Wednesday, January 15, 2014

TOP STORY >> Political stop in Lonoke

Leader staff writer

Asa Hutchinson, a Republican candidate for governor, spoke about lowering taxes, building the economy and creating job opportunities for Arkansans during a meet-and-greet breakfast Tuesday at the Lone Oak Cafe in Lonoke.

“Lonoke County is very important to me in both the primary and general election,” the former congressman said.

He said the county has helped grow the Republican Party and is contributing to the state in leadership, legislative support and growth in the economy.

“Lonoke County is going to have a lot of growth in the future,” Hutchinson predicted. “We have a great opportunity to bring more industry here. The support of the agricultural community is critically important.

“While I was in Congress, I understood and supported Arkansas agriculture. The governor can do a lot to support that arena,” Hutchinson added.

He said there are three things that he believes are important in the agriculture arena: the appointment of a secretary of agriculture who understands commodities and row crops and the importance of marketing products overseas. The second is a governor to continue to push the Arkansas agriculture market overseas. The third is agriculture research and keeping up with the cutting edge of technology.

“In this race, I am passionate about economic growth in the state. That’s why I am running. I am a conservative and I believe in less regulation and lower taxes. The private sector is what drives our economy forward.

“I am pro-life. I believe in the Second Amendment. The (National Rifle Association) asked me to lead a national effort to protect the Second Amendment but to also address the challenge of school safety in our nation,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said the polls show he is ahead of the leading Democratic candidate, Mike Ross, in the governor’s race. He said he is going to stay ahead, but it is a close race. Hutchinson said the polls show he is also ahead in the First Congressional District.

Hutchinson said even though he is from northwest Arkansas, he has a home in Little Rock. He said he spends a lot of time in central Arkansas with family and in eastern Arkansas duck hunting.

Hutchinson has two plans to help create jobs and build Arkansas’ future. One is a tax reduction and the other technology education.

He said looking at neighboring states, Arkansas is not growing as fast economically as the other states. One reason is the income tax rate is not competitive.

“We have a 7 percent state income tax. It is one of the highest in any state in the region,” he pointed out.

He said Texas and Tennessee are zero and others are 4 to 5 percent.

Hutchinson’s plan is to gradually reduce the state individual income tax from 7 percent to 6 and 5 percent. He plans to do that starting with the middle-income people who make $25,000 to $75,000.

“We are giving our tax cuts to the middle income. Down the road, I hope we can be competitive in the higher-income level. But you start with the people who are struggling, having a hard time making ends meet,” Hutchinson said.

He said for someone making $50,000 means they would have $300 more a year to spend. He said it would cost the state $100 million to do this. Hutchinson said the state has that money in surplus right now. He said it is $100 million that would go into the private sector instead of the public sector and government spending.

Hutchinson said he does not want to raise sales or property taxes. The state can lower the income tax using growth money gradually over time.

Hutchinson’s other plan for state growth is technology education.

He said the problem is that computer science is considered an elective, like a shop class, and not a core class, like math or science, so students are not taking computer science classes. Hutchinson said only one out of 10 high schools in America teach computer science. He believes there are about 10 schools in the state that teach computer science.

“I’m not talking about keyboarding or Microsoft Word. I’m talking about writing the foreign language of computer code and learning that in the schools. That needs to be taught. It is the language of the workplace in the future. Axiom needed 300 to 400 computer programmers and they could not find them. It is job opportunity that pays great wages,” Hutchinson said.

“Secondly, you create entrepreneurs who know how to write code and engage in engineering, sciences or date management. This is an opportunity for Arkansas to be in the forefront of a change nationally to meet the job requirements of the future,” Hutchinson said.

Lonoke Remington Arms plant manager Jim Grahlmann said he needs people who can run, operate and program computerized industrial machines.

“Those are our top paying jobs. I have trouble filling them now,” Grahlmann said.

He said those jobs are paying $25 to $30 an hour starting out.

Hutchinson said the laws are going to be changed to give math or science credits for computer science as an incentive for students to take computer classes.

He also wants computer science taught in every high school in the state. Hutchinson said it will cost less than $500,000 to retrain math and science teachers to teach computer coding in over two years.

“It is a small investment that gets a great return on those dollars,” Hutchinson said.

Cabot School Board member Ricky Hill asked Hutchinson if he sees further consolidation of schools in the state.

Hutchinson said the state requires school districts to have at least 350 students or they will be consolidated into another district.

He does not like the law. He wants to help the small schools that are performing academically and are financially sound. Hutchinson said if the school goes away, the community goes away. 

Sen. Eddie Joe Williams (R-Cabot) said the England School District is struggling. Williams would like to see an incentive for either Lonoke or Cabot to do on-line courses for students in a smaller school.

“There may be five AP students in England that could turn on a TV and watch a class in Cabot that has the academics or teachers the England students’ need. We should be reward Cabot and England for doing that,” Williams said.

Williams said there are Cabot students who are taking shop classes in Lonoke that are not taught in Cabot.

“We need to figure out a system to reward those schools that are willing to share their assets with a fellow school district,” Williams said.

Cabot Mayor Bill Cypert asked Hutchinson his stance on the national common core school standards.

Hutchinson said he still believes students need to learn cursive writing and the multiplication tables.

“I want to make sure the local school districts have flexibility to make a decision on those things. That we don’t replace the traditional learning of cursive writing and the multiplication tables that are the foundation for education. I want to concentrate on basics. I want to make sure that every third grader is reading at grade level,” Hutchinson said.