

Budget unveiled

Governor Hutchinson unveiled his proposed $5.75 billion budget for the next fiscal year. It would increase state spending by more than $129 million, or nearly 2 percent. Hutchinson's budget proposal emphasizes the broad strokes of his campaign promises: tax cuts, reduction in some agency spending; a teacher pay increase; a $29 million "rainy day" fund aside; and a reduction in the governor's "quick action closing fund" to aid economic development projects, an expenditure that has drawn some criticism in the past.

He proposes a $4,000 increase in minimum starting teacher pay over four years, to $36,000. This will cost $60 million over four years. He also said he'd suggest putting $24 million into the state match for teacher retirement, as law requires, assuring teachers of a sound retirement system. There has been concern among teachers about a state retreat from the defined benefit retirement system.

He said he'd add $1.1 million to base funding of the Agriculture Department and $1.5 million to that for UAMS.

The State Police would get an additional $2.3 million to add 24 troopers. Another $900,000 would go to a new crime lab in Lowell. More money would add to the number of probation and parole officers.

Hutchinson said he anticipated a $38 million reduction in revenue thanks to a tax cut given to Oaklawn and Southland under the casino expansion amendment. He said this will not result in a cut in services, but will mean a reduction in surplus accounts.

He proposes $111 million for tax cuts over the next two years, the biggest cut to come from a reduction in the top income tax rate from 6.9 to 6.5 percent in 2020 and further reductions to 6.3 percent in 2021 that he said would make Arkansas an economic magnet. He said he'd like to see it reduced to 5.9 percent in four years.

He anticipates an increase in revenue from internet sales taxes, receipt of which will require legislative action to implement a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision.

He anticipates a "restricted reserve" fund of $127 million.

He offered no specifics on increased spending for highways, as sought by the road construction lobby. He has said he was committed to providing more money, but offered no specifics.

LRSD teacher contract approved

The Little Rock School District and the Little Rock Education Association came to terms on a new professional negotiated agreement the day before a Nov. 14 deadline. The new agreement preserves some due process protections for Little Rock teachers. The district and the local teachers union had been prepared to sign a new contract in October, but Education Commissioner Johnny Key, who acts as the school board for the LRSD while it remains under state control, rejected the deal and demanded that the agreement include approval of seeking a waiver of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act in the 22 schools in the LRSD that received a "D" or "F" grade on the state's accountability grading system. The fair dismissal law, which applies to all public school teachers in the state, sets forth due process rights for teachers in employment. Key said the district needed to waive the law to quickly root out bad teachers from the underperforming schools, but when pressed could only cite one example of a teacher in the LRSD who hadn't been fired expediently because of the fair dismissal law (the teacher was eventually fired, Key said). The new agreement doesn't provide all LRSD teachers with the full protections of the Teacher Fair Dismissal Act, but it does prevent them from being summarily fired.

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