by Max Brantley
He downplayed media emphasis on how this session might be different, given the historic Republican majority.
"This session will not be that different. Fellow Arkansans selected us and gave us the task of acting in the best interest of our fellow men and women," Beebe said.
UPDATE: Full speech transcript here.
* JOBS: Beebe said he'd be asking the legislature for help landing "one of the biggest projects the state has ever seen." No details yet.
(I asked Matt DeCample for more details. His response:
"Believe me, if we had more details to release, they would have been in the speech.")
UPDATE: Arkansas Business speculates and maybe arches an eyebrow a tiny bit at the billion-dollar value being tossed around. That's more than a Toyota assembly plant in Texas. State is indicating state-backed bonds would be involved. Hope it's not for a steel mill like the big one that flopped in Alabama.
* SALES TAX CUT: Beebe said he couldn't propose elimination of the small sales tax remaining on food "without endangering needed services." But he said he'd propose legislation to dedicate any future savings from what he said was the inevitable end of state payments in the Pulaski County desegregation case to removing the sales tax on food. He said that might be a year, two years or more away.
* MEDICAID AND NURSING HOME CARE: He said numbers were still in flux on what's necessary to fully fund the existing Medicaid program, though it should be smaller than what has been expected and level 3 nursing home care now seems sure to be protected. Folks will not be thrown out of nursing homes, he said. He touted the smallest growth in Medicaid funding in years.
But he said cuts will still be necessary to balance the books on the program and they will affect "real people." He then turned to the working poor who are without health care insurance. He said federal law provides an expansion of Medicaid to cover them, but it will be up to each state to decide whether to do it. He recited the familiar facts — coverage for 250,000 people at no cost to the state for three years and then a rising cost that tops at 10 percent in 2020. It would provide "immediate savings" in Medicaid that would cover shortfalls in the current program. It would benefit 40,000 hospital workers and "tens of thousands" more workers in related health businesses. A failure to expand the program will continue the "hidden tax" of unpaid services that drive up the cost of health care and insurance for everyone — an average $1,500 a year in premiums to pay for uncompensated care.
Beebe said a conservative estimate of Medicaid expansion's cost in 2020, should the state have to pay it, after factoring in the economic benefit of increased federal dollars both in direct state aid and circulating through the taxed economy, would be tiny, $5 million a year.
He said he, too, was worried about the national debt. But he said that should be done in Washington, as a president from Arkansas once did. Arkansas shouldn't sacrifice its share of the money to other states, Beebe said.
* SCHOOLS: Beebe said the legislature might have to revisit school funding on account of a recent state Supreme Court ruling that Beebe has criticized for ending an equal tax millage contribution to the state aid fund by all school districts. He'll propose a "modest" contribution to reducing inequities in higher education spending.
* STATE EMPLOYEES: He'll propose a 2 percent raise for state employees.
* BIPARTISANSHIP: "We must resolve not to let Washington's animosity seep in and poison our well of civil discourse." Lots of applause. Subsequent action will be a better barometer of receptiveness to that viewpoint that today's clapping.