Now that I have signed the last bill of the 92nd General Assembly, the really hard work begins for my administration.
Before I talk about the tasks ahead, though, I want to commend the legislators for focusing on the challenges we face as a state. As a result of their work, I signed into law 1,091 bills in the 2019 session.
The legislature met for nearly 90 days this year, but that doesn’t tell the entire story. During the session, many legislators worked long into the evenings. They listened to constituents, reviewed the day’s work, and prepared for the next day.
The General Assembly wasn’t content to pass just one big-ticket item. Legislators passed a number of key initiatives, and their success is a credit to their willingness to work together and with my administration.
The shortlist of highlights is an all-star roster of legislation – juvenile justice reform, additional homestead tax relief, and the $10 million we set aside to support UAMS in the effort to earn a National Cancer Institute designation.
Then when we review the big-ticket legislation, the initiatives that I labeled the 4 Ts, it’s hard to imagine another general assembly with more to show for its three months in Little Rock.
The accomplishments include a $4,000 raise in the starting pay for teachers over the next four years. That’s one of the Ts.
Transportation is another T. The General Assembly passed a highway bill that will produce $95 million a year to pay for upkeep and new construction. Additionally, they passed a bill that will allow voters the opportunity in 2020 to continue a half-cent sales tax that will raise $205 million a year to pay for roads, bridges, and highways that we need in this state. This legislation is historic.
We passed the 5.9 Tax Cut Plan that will cut the state’s top income tax rate from the current 6.9 down to 5.9 percent over the next two years. This was the third phase of my three-part tax initiative, which has cut a total of nearly $250 million in income taxes since 2015 without cutting any essential services.
But the highest accomplishment was passage of my fourth T, Transformation. Work on the Transformation and Efficiencies Act of 2019 started two years ago with the Transformation Advisory Board. Then we had to pass 16 different bills before we merged them into one 2,047-page bill that we had to pass through both houses.
This law, the first effort to reorganize state government in 50 years, cuts the number of cabinet-level agencies from 42 to 15.
Now that we have the law in hand, we have to implement it. That’s the tough part.
The 15-member transition team, led by Amy Fecher, started work on Monday. Within a month, I expect to name the secretary of each cabinet agency. The slimmed-down, more manageable version of Arkansas state government will open for business on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year.
I am fortunate to serve as governor of a state where so many are so willing to seek the best for the entire state for now and far into the future.