Friday, September 03, 2010

TOP STORY > >Beebe: State is doing well

Leader senior staff writer

Arkansas is one of only four states in the nation not facing budget shortfalls for the fiscal calendar year, Gov. Mike Beebe told Sherwood Chamber of Commerce members at noon Thursday in a de-facto campaign speech.

Without mentioning or alluding to his November general-election challenge from Republican Jim Keet, the governor’s accent on good things happening in the state and the occasional use of the first-person singular, taking some credit, were clues that this is an election season.

Also, a recent education study places the state in the top 10 in improvement, he said.

“We’ve done our job,” Beebe told the chamber members. “Don’t quit now. Get back to work.”

He said no generation had been in a better position to change the national view of Arkansas as a poor back-woods state.

“It’s not ‘Thank God for Mississippi’ anymore,” he said. “We’re finally taking the position where we need to be in the front of the pack.”

He attributed the state’s lack of a budget shortfall to three things: “I’m a conservative budgeter, we’ve both lost and created jobs and people worked together,” he said.

Asked if the state’s balanced- budget amendment wasn’t responsible, the governor said that 40 or more states have balanced-budget requirements.

In Arkansas, “Once the legislature sets the budget, all (fiscal) authority shifts to the governor,” he said.

“With the stroke of the pen, the governor can raise and lower the flow of money,” Beebe said. “No special session (of the legislature) is required.”

Arkansas’ improvements and tax cuts have been in the face of the worst recession since the Great Depression, an observation he repeated two more times.

Nevada is facing a 56.6 percent shortfall, and everyone else except North Dakota, Montana and Alaska are facing shortfalls.

He said New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg recently asked him about “not going in the hole.”

While many cities and states used stimulus funds to plug holes in their budgets, to prevent laying off teachers, firemen and policemen, for instance, the General Assembly used its stimulus money on one-time expenses such as capital improvements.

This spring, Hewlett Packard opened a customer service and technical-support center in Conway in a $28 million facility that plans to eventually employ more than 1,000 employees, the governor said, and credited the Chamber of Commerce leadership from Little Rock, Conway and Benton, the three local communities that were considered with cooperating with each other. He said HP officials credited that as a factor when choosing between central Arkansas and 23 other locations for their expansion.

He also credited the General Assembly, saying, “They have provided me tools no other governor had.”

Specifically, that’s a quick-action closing fund to attract business to the state.

“Nobody likes Congress and nobody likes the General Assembly, but everyone likes their congressman and their representative,” he said.

Beebe provided leadership and took partial credit for cutting more than $600 million in taxes during its administration, most of it through reduction of the state’s sales tax on groceries.

He also asked for and got an increase on natural-gas severance tax, which puts about $30 million a year into state roads, and with raising tobacco taxes to fund a state-wide trauma-center system.

“We netted out $5 million in tax cuts,” he said.