By Andrew Moreau, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
The presidential election was the focus of discussion on Nov. 10 at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce/Associated Industries of Arkansas 92nd Annual Meeting, available on a video stream to the majority of its audience for the first time because of the pandemic.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who was awarded the inaugural Public Servant of the Year award by the business group, attended in person while keynote speaker Rob Engstrom of the American Bankers Association addressed the gathering via live video.
Both the governor and Engstrom, who leads political efforts for the banking trade group, focused their remarks on last week’s presidential election. Though former Vice President Joe Biden has been acknowledged as the winner, both the governor and Engstrom stopped short of declaring Biden the president-elect.
Engstrom told the business group to keep an eye out for whether federal courts get involved in election results, noting that will be a sign that equal-protection issues could be involved in vote recounts. “That’s the thing to watch for in the coming weeks,” he said.
Both Hutchinson and Engstrom said they were involved on the Republican end of the Florida vote recount in the 2000 election, which was awarded to former President George W. Bush. Election results, Hutchinson said, can change.
“We might think we know the outcome but we’ve seen unpredictable things before,” Hutchinson said. “Let’s be patient and let’s let the process work and be prepared for whatever the eventuality is next year.”
President Donald Trump has said he will sue to overturn results in several states and he has not conceded the election.
The governor urged Arkansans to “be very patient” as the results are contested, though Hutchinson said Biden is “likely” the winner of last week’s election. “Under our system of government every election is handled state by state,” he said. “And every state has different rules – they have a different timeline and a different process.”
Like the governor, Engstrom said “the process should play out” as the president goes to court to contest the outcome. However, Engstrom did say the outcome looks like it has been decided. “The outcome is nearly certain, if not certain,” he added.
Now, Engstrom said, the two U.S. Senate seats in Georgia – with runoff elections scheduled for Jan. 5 – have taken on national importance because the winners could tilt the Senate either Republican or Democratic. “The stakes are not more clear and they couldn’t be higher,” he added.
Turning to brief remarks on the economy, the governor told the business group that he presented a budget proposal to legislators Tuesday morning that would lower taxes for new residents and cut used car taxes to help all Arkansans.
Workers who move to Arkansas would enjoy an individual tax rate of 4.9% for five years, Hutchinson said. “We’re giving new residents a little bit of a jump start,” the governor said of his proposal.
Arkansas’ individual tax rate falls to 5.9% next year, down from as high as 7% previously. Lowering taxes for new residents will help attract workers for key industries and new business, according to the governor.
“What that means is it’s going to help our businesses attract tech talent, it’s going to help us attract retirees, it’s going to help us attract manufacturing talent that live in another state they want to get out of,” Hutchinson said. “It’s going to give us another marketing tool for that time frame.”
For current residents, the governor is proposing lowering the sales tax on used cars from 6.5% to 3.5% for vehicles priced $4,000-$10,000. “That gives relief to the average Arkansans that relies on those used cars,” he said.
About 100 business leaders attended the meeting in person at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock, the first major meeting at the event space since the pandemic started, and another 200 joined through live video stream.
To see video coverage of the Annual Meeting, click https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l4Vt38Fd0Dw