King enters 87th General Assembly as House Minority Leader

Friday, January 2, 2009

CARROLL COUNTY -- Arkansas is in the enviable position of sitting on a budget surplus in excess of $250 million, but that isn't keeping lawmakers preparing for the upcoming 87th General Assembly from voicing caution about state spending.

Among those preparing to go into legislative session Jan. 12 is 91st District Rep. Bryan King, of Berryville, who was chosen by his Republican peers to be House Minority Leader.

In the face of budget concerns, King sees Arkansas in an economically solid position, compared to its counterparts. The state is sitting on that surplus, and "the natural gas project in the Fayetteville Shale is like getting four or five auto plants to move here," King said. He said Arkansas doesn't have the huge economic swings other states have faced.

The House is made up of 71 Democrats, 28 Republicans and one Green Party member, but King says he doesn't feel like he's on the outside looking in. "I think it's a great spot to be in. Everyone and the governor are working toward improving our state. I'll work with him on all those matters where we agree, but when we don't, I'll not cave on my own beliefs."

He said that while the House was heavily tilted toward Democrats, "it's not so much about partisan politics as you might think. It's really more about geographical concerns."

Voters in November approved a ballot issue calling for the legislature to meet every year instead of every other year. King thinks the change is worth a try, even though there has already been a bill pre-filed calling for the repeal of the act. "It could be worth it to meet every year, given the way the economy moves up and down at such a rapid pace. It gives government a better opportunity to react to those changes," King said. And he doesn't feel that the annual legislative sessions will turn legislators into full-time politicians, as some critics have argued. "That's taking it to the extreme," he said. "Every other session will be dealing strictly with budget bills. There's no reason to believe that it will take an inordinate amount of time each year to make policy or pass budgets."

While King admitted he is opposed to the state lottery, it was also voted in last November, and it will be up to the legislature to figure out how to operate it. "I'm for the plan that Georgia and Tennessee adopted, setting up a corporate entity to operate it with legislative oversight." He said he thought the earliest Arkansans could actually begin buying lottery tickets would be October and the latest January or February of 2010.

He said the bigger concern was how to establish the scholarship fund and how to set criteria for who receives scholarship monies. "Some of the suggestions on who should receive scholarships are just too restrictive to me," King said. "I'm for raising restrictions and offering everyone equal and open access to scholarships, both in public and private state higher education institutions."

Gov. Beebe pushed for legislation in the 2007 session that cut the state tax on food from six to three percent. Beebe has said he would like to lower it at least another one percent in this session. "I'm all for anything that cuts taxes," King said. He said a higher priority should be tax relief for companies who create the state's job force. Tax relief in the form of utility tax reductions would help companies be more profitable and that translates to keeping and growing jobs here, he said.

Another pre-filed bill would put on the ballot a constitutional amendment to make terms in office for county elected officials -- county judges, sheriffs, county clerks, and treasurers -- four years instead of two. "It's a valid issue," King said. "After all, they're hired employees. Who wants to take a job for two years, not knowing if they'll have a job the next time the election cycle comes around?"

King's assignments in the 87th Assembly will include seats on the Public Transporttion Committee, a promotion to a voting seat on the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee, and a new assignment on the Parks and Tourism Subcommittee.

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