Mike Beebe Expresses Optimism On 2013 Arkansas Session

by Jan Cottingham  on Monday, Jan. 7, 2013 12:00 am  

The governor’s legislative priorities include action on Medicaid, education, preservation of the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund and elimination of most of the sales tax on groceries. (Photo by Michael Pirnique)

Gov. Mike Beebe said his technique for working with the new Republican majority in the Arkansas Legislature was “the same as it’s always been: education, explanation, give and take, listen, persuade.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” the veteran Democrat told Arkansas Business. “I think that the leadership of both the House and the Senate has already exhibited a bipartisan, pragmatic, problem-solving attitude. I think they’ve exhibited that in terms of their structure, their makeup, their leadership appointments, the bipartisan way that they’ve approached organization in the session.

“I have a good working relationship both with Senator Lamoureux and with the speaker-elect,” he said. “So far, that’s continued.”

The governor was referring to Sen. Michael Lamoureux, who will be the Senate president pro tempore in the 89th General Assembly, convening Jan. 14, and Rep. Davy Carter, the House speaker-elect. Both are Republicans, and both have hired longtime Democrats as aides during the session. Lamoureux, of Russellville, has hired former state Sen. Steve Faris. Carter, of Cabot, engaged former House Speaker Bill Stovall to serve as chief of operations and Gabe Holmstrom, former executive director of the Arkansas Democratic Party, as the House chief of staff.

As for Beebe’s legislative priorities, they are education, action on Medicaid — an issue that encompasses both the $138 million shortfall that the $5 billion Arkansas program is facing and its potential expansion as part of Obamacare — and elimination of almost all of the state sales tax on groceries.

Add preserving the state’s Quick Action Closing Fund to that list. The governor is asking lawmakers to add an undetermined amount to the fund, whose current balance is $13.3 million.

“We need to continue the progress that we’ve made with regard to the Quick Action Closing [Fund] being a tool to be continued for economic development purposes,” Beebe said in a recent interview.

The governor defended the state’s use of tax breaks and subsidies to attract business. “I believe that we would not have even been in the running for a number of successful economic announcements if it weren’t for our ability to be competitive because of the Quick Action Closing Fund.”

Asked for examples, Beebe ticked them off: Hewlett Packard, Nordex, Beckmann Volmer. And the list includes high-tech firms as well, he said, citing Nanomech Inc. of Springdale, which develops nanotechnology products. The firm “never would have gotten off the ground in the state of Arkansas if it wasn’t for Quick Action,” he said.

Beebe declined to speculate on any potential compromise on the expansion of Medicaid, the health care insurance program for the poor. Republicans have opposed expanding Medicaid in Arkansas; the governor and Democrats support adding 250,000 Arkansans to its rolls. Instead, the governor marshaled talking points in defense of expansion.

“I don’t even want to get into the argument about whether this is really good for working families, which obviously I believe it is,” he said. “I don’t even think you have to get into the argument about how this saves programs and hospitals, which I think it does.”

“We’re going to be paying for this whether we accept expansion or not,” Beebe said. “I don’t want to subsidize Michigan and California and New York and Illinois and New Jersey and Massachusetts, and you just start naming them. I don’t want to subsidize them and leave our people out. You can analogize it, if you want, to federal highway taxes. We’re going to be paying them; I want my fair share of the highways.”



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