Mike Beebe Focuses on Budget as Final Year Approaches

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Wednesday, Jan. 1, 2014 3:39 pm  

Gov. Mike Beebe (Photo by Russ Powell)

Republicans who opposed the plan have vowed to push for its defunding during the fiscal session, with some GOP lawmakers who supported the private option facing primary challenges. In the lead up to the session, Beebe has been using his public appearances and speeches to call on lawmakers to continue funding the private option. He's also warned that the tax cut package lawmakers approved was based partly on the savings the state expected to see by hospitals' uncompensated care costs being reduced because of the expanded coverage.

Beebe said the comments don't reflect an increased worry about the private option failing, but reflects how difficult of a vote threshold the plan faces.

"Any time you've got a three-fourths vote, you're always concerned," Beebe said. "But I really don't anticipate people going the other way, but you know me, I'm always conservative and I'm always cautious."

For Beebe, 2014 could also mark the first step toward delivering on his campaign promise to phase out nearly all of the state's sales tax on groceries. Beebe signed into law legislation that would cut all but the constitutionally mandated 1/8 cent conservation tax from groceries if the state's bond obligations or desegregation payments to Little Rock area schools decrease by $35 million over a six-month period. Beebe has successfully pushed for cutting the grocery tax from 6 percent when he took office in 2007 to 1.5 percent.

A federal judge in January will decide whether to approve an agreement between the state and the three districts to phase out the funding after the 2017-18 school year. Beebe said he's fairly confident the plan will win that approval.

Beebe said he proposed the triggered tax cut approach because he believed a judge would eventually end the desegregation payments, not necessarily because he thought an agreement would be reached.

"Either one, it's worked, and we need to keep doing it. Or two, it hasn't worked, so we don't need to keep doing it. Take your pick," Beebe said. "It coming to an end, I think, that's money now that will go back into the pockets of Arkansans by doing the rest of the grocery tax."

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