Friday, November 02, 2012

TOP STORY >> Hyde, English clash at luncheon

Leader staff writer

The two candidates for state Senate Dist. 34 spoke about the economy, jobs and education during the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce monthly luncheon on Tuesday at the community center.

State Rep. Jane English (R-North Little Rock) took the stage first.

She began, “One of the things that I’d like to talk about today is the fact that this should be an election about ideas, and I think unfortunately what’s happened over the course of the last year is that it’s turned into not an election about ideas but about throwing barbs at people.”

English continued, “This is a wonderful state. We are at the bottom in a lot of things. But we have wonderful people here. We have opportunities to grow and to change, but we also need to make some changes in the state.”

She said education is important and children are attending private, public and charter schools.

English said, “That’s a choice parents ought to be able to make for their children. We need to offer more choices for parents.”

She said Arkansas is 10th in the nation when it comes to having high taxes, but it ranks at the bottom in income.

“We need to find a way to change the amount of taxes and fees and things like that we’re taking from the average taxpayer here in the state of Arkansas so that they have the opportunity to have more money in their own pockets,” English said.

She said there are too many regulations on companies.

“We have an opportunity to have a better business climate,” English said.

She said the tax rate hadn’t changed since 1971, and people making $33,000 a year were better off than they are now. But they are paying the same tax percentage.

English said she talked to a plumber one day and told her “Everybody’s got their hands in my pocket.” She said he wants to retire soon, but won’t be able to.

English praised National Swage in Jacksonville for its training program.

She said the state needs more adult education and should encourage youth to not only go to college, but also to consider vocational education.

English said, “We don’t do the best job here in the state of Arkansas making sure there are programs for skilled trades. Those are very good jobs.”

She said companies like JB Hunt, Caterpillar and Tyson succeed on their own without help from the government. But, English said, “We have to make the conditions right.”

Her opponent, state Rep. Barry Hyde (D-North Little Rock), began by saying he came from a family with two working parents. His mother was a beautician and his father was a mechanic at a factory.

“That work ethic that I learned from my parents is really responsible for most of the successes I have enjoyed,” Hyde said.

He listed four important issues: jobs, economic development, education and a balanced budget.

Hyde said, “We’ve got to continue trying to improve the education of our workforce. Jobs today require more technical expertise than they used to in the past. The same is true of economic development. It’s the quality of workforce that really attracts those new businesses, those new industries.”

He said Arkansas is only better than West Virginia in how many college degrees its population has.

Hyde said he has worked the lottery scholarship program and wants to make it more efficient.

“We can use those monies to reach more kids, and especially kids from Jacksonville,” he said.

Hyde said he wants the city to have an independent school district, and he thinks that will happen in the next two years.

“I’ll support it till the day we open the doors and cut the ribbon. That is something this community has earned, that you’ve planned for, that you’ve been willing to invest your dollars in,” he said.

Hyde said the state has improved in education rankings. “The most conservative, the most harsh critics, would say we’re 35th at best,” he said, and Arkansas was 47th or 48th a few years ago.

Hyde said Arkansas is one of only four states that can boast about having a budget surplus in each of the last six years.

“I think that’s the single most important vote that I’ll make for you when I’m in a session. Apparently, my opponent doesn’t agree with that because in the last regular session my opponent chose not to vote for the budget, did not vote to oppose the budget. She actually just decided apparently the most politically safe thing was not to vote at all,” he said.

Hyde said the state’s unemployment rate is 10 percent better than the national average and Pulaski County is even better. He said 28,000 new jobs have been created in the last six years.

Hyde said taxes to individuals and manufacturers have been cut by $1.3 billion and the sales tax on utilities for manufacturers is around 1.3 percent. “The importance of funding those incentives and rebates is really key,” Hyde said about recruiting new businesses and industries to locate here.

He said, “Arkansas has continued to make improvements compared to other states.”

Hyde concluded, “What my opponent would have you think is that we need to change what we’ve been doing and how we’ve been doing it. I’m here to tell you that we’re making progress in all of these areas because we’ve had a plan. We’ve had good leadership from the governor. And we’ve worked to affect this plan.

“I would ask that you acknowledge those improvements and what’s going on in the state and make sure we continue. We’ve got to decide whether or not we want to continue to work toward that progress I talked about or we want to change courses. I think the answer is obvious,” Hyde added. Before the candidates spoke, chamber president Jody Urquhart said the chamber works closely with the economic development commission and Metro Little Rock Alliance. He said the commission has 119 projects it’s working on. The alliance is working on 54 of those and five of them are in Jacksonville. Urquhart said, “There’s quite a bit going on in the economic development world that our chamber is participating in, in one way or another.”