I will say this for Gov. Mike Beebe; he can turn people out for a legislative pep rally. About 500 people crowed into a medium sized hall at Arkansas Children’s Hospital to listen to legislators, doctors, and Gov. Beebe himself speak in favor of HB1204, which will increase the tax on cigarettes 56 cent a pack to fund a long list of healthcare initiatives including a trauma system. Judging by the mixture of scrubs and business suits, I would guess that the crowd was primarily medical personal, legislators, and business men and women on their lunch break.
Gov. Beebe began by praising the legislators who had sponsored the bill. The governor repeated the need for the improvements to our state’s health system stressing that it will benefit Arkansans across the state not just in Little Rock. He said that while the state trauma system is the “cornerstone” of the bill, the legislation would provide “something for everyone.”
He went on to say that “treating people where they live” through community health centers rather than in an emergency room reduces costs by as much as six times. And this cost reduction saves the taxpayers the cost of footing the bill for uncompensated care that hits taxpayers just as hard as a tax. (So if this is going to save us money, why do we need a tax increase again?)
He warned that that evil tobacco companies that are telling Arkansans to call their legislators opposing the bill. He then went on to tell the people at the rally to call their legislators supporting the bill and recruit their friends to do the same. He said that that a lot of work is necessary to get the ¾ voted needed to pass the state legislature.
He went on to point out that he realizes he is taking a risk, will make people mad, and will burn some bridges in the process of trying to pass this. But he said that improving healthcare in our state is the one area that he has not yet been able to address since he has taken office.
Video of the Governor’s Speech (from his YouTube Channel as it came out better than my video)
Gov. Beebe speaks to members of the press following the rally.
House Speaker Rep. Robbie Wills also speaks to the press on the tripartisan support (one Republican Rep. Rick Green, one Green Party Rep. Richard Carroll, and a bunch of Democrats) for the cigarette tax.