Monday, March 31, 2008

Gov. Beebe addresses joint session of Arkansas General Assembly

JOINT SESSION of the Arkansas legislature

Governor Mike Beebe addressed a joint session of the 86th Arkansas General Assembly today.
Governor Beebe Addresses Joint Session

Thank you Mr. Speaker and Mr. President for the invitation to address this joint session of the 86th General Assembly convening for this extraordinary session.
First, let me offer my thanks to all of you for responding to the call, for setting aside your personal and business interests and returning to the Capitol to take up the people’s business once again.
The privilege of service requires some sacrifice because this is a citizen legislature.
And this group has already proven how effective a group of citizens, working together to find solutions to complex problems, can be.
This 86th General Assembly has addressed, to the great benefit of the people of Arkansas, two of this State’s longest-standing, public-policy challenges:
You have approved a budget that sets us firmly on the path toward providing excellence in education for our children, and in doing so earned our release from court supervision and placed us firmly on the path toward excellence in our public schools.
You have cut in half the state’s most punitive and regressive tax, the sales tax on groceries.
Either of these achievements would have been sufficient to mark this group as one of the most accomplished in recent history, but your determination in tackling both issues is a feat of which this group can be very proud.
Today, you come together to address another policy question of historic significance to Arkansas.
At three-tenths of 1 cent per thousand cubic feet, Arkansas’s severance tax on natural gas provides inadequate compensation to the people of this State for the removal of such a valuable, non-renewable natural resource.
Legislators and Governors have wrestled with this issue unsuccessfully for more than 50 years.
We’re a small state, historically poor. Attracting outside investment and economic activity has always been a high priority, and our abundant natural resources have been our greatest lure.
But I believe that in our effort to be hospitable to business interests we have undervalued our resources – particularly our natural gas. They are rare, they are precious and they can only be sold once.
We speak often of managing our natural resources to the benefit of future generations of Arkansans; and in this case, it has never been more important for us to keep our word.
We are selling an asset, and removing it from the Arkansas that future generations will inherit. We must remember that we are negotiating on their behalf and ensure that we are receiving just compensation that can be invested for the benefit of Arkansans – both present and future.
Now, there is a balance that must be struck: The development of the Fayetteville shale play is already paying huge dividends to our State, and we can’t afford to discourage the billions in investment that we anticipate in the coming years.
The jobs alone will generate billions of dollars in economic activity and create millions in additional revenue for the State.
My goal throughout the negotiations with the industry has been to find that middle ground; to provide a solution that is fair to Arkansans but that does not create a disincentive for the investment that the industry is making in our state.
The bill that has been submitted for your consideration does both, and I ask that you give it your support.
This proposal is a rare opportunity to create a new funding source for highway improvement in Arkansas without increasing the tax burden on the majority of everyday Arkansans.
Highways are critical to our economic-development strategy: Good roads are one of the most important things government can provide as incentive for job creation and business investment.
While this solution will not erase the funding gap we face in addressing our highway needs, it will provide much needed capital for maintenance and repair – especially of our bridges – as well as expansion and new construction where we need it most.
We cannot forget that these projects create economic expansion and jobs for our people as well.
I’ve been told, many times, and I know many of you have heard as well, that the money that we appropriated for highways in last year’s general session allowed many contractors to run full crews through the summer – providing both needed highway repairs and jobs for Arkansans.
So this bill is not an “either-or” proposition.
We are encouraging the gas industry to continue to invest in exploration and production, and at the same time creating new economic activity in the construction industry.
It’s a prudent, targeted approach designed to turn one economic windfall into additional expansion of our State’s economy.
Opportunities such as this one appear very infrequently, so when they do arrive, we must make the most of them.
You have already made historic strides toward excellent education for our children and tax relief on the necessities of life for everyday Arkansans.
I call upon you to take one more step, one that 24 legislatures before you could not take, but one that will benefit all Arkansans today, and help build a strong infrastructure for the Arkansas of tomorrow.

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