Associated Press

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) _ Republican gubernatorial hopeful Asa Hutchinson proposed changing Arkansas’ workforce training system on Wednesday, calling for the creation of eight councils around the state that would guide how funding for the programs is distributed.

The eight Workforce Education Councils that Hutchinson is calling for would coordinate and expand the state’s existing training programs. The councils would help direct how funding for workforce training programs is distributed by the state Department of Higher Education.

“There is a tremendous amount of duplication and inefficiency in the delivery of our workforce training and that is something that has to be addressed,” Hutchinson told reporters at a news conference at his campaign headquarters. “It is not coordinated sufficiently, there are multiple agencies with overlap in responsibility for workforce training and there’s not effective partnerships statewide with all of our educational institutions _ from two-year colleges and even four-year colleges _ with our high schools and technical colleges.”

Hutchinson said the council members would be appointed by the governor, but left open the possibility legislative leaders could appoint members. Hutchinson said the councils would be required to release a plan no later than six months after they’re created.

Hutchinson’s plan would change the way money generated from a tax on corporate income over $100,000 is distributed among the state’s two-year colleges. The money currently can go toward needs other than workforce training at the schools, which are projected to receive about $26 million from the tax in the coming year.

“The council will serve the purpose of saying this is our priority, these are the job demands we have and the skills that are needed, and based upon that plan and assessment, then the money the state devotes to it will flow based upon that priority,” Hutchinson said. “So we’re not going to be spending money for non-priority items or for job skills that aren’t needed in the workplace.

Hutchinson, a former congressman, is running against Little Rock businessman Curtis Coleman for the Republican nomination. Former U.S. Rep. Mike Ross is running against Lynette Bryant for the Democratic nomination. Hutchinson, the GOP’s 2006 gubernatorial nominee, has the backing of the state’s top Republicans.

Ross also has the support of the state’s top Democrats, including Gov. Mike Beebe. Beebe is barred by term limits from seeking re-election.

Ross’ campaign didn’t comment directly on Hutchinson’s proposal, instead targeting the Republican for what they called “a career in Washington voting and lobbying against Arkansas’s working families.” Coleman likewise didn’t comment directly on the proposal and instead accused Hutchinson of being late to the game on addressing workforce training.

 The proposal comes after Beebe struck a deal with a Republican lawmaker agreeing to changes to the workforce training program aimed at making it more coordinated and performance-based. The changes were negotiated to secure support for reauthorizing the state’s compromise Medicaid expansion.