Gov. Mike Beebe addressed a joint session of the Arkansas General Assembly this morning at the state capital to deliver his state of the state address. Beebe touched on a variety of issues all around one central theme, how to deliver and improve state services during difficult economic times.
To his top priority, Beebe began his speech by discussing education saying, “It is no surprise that public education remains my first, and my highest, priority for Arkansas.” He said that the state’s education had improved due the courts mandate from the Lakeview decision but this must continue. He affirmed his support for a pre-kindergarten program for targeting “at-risk children.” He also said that we must do a better job preparing our students for college through college preparatory program and broadening of our scholarship programs to reach non-traditional students. “The lottery, approved by our voters, can help. Our first step is to structure the lottery to be as efficient and as transparent as possible,” said Beebe. Perhaps the biggest education policy proposal was that he was to modify the higher education funding formula to reward college graduation rates rather than the number of students on campus.
Beebe also said that he wants “to significantly increase resources for the Division of Children and Family Services” saying that we need an increased number of skilled personal to relive the burden. He expressed disappointment for the passage of Initiated Act 1 and went on to call on Arkansas to now step up to meet this needs of foster children saying, “More than ever, we need Arkansas families to open their hearts and their homes to give these children the chance to grow up in safety and security, with devoted families who can raise them with care and compassion.”
Beebe then moved on to discuss the need for continued economic development of the state. He highlighted the success the state experienced this past year with the new developments of HP in Conway and Caterpillar in North Little Rock as well as keeping the Cooper Tire Plant in Texarkana. He credited much of this success to the Governor's Quick Action Closing Fund and he asked for an additional $50 million to replenish the fund.
Beebe closed by asking for both a tax cut and a tax increase. He starting by calling for a cut on the grocery tax of an additional penny saying that this “shows our continued dedication to eradicate this onerous tax and restore our people's faith in their government and their leaders, by doing what we said we were going to do.”
He then moved on to asking for an increase in the tax of cigarettes of 56 cents a pack to fund his health care package. This package includes a new state trauma system, expansion of the ARKids First program to 250 percent of the poverty line level, increased funding for community health centers, and expansion of our statewide coordinated school-health system.
All in all, Gov. Beebe delivered a good speech highlighting some real needs for our state education and health care programs. Now the question is can he gets the legislature to approve the funding for them.