It looks like much of the legislative session is going to be geared toward education and economic develop — two pegs that Gov. Mike Beebe has always seemed to hang his hat on.
Despite a balanced budget, Beebe said in his state of the state address on Monday that, like the rest of the nation, we’re not quite out of the woods yet.
Going into this session, Beebe explained that in his second term he’s proposed funding increases for education and for the Division of Children and Family Services. Calling it our “constitutional obligation” and our “moral imperative,” Beebe outlined his plan to add $234 in additional funding per student over the next two years and a one-time addition of $35 per student to the school districts.
He also advocated for less paperwork and a greater availability in college scholarships, starting with the lottery which early reports have shown to be in significant debt barely a year after it was initiated.
With the proposal for increases to the Division of Children and Family Services, Beebe expressed disapproval that voters in November passed legislation limiting the number of Arkansans who can become foster or adoptive parents.
One-time increases in funding jive with his personal philosophy, Beebe said, but added that they are a necessary evil he will supplement by creating rainy-day funds by continuing to limit spending on Medicaid and jails.
“This is a departure from my philosophy of not using one-time surplus money for ongoing revenue needs. However, a recession is, by its nature, a temporary phenomenon. As the national economy recovers and Arkansas’s economy continues to grow, we anticipate that these will be one-time expenditures,” Beebe said in his speech.
Other big ticket items to look for in the legislative session:
*Economic development — “This may be the longest gap in any speech I’ve given between the first mention of education and the first discussion of economic development. The two are indeed intertwined and inseparable, and I stand by my assertion that one cannot fully succeed without the other.”
*The Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund which he hopes to accumulate $50 million over the next two years.
*Job creation through the Workforce Cabinet.
*Restoring confidence in the government.
*A one-penny decrease in the grocery tax.
*Alternate fuels that are better for the government and less of a hardship on Arkansan wallets — possibly developed through the Fayetteville Shale.
*Health insurance reform targeting uninsured children — “Arkansans must have more home-health programs. More options for outpatient treatment will keep our loved ones in familiar surroundings and out of institutions, whenever possible. Our community health centers, which are best suited to provide basic health services directly to Arkansans, need more resources to help more people.” He added that the entire package could be payed for by a 56-cent tax on cigarettes.
He ended the speech on an impassioned note charging legislators with the duty of pulling Arkansas out of the recession’s hold: “Together, the men and women of the Senate and the House of Representatives can chart the course that will impact so many future generations – so that you can put your head on your pillow, and you can say you did your duty, you made Arkansas a better place.”