By Rick Kennedy, managing editor
In a Thursday luncheon at the Hope Rotary Club, District 10 State Senator Larry Teague (D-Nashville) provided a preview of possible issues upcoming in the 2019 Arkansas Legislative Session, which starts this coming Monday, as well as priorities he would be looking at.
Teague, who is serving his final term in the Senate, briefly explained the first days of the session being mostly ceremonial, and then, as he put it, “getting stuff in the pipeline.”
Teague, who has been a long standing member of the Senate Finance Committee, then said there is roughly $5.7 billion of general revenue and $22 billion of federal funds.
“We spend a whole lot of money,” he said.
Teague briefly touched on Governor Hutchinson’s proposed transformation plan as a big topic during the session, saying “He is looking to combine 38 agencies into eight.”
One example Teague cited was the idea that the current Insurance Dept. would get rolled into the Commerce Dept.
“We will just have to watch it all,” he said.
Then, Teague said, “K-12, school funding, it is always a big deal; I always think that is the most important issue we deal with every session.”
A priority in particular that Teague said he was interested in was school security, and his feeling was that protective fences around the school grounds and one entrance into the building would needed to keep students safe.
Teague didn’t provide specifics on his fence proposal, but he did say, “Budgeting funds will be the thing; what I keep telling my colleagues is that you can’t fund a third of it this year, and then another part the next year. You can’t say you which kids will be safe this year, and which ones will have to wait. You are going to have to figure out how to fund it all to cover everyone,” Teague said.
Teague said that one concerned citizen contacted him, saying “You’re going to make my kids school look like a prison,” to which Teague replied,”I understand that, and I don’t like the idea of it. In today’s world, I think we’ve got to do something.”
Teague also retirement could be a big deal during the session.
“There are some legislators who are interested in taking the teacher’s retirement and state employment APERS, and taking them off a defined benefit plan, which they are now, and making it a 401K or something,” he said.
Teague also talked about tax cuts, saying “We’ve had this Governor’s tax reform panel, which has been meeting now the past two years.”
Teague wrapped up his speech briefly addressing the political climate in Little Rock, saying “As we go to work, I always think it is a good idea that you guys pray for us. We need it; we need help staying nice to each other. I remind my colleagues three or four times a session — because we can get a little testy over these things — I will say guys as long as we can laugh and talk and have a good time that there is hope for Arkansas.”
“When we get like they are in Washington DC, where they won’t even speak to each other when they walk down the hall, then the problems come in. I say that we’ve got to be nice to each other; we can fight our fights, but when it is over, it is over,” he said.
Teague conceded at the end that Arkansas had a lot of issues and needs to be addressed and funded.
“I tell my colleagues all the time that the state lives on its growth revenue; we budget for two years, and then, hopefully we have growth over that period. We do need a hundred more parole officers; there are a lot of issues that need to be dealt with; security at schools among other things. We’ve been giving away our growth with these tax cuts, and I am assuming we will stop along with way and see where we’re at. Its worrisome to me,” he said.
By Rick Kennedy, managing editor