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Democratic and Libertarian gubernatorial candidates on Monday disagreed over cutting the state's top individual income tax rate, continuing Arkansas' Medicaid expansion for low-income people, and legislation that would create judicial orders to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed a risk to themselves or others.

Both Democratic candidate Jared Henderson of Little Rock and Libertarian candidate Mark West of Batesville noted the absence of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson from their hour-long date at KATV-TV, Channel 7, in Little Rock. Hutchinson declined to participate in the debate.

Henderson said that "it's a shame the governor didn't join us today.

"When I am elected governor, I am going to take every opportunity that I have to talk to people of this state about my record and my vision, and I hope that he'll join us in future debates," he said.

West said that "I, too, am very disappointed that the governor isn't joining us tonight.

"I would love to have him here to defend his record and talk about his record because there are a lot of issues and a lot of problems," he said.

After the debate, Hutchinson campaign manager Robert Moery said in a written statement that "the governor debated his opponents once this summer and has agreed to another debate next month.

"The governor is looking forward to being on stage with his opponents next month to defend his proven record of success and to show the clear differences in his concrete plan for the future compared to a list of wishful and generic ideas," Moery said.

During the debate, Henderson said voters have "a stark choice" in the gubernatorial election, with Hutchinson favoring cutting the top individual income tax rate and cutting state tax revenues by about $180 million a year to largely the state's most affluent during the 2019 regular session.

"I think that a better course of action is to take those resources and invest in public education. Make this the best state in the United States to be a public school teacher," he said.

Hutchinson's latest plan to cut the state's top individual income tax rate would gradually reduce that rate from 6.9 percent to 5.9 percent and cut the state's number of individual income tax tables from three to one. The state projects the proposal would reduce state tax revenue by nearly $192 million a year.

In 2015 and 2017, the Legislature enacted Hutchinson's plans to cut individual income tax rates for people with below $75,000 a year in taxable income. The state projects the plans eventually will reduce state tax revenue by about $150 million a year.

Henderson said that "we could provide our teachers a 10 percent raise next year. We add on 3.5 percent for two years following and barely cut in half the governor's proposed tax cuts," he said.

He said the state could provide opportunities for more tax cuts for people, who live paycheck to paycheck, through the creation of a state earned income tax.

But West said "I would like to see the income tax get below 6 [percent].

"That helps all Arkansans, not just the wealthiest," he said. "I don't play identity politics. I don't want to pit the wealthy against the poor, different races against one another.

"We are all Arkansans. We all need to come together and realize that the biggest threat to our lives is the government taking our money and spending it on its own priorities rather than allowing us to have the money, the freedom and the power of keeping our money to spend on things that matter to us," West said.

West said that "what you always hear every election from people like Jared and different Democratic candidates is that there is never enough.

"There is never enough tax money for this. There is never enough tax money for that," he said.

Henderson said he favors Arkansas' version of Medicaid expansion that provides health insurance to about 265,000 people in Arkansas.

But he said that "some of the biggest threats I have seen from people is losing their Medicaid due to a ridiculous part-time website that the government has put in place to make them to prove they deserve it every month.

"It is either an incredibly poorly designed or it is intended to push people off the rolls," he said, referring to the work requirement imposed on many of the Medicaid expansion participants, who also can attend school, undergo training or volunteer to meet that requirement.

West said he opposes Arkansas Medicaid expansion and "would facilitate a transition out of that into a more free market approach to helping people in need with health care needs."

Last month, Hutchinson said he would be "open" to supporting so-called red-flag legislation that would create judicial orders to temporarily seize firearms from people deemed a risk to themselves or others, as a way of reducing gun violence in Arkansas.

"It has to be accompanied by due process. It has to be, because you're dealing with constitutional rights and liberties," he said. "It's fair to look at it... that could be a debate in the next session of the Legislature."

Henderson said he supports red-flag laws.

"Most members of the NRA that I talk to ... they support common sense measures," he said, referring to the National Rifle Association.

"They know that we are being set up for a false choice to believe that we can not fully respect people's rights to own guns, for safety, for hunting and for sport, and we can make it harder for violent people or people with the high propensity of violence to get their hands on it," Henderson said.

West said that the "red-flag laws are a bad idea because what they do is set up a scenario where someone can be maliciously slandered, and if the right lawyer can convince a judge suddenly somebody has lost their gun rights and they might not have done anything wrong."

A Section on 09/11/2018

Print Headline: Governor misses debate; foes differ on tax, health plan

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