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The Arkansas State Capitol. (Dwain Hebda/Arkansas Advocate)


While elected officials’ focus shifted to recovery efforts after more than a dozen deadly tornadoes struck the state last week, Arkansas lawmakers have continued negotiating the details of a pending special session. 

A special session became necessary when the Arkansas Legislature failed to approve the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission’s budget before the end of the fiscal session last month. The agency’s appropriation bill stalled after lawmakers raised concerns about a proposed increase to the director’s salary. 

Rep. Austin McCollum, R-Bentonville, said details of the commission’s funding “remain to be seen,” but he said lawmakers will pass a budget. To avoid interrupting the commission’s services, legislators must approve funding before the start of the new fiscal year on July 1. 

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported House Speaker Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado, cited June 17 as the session’s tentative start date, but McCollum said a date has yet to be confirmed.

Besides the Game and Fish Commission’s budget, McCollum said lawmakers will look at tax cuts during the special session. Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has previously said she’d like to phase out the state’s income tax, if it can be done in a responsible manner.

With a projected surplus of $708.1 million by the end of the current fiscal year, McCollum said there’s been discussion of a rate as low as 3.9%, but he said they’ve yet to arrive on the particulars of the legislation. 

During last September’s special session, lawmakers cut the individual income tax rate to 4.4% and the top corporate income tax rate to 4.8%. 

“Most of the conversation that I’ve been a part of at least it’s how do we think about what’s the responsible reduction of the income tax rate and mix that with how do we spend surplus funds in a way that gives relief to the taxpayer across the board,” he said. “We’d like it to be for everyone.”

McCollum was one of a handful of elected officials who attended a check presentation with the governor Monday morning at Crain Automotive in Bentonville. The company, which has dealerships in the northwest and central parts of the state, donated $50,000 to the Arkansas Disaster Relief Program

Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders, Christian Crain
 Christian Crain (center), vice president of operations for Crain Automotive, presents a $50,000 check to Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders in support of the Arkansas Disaster Relief Program on June 3, 2024 in Bentonville. (Antoinette Grajeda/Arkansas Advocate)

President Joe Biden approved Sanders’ request for a major disaster declaration last week, which will make more resources available for Arkansas recovery efforts. 

“Moments like this and seeing a community really come together, wrap its arms around each other and take care of one another is what reminds us why it’s so incredible to be an Arkansan,” Sanders said.

The governor was in Northwest Arkansas Monday after touring storm damage in Harrison and Mountain Home and volunteering in Rogers on Sunday.

McCollum, whose district covers portions of northern Benton County, said a lot of what he’s hearing from constituents is questions about how to help. He recommended reaching out to nonprofits that are already set up to provide assistance. 

McCollum also said Arkansans who need assistance should contact their local elected officials if they have questions about resources. He also encouraged people not to lose hope.

“It’s a sad time, so I would say I don’t blame anyone for feeling any way right now,” he said. “I’ve lived here my whole life, and I don’t think we’ve had anything like this.”

The Arkansas Division of Emergency Management on Sunday announced the U.S. Small Business Administration is now offering low-interest federal disaster loans to businesses and residents in Benton, Boone and Marion counties who were affected by the severe storms on Memorial Day weekend. 

Businesses and nonprofit organizations can borrow up to $2 million to aid in the repair or replacement of damaged real estate, according to a press release. Disaster loans up to $500,000 are available to homeowners for damaged or destroyed real estate. Homeowners and renters can borrow up to $100,000 for destroyed personal property, including vehicles. 

Arkansans affected by the storms are encouraged to simultaneously apply for FEMA grants and SBA low-interest disaster loans, according to the press release. FEMA grants are intended to cover necessary expenses and serious needs not paid by insurance or other sources. 

Applications are available at sba.gov/disaster