LITTLE ROCK — Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mike Ross on Friday criticized Republican rival Asa Hutchinson for promising to cut the state income tax without providing details.
"One of the candidates seeking the Republican party nomination stood here and promised you he was going to cut the income tax, possibly eliminate the income tax," Ross told the Political Animals Club, less than a month after Hutchinson addressed the same group.
"He didn’t say how much and he didn’t say how he was going to pay for it," Ross said. "I’m not going to stand here and tell you that I’m going to cut your taxes and not tell you how much and not tell you how I’m going to pay for it just because some pollster out of Washington, D.C., told me I need to say that to get elected."
Hutchinson, a former 3rd District congressman and deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, told told the club on July 23 that he favors cutting the income tax gradually, as Gov. Mike Beebe has done with the state sales tax on groceries. Ross, a former 4th District congressman, objected to the comparison.
"Folks, that (grocery tax) was phased out over six and a half years and it’s still not totally phased out, and it was 4 percent of the general revenue. When you talk about the state income tax, you’re talking about 52 percent of the state revenue."
Ross said 65 percent of Arkansas tax revenue goes to education, 20 percent goes to help the poor, disabled and elderly and 10 percent goes to prison, with the remaining 5 percent funding the rest of government.
"So when you start talking about cutting taxes, unless you’re talking about shifting the burden to other taxes, you’re talking about laying off teachers, you’re talking about kicking seniors out of the nursing home and you’re talking about letting murderers and rapists out of prison. It’s pretty simple math," he said.
Hutchinson said Friday in an email, "This is the same tired scare tactic rhetoric that Democratic candidates have repeated to voters for decades. Mike Ross today is embracing the same position President Obama holds, insisting we can’t set out to cut government or make tax relief a priority."
Hutchinson said he has made it clear that he will announce specifics of his tax plan this fall. He said Beebe has shown that "you can gradually reduce a tax over time without cutting our state’s commitment to education, veterans, the elderly and other essential services."
Ross told the Political Animals Club he would support cutting taxes under certain conditions.
"If we have a surplus and we can afford tax cuts, I will support tax cuts, but they’re going to be very targeted," he said. "They’re going to be targeted at helping working families that will spend that money, put it back in the economy, create jobs. Or they’re going to be targeted at industry and people that will create jobs."
Reporters later asked Ross if he thought it was fair to criticize Hutchinson for promising to cut taxes without providing details when Ross also provided no detailed tax plan.
Ross said that although he was not yet able to offer a specific proposal, he was offering more than just a pledge to cut taxes.
"What I’m saying is, I believe we need state income tax reform, I think it needs to be done in a way that can be paid for, it needs to target working families and seniors, and it needs to target job creation in this state," he said.
During his talk to the club Ross also addressed Republican claims that he played a key role in the passage of the federal health care overhaul.
"The Republicans are saying that I’m the reason that Obamacare became law because of some committee vote. It’s the same untruthful attack they waged against me in my re-election campaign in 2010," he said, noting that he won that race with nearly 60 percent of the vote.
Ross said he voted in committee for an early version of the health care bill, but after attending town hall meetings and hearing from constituents, he announced in September 2009 that he would vote against the overhaul, which he did the following March.
"That lie didn’t work in 2010, it’s not going to work now," he said.
Ross also said that as governor he would work to ensure that the state has a trained, educated, skilled work force to attract the high-tech jobs of tomorrow and that he would create a "Governor’s Cabinet for Economic Development" to focus on job creation.
Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman, a Republican candidate for governor, spoke to the club on Aug. 8. State Rep. Debra Hobbs, R-Rogers, who also is seeking the office, is scheduled to speak to the club on Tuesday.
Beebe is prohibited by term limits from seeking a third term. He has not yet endorsed a candidate in the race but is scheduled to appear with Ross for an announcement at the state Capitol on Saturday.