By Arkansas Governor Mike Beebe
One year ago, as I was sworn in as your 45th Governor, I undertook the great challenge of moving Arkansas forward. On the steps of our State’s Capitol, I affirmed that Arkansans are a people of optimism and determination. Our optimism comes from knowing that we are a State proud of our traditions and our heritage. Our determination will not allow us to be dissuaded from fulfilling the potential that we know is inside every individual and every community in Arkansas.
The success of our first legislative session distinguished the past year as one where we were able to create meaningful tax relief, establish the tools for accelerating economic development, and reach the moral imperative of excellence in education. Within my first 60 days in office, we implemented the greatest tax relief in Arkansas history by cutting the state sales tax on groceries in half, while increasing the Homestead Property Tax Credit from $300 to $350 to ease the burden of homeownership. I created a commission to work toward reforming the children’s mental-health-care system to include more family- and community-based solutions.
The passage of a balanced budget solidified education as my top priority and provided additional resources to move Arkansas schools beyond the mandate of adequacy and toward the moral imperative of excellence. I was also able to continue the unprecedented increase in funding for education and provided increases in teacher salaries, dramatically boosting the funding of the Arkansas Better Chance Program for pre-kindergarten programs. Approximately $456 million of surplus money was invested into one-time projects to improve Arkansas’s educational facilities. Through the substantive work of improving education in our State, we were released from the ongoing Lakeview case and can now move ahead with the all-important job of providing the best education available for our children. We have won the battle of constitutionality, but we must continue to wage the war for excellence. The efforts of the members of the General Assembly and their level of civility and cooperation were unprecedented.
We have made tremendous strides in Arkansas toward providing better accessibility to affordable, top-quality health care, especially through the ARKids First program. Sadly, there are still more than half-a-million citizens – mostly working Arkansans between the ages of 19 and 64 – who lack basic health coverage. Recent reports highlight the fact that even those who have health insurance bear a higher cost burden through their co-payments and deductibles.
To help remediate this problem, I have brought together 30 Arkansans who have agreed to serve on the Governor’s Roundtable on Health Care. Announced in August, the members of the Roundtable will work together to find new approaches and strategies for improving the health and health care of Arkansans.
We place a high priority on creating new jobs and retaining the ones that are already here. With this objective, we created hundreds of new, high-wage jobs for Arkansans through attracting new factories and industries, such as LM Glasfiber and Welspun to our State. We have also helped retain and expand existing factories that have, in turn, created new jobs, like those at Dassault Falcon Jet and Hino Motors Manufacturing.
Whether I am signing legislation or promoting public policy, I work hard to balance Arkansas’s conservation needs with our goal of expanding the State’s economy. We must come together to find common ground to guide us ever forward. We have an obligation to give our children and grandchildren a State that remains rich in natural resources with a healthy, sustainable environment. For that reason, I established the Global Warming Commission to explore the issue of climate change and its effects on Arkansas.
As we embark upon these next three years together, we will not rest on our past successes. Instead, we will continue to reach beyond our own standards to create a better future for generations of Arkansans to come, forged by the optimism and determination of our people.
The above content reflects the opinions of the author and not necessarily the policies of the National Governors Association.