LITTLE ROCK — When Gov. Asa Hutchinson unveiled his proposed income tax cut during the first week of the legislative session, lawmakers greeted it with questions — questions they hope to see answered in the session’s second week.

LITTLE ROCK — When Gov. Asa Hutchinson unveiled his proposed income tax cut during the first week of the legislative session, lawmakers greeted it with questions — questions they hope to see answered in the session’s second week.


Legislation was filed last week containing Hutchinson’s proposal to lower income tax rates by one-tenth of a percentage point for Arkansans earning between $21,000 and $75,000 a year. Legislators have generally had positive things to say about the idea of a middle-class tax cut, but they say they want to know how the governor’s proposal fits into his overall budget plan, which they have not seen.


"I think it’s hard to spend money, tough money, until you know what the budget is," said Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee. "We need to know how much money we’re going to spend, where we’re spending it, before we pass budget bills or tax cuts."


Hutchinson said before the session began that he wanted quick action on his middle-class tax cut. Senate President Pro Tem Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, who is running the legislation for Hutchinson, told reporters last week he could present the bill as early as this Wednesday, which some legislators said might be rushing things in the absence of a budget proposal from the governor.


"I had several members that felt like this was just coming too fast, they didn’t have a chance to get their arms around it," said Sen. Jake Files, R-Fort Smith, chairman of the Senate Revenue and Tax Committee.


Hutchinson met with legislative leaders Thursday morning and listened to their concerns. He had said previously that he would unveil his proposed budget before the end of the month, but after the meeting he announced that he would unveil the plan in the coming week.


"The legislators are asking the right questions: We need to see this in the context of the whole budget, and making sure that it’s a balanced budget and how it impacts everything. Fair questions. So we’re going to be presenting our balanced budget next week to make sure they have the information," Hutchinson told reporters Thursday.


Also unknown at this point is whether Hutchinson will seek to continue the state’s Medicaid expansion program known as the private option, which uses federal Medicaid money to subsidize private health insurance for low-income Arkansans. Hutchinson has said he will give a speech on health care reform on Thursday.


"(If) the private option goes away, then we’re looking for extra money," said Rep. Joe Jett, D-Success, chairman of the House Revenue and Tax Committee. "Those are legitimate concerns. Folks on the Democratic side would like to have some of those questions answered."


Rep. Mary Broadaway, D-Paragould, co-chairman of the Legislative Joint Auditing Committee, said she supports tax relief for the middle class, "but I personally think it’s very important that we explore some of the other issues, the health care reform and other impacts on our budget, before we move forward with any type of tax plan. I think it’s a little more prudent to do it a little bit more toward the end of the session, when we know what we’re dealing with."


Hutchinson’s tax proposal, contained in Senate Bill 6 by Dismang, would cut the income tax rate from 6 percent to 5 percent for people earning $21,000 to $35,099 a year and from 7 percent to 6 percent for people earning $35,100 to $75,000 a year.


To lessen the impact on the state budget, Hutchinson has proposed delaying portions of Act 1459 of 2013, which phases in a cut to state income tax rates of one-tenth of a percentage point. With the delay, Hutchinson says his tax proposal will cost the state $33.7 million instead of $50 million in fiscal 2016. Starting in fiscal 2017, the annual cost is estimated at $102.1 million.


The sponsor of Act 1459, Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, supports the delay.


"I think the big picture is, how do we get $100 million in income tax relief to middle-income Arkansans, so I’m 100 percent on board with that," Collins said.


Hutchinson has left open the possibility that other tax cuts approved in 2013 could be delayed as well.


House Minority Leader Eddie Armstrong, D-North Little Rock, said lawmakers also could consider phasing in Hutchinson’s tax cut. He said many ideas will be on the table as legislators work to balance cutting taxes and addressing state needs.


"We’re trying to do tax cuts this early — we’ve still got to focus on prisons, we’ve still got the private option and we still have to balance the budget," he said.


Armstrong said he believes the middle class deserves tax relief but said some Democrats are concerned that Hutchinson’s plan does not address lower-income Arkansans.


"You’ve got individuals that are making $9.60 an hour. They are working 40 hours a week at 52 weeks a year. Their income’s around $19,000 and change, and I believe this tax cut (affects people making) $21,000 to $75,000, so there are some concerns there," he said.


But Armstrong added that "they’re not concerns that will impede this process."


Legislators will return to the Capitol on Tuesday. They will not meet Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.