LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Highlights from Gov. Mike Beebe's state of the state address, delivered to the Arkansas Legislature on Tuesday.
On top priorities:
"My top priorities remain education and economic development. While we still have a lot of work to do in both areas, our accomplishments continue. For a second consecutive year, we are ranked fifth in the country for overall K-12 education. Now, there are two categories in there that we're still too low in. The one that's the most pressing is involves the raw scores of our students vis-a-vis their counterparts across the country. We've made progress, but not nearly enough. If we can bring that up, we can go from fifth ultimately to first, and we can tell the Governor of Maryland he can get out of the way.
"We continue to work toward bringing new jobs and investment to Arkansas, and I plan to ask your help to bring in one of the biggest projects this State has ever seen. Details on that project are still to come."
On cutting the grocery tax:
"When I was sworn in as governor in 2007, I promised to attack the onerous state sales tax on groceries. With the help of three previous legislatures, the grocery tax has incrementally fallen from six percent to one-and-a-half percent. This being my last regular session, there is the urge to finish the job now. ... With the challenges we face, I don't see room to cut this tax at this time without endangering needed services. But I still want to plan for it."
On Medicaid — its shortfall:
"The size of our shortfall has been a moving target, as costs and utilization in a program as large as Medicaid tend to fluctuate with so many components in play. ... After looming larger and larger, the size of our Medicaid shortfall does now appear to be shrinking. Now, it's not going to vanish, but it appears it will be more manageable. Because of a number of factors, including our first-of-its kind initiative to contain health-care costs and improve quality of care, Arkansas's Medicaid program is seeing its slowest growth in 25 years."
On Medicaid — its potential expansion:
"Very rarely do adults of working age qualify for Medicaid, and rising costs have led more companies to drop insurance coverage for their employees. These families and individuals are often referred to as 'the working poor,' and we have a real chance to provide them better access to health care. ...
"Here is what we know about expanded Medicaid. It would provide health insurance for up to 250,000 Arkansans who likely don't have affordable coverage available to them now. For three years, beginning in 2014, the cost for insuring those Arkansans is picked up entirely by the federal government. A small state share kicks in beginning in 2017, and rises for three more years to a maximum of 10 percent in 2020. ...
"If we have no insurance options available for our low-income workers, while more and more other states add those options, it will make us less business-friendly in comparison. Available health care has always been an important component in economic development."
On setting aside partisanship:
"Are you worried about our national debt? I am, too. I've been talking about it for years, pining for the day when a Democratic President from Arkansas and a Republican Congress came together to give the U.S. budget surpluses and put us on a path to eliminate our national debt. ...
"We can do things together as Republicans and Democrats, and they showed us it was possible at that time in Washington, as well. So those who are worried about the effects of the national debt, I join you and I worry about it, too. But that needs to be done in Washington; you can't do it in Little Rock. We balance our budgets, and we don't need to sacrifice our share of federal money to other states. Refusing money to help our people may make a statement to the federal government, but it will cost us more at home, will jeopardize the health of our fellow Arkansans and won't solve the problems of our national counterparts. ...
"We must resolve not to let Washington's animosity seep in and poison our well of civil discourse. Arkansas cannot change the way things are done in D.C., but we can continue to set the example of how men and women with differing views can still come together in the best interests of our citizens."
On the military:
"As we remain mindful of our men and women in uniform protecting us at home and those abroad, we have to take steps to help military families who find themselves stationed in Arkansas. I am supporting legislation to join an interstate education compact to give incoming students of these families a smoother transition into our schools. Not only that, many military spouses want to contribute to the workforce while they're here, and have professionally licensed skills to offer. We'll also have a bill to help get them licensed and ready to work in Arkansas, while they're here supporting their spouses, be it at Little Rock Air Force Base or any other place. "
On raises for state workers:
"I am proposing a modest two percent cost-of-living adjustment for our state employees after they lost their proposed adjustment in the 2011 session."