A Plan For Sweeping Transformation of State Government03/16/2018
This week, I launched one of the most important initiatives of my administration, and one that will require much heavy lifting.
I have announced my plan to reorganize state government and to reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies in state government by 50 percent.
This is the most extensive transformation of state government since 1971, when Governor Dale Bumpers cut the number of major agencies from almost 60 to 13.
In the five decades since then, we have reversed course. The number of major agencies has increased to 42. I want to reduce the number to fewer than 20. To give you some perspective, the number of cabinet-level agencies in the federal government is only 15.
When you add in the more than 200 boards and commissions that have been created, we’re talking big government. Some students at the Sam M. Walton College of Business illustrated the size of our government in a memorable way. Matt Waller, dean of the college, had asked students to draw an organizational chart of Arkansas government. The chart was too big for one white board. In fact, the organizational chart went from one side of the room to the other.
From my first day in office, even before I saw the wall-to-wall graphic of our government, I have looked for ways to make government more efficient. As a result, we have combined some agencies and saved taxpayer dollars on rent and management.
But to truly reform the state, we needed a comprehensive plan. So in December 2016, I created the position of Chief Transformation Officer and appointed Amy Fecher to the job. Then in February 2017, I created the Transformation Advisory Board, which has spent the past year looking for ways to reduce government. This board is composed of volunteers from the private sector, legislators, and those experienced in state government. There was no cost to the state.
The members of the board have done a good job. But their recommendations are just the beginning of a task that will require creativity, hard work, and a willingness to do things differently.
The work starts now, and with the board’s guidance, and ideas from legislators and any Arkansan who wants to offer an idea, we are going to redouble our efforts to reduce the number of cabinet-level agencies to fewer than 20.
If I had any doubt that our bureaucracy was too big, some interns in our office laid that to rest. Members of my staff had heard complaints that the executive director of one agency wasn’t showing up for work. The director did not return phone calls to my staff. So we put a couple of interns on the case. They couldn’t even find the director when they visited the office in person. When my staff told me about this director, I had never even heard of the agency. That’s pretty good evidence of the need for reform.
And that will change. Over the next months, we will assess the needs, always remembering the human factor. We don’t plan to lay off state employees. We will reduce the payroll as employees take other opportunities or retire.
Over the next months, we will shape the best thinking into ideas for our legislators for the 2019 General Assembly. This overhaul is overdue, and it is a necessary step to responsible government. I am grateful for my partners in pursuing this.
Turning Point for Health Care in Arkansas03/09/2018
This week, we saw state government at its best when state legislators approved next year’s state budget, which included spending authority for the Division of Medical Services, the agency that oversees Arkansas’s Medicaid and Arkansas Works programs.
The vote was the final piece of business for the General Assembly as lawmakers wrapped up the 2018 fiscal session. And until the final vote, many doubted the appropriations bill would pass.
Not only did both houses pass the bill, but each passed the bill on the first vote. Legislators from both parties rallied to do what is best for their state.
This was an important vote for working Arkansans who need help to cover their health-insurance premiums. It also is important for taxpayers because we put in place reforms that combine government assistance with personal responsibility.
The week began with a visit by Seema Verma, administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. She came to the capitol to personally deliver the Trump administration’s authority for Arkansas to require healthy Arkansans who are receiving Medicaid benefits to work, go to school, or to perform volunteer services.
The authority to implement the work requirement came in the form of a waiver that allows Arkansas to deviate from federal Medicaid regulations. Arkansas is the third state to win approval of the work requirement.
The work requirement is not intended as a punishment but as a way for Arkansans to actively engage in their community and to enjoy the dignity that comes with earning a paycheck and providing for a family.
Our hope with Arkansas Works is that those who take advantage of the program ultimately will enjoy better physical, mental and emotional health as they become self-sufficient and work their way up the economic ladder.
The fact is we would not have been able to sustain Medicaid without the type of reform included in the waiver. We needed the flexibility to best address the needs of Arkansas, and that is what this waiver allows.
This week in Arkansas will go down as a turning point. Our clear-eyed legislators put the interests of Arkansas ahead of their political differences. This is a fundamental change to the way we have administered health care in Arkansas. It’s a return to a conservative approach that recognizes the value of self-sufficiency and values the contributions of individuals to the community.
Keeping AR Students Safe03/02/2018
In the aftermath of the attack on the high school in Parkland, Florida, improving the safety of our schools has taken on a new urgency.
The protection of our students must be assured and demands the immediate attention of professionals in education, law enforcement, security, and mental health.
That is why I have issued an executive order that creates the Arkansas School Safety Commission. I have appointed a stellar array of experts to study and assess the state of security at our schools and to recommend how to fill the gaps they find.
These commissioners will move quickly on this vital mission. They will submit their first report to me on July 1, so that I have adequate time to act on it before school begins next fall. They will deliver the finished report on November 30, which will give us time to prepare for the 2019 General Assembly if that is necessary.
So that we can improve school safety immediately, I have allocated $300,000 in discretionary funds to the Arkansas Criminal Justice Institute to accelerate the training of our school resource officers.
The School Safety Commission will include a representative from the Arkansas Attorney General’s office, the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Arkansas Department of Education, and the Arkansas Law Enforcement Training Academy.
The chairman of the School Safety Commission will be Cheryl May, director of the Criminal Justice Institute, and retired FBI Special Agent Bill Temple will be the co-chair. The commission also will include a county sheriff, a public school superintendent, a public school teacher, a public school counselor, a retired public school teacher, a mental-health professional, and additional appointees from the different parts of the state as they are needed.
The commission will look at a broad range of issues, from the practical matter of school architecture with an emphasis on single-point entry to limit access. This is important as we design and build new schools, and we must determine whether we can retrofit existing schools to improve safety.
Commissioners also will recommend ways to anticipate threats in order to prevent attacks. They also will recommend appropriate training for counselors and the sufficiency of school counselors. And they will make recommendations regarding the training of school resource officers and what more needs to be done. The commission also will discuss the idea of arming and training volunteers on staff in the event that our best efforts fail and a school must respond to an active shooter.
I want to emphasize that this is not a gun-control commission. This is a school-safety commission with the single mission of making our schools safe through prevention, training, and armed response as needed. Further gun control is not a solution.
Adequate training at all levels of response – from counselors to law enforcement – is the key.
The world is changing. We must act now to ensure that our students are safe to learn and that our teachers are safe to teach.
I am grateful for the professionals who have agreed to serve on the School Safety Commission. Our children will be safer because of their work.
Arkansas’s Longest Married Couples02/23/2018
Late in 2017, the staff at Family Council decided to find the 10 Arkansas couples who have been married longer than any others.
On Tuesday afternoon, in a celebration in the Grand Hall at the Governor’s Mansion, Family Council hosted a reception, complete with a wedding cake, to honor the 10 couples, who represented 772 years of marriage.
With 80 years of marriage behind them, I.B. and Ima Jewel Williams were recognized as the Arkansans who have been married the longest.
I.B, who is 100 years old, and Ima Jewel, 94, live in Biscoe. Ima Jewel caught I.B.’s attention at church in Bayou Meto, where he would sit behind her and pull her hair. After her father refused to allow I.B. to court her, he started walking her home from church, which was several miles out of his way.
Eventually, on a summer Sunday afternoon, I.B. asked, Ima Jewel said yes, and 80 years later, they are wearing the crown as the Arkansas couple with the most anniversaries.
The other nine couples are Marlin and Elsie Scott, married 79 years; four couples married 78 years – Betty and Cletus Hall, Cleovis and Arwilda Whiteside, Cecil and Lois Robertson, and Gussie and James Stephenson; one couple – Thell and Margie Ellison – married 76 years; and three couples married for 75 years – Grady and Wilma Adcock, J.C. and Avanelle Merritt, and N.D. and Anna Mae Edwards.
At last count, Family Council had identified 32 couples who had been married between 70 years and 75 years. That is extraordinary.
Forty-two couples who each have been married at least 70 years represent a lot of love and patience and, I’m sure, some hard times. But these couples stayed the course and proved that it is possible to commit to a life-long marriage and keep the commitment.
As I told the couples and the families who attended the celebration at the mansion on Tuesday, Susan and I met in college, and when I was in law school at Fayetteville, she was teaching in Memphis, Tennessee. I couldn’t afford to put gas in my 1966 Valiant and buy law books at the same time, so I wound up hitchhiking to date her. This seemed like a great idea until I hitchhiked to Atlanta to seek her father’s permission to marry her. My mode of transportation did not impress my future father-in-law, but despite that beginning, Susan and I have been blessed with 44 years of marriage.
As Family Council President Jerry Cox noted at the reception, we’ve only been married half as long a some of the couples we honored at the Mansion.
Congratulations to our honorees. Thank you for the example you have set for the rest of us.
The State of Our State02/16/2018
On Monday, at the opening of the 91st General Assembly’s fiscal session, I proposed to legislators that when they convene next year, that we pass legislation that will cut the marginal individual tax rate in Arkansas from 6.9 percent to 6 percent. That will be a reduction of $180 million.
This tax-cutting proposal is a continuation of my goal to reduce the tax burden on Arkansans. Over the first three years of my administration, we cut taxes by $150 million without reducing essential services. Last year, we passed Act 141, which exempts military veterans’ retirement pay from state income tax.
My challenge for further tax cuts was part of my State of the State address, in which I proclaimed that the state is stronger than ever. Arkansas is booming, in fact. We have incredible entrepreneurs who take risks, invest capital, and create jobs and growth.
Arkansas is competing successfully nationally and around the world thanks to the creative thinking, hard work and cooperation among the General Assembly, the state agencies and local economic leaders. We are strengthening our education system and workforce through reading initiatives in schools, computer science education, and enhanced training for trades such as welding, diesel repair, and nursing. We have changed the way we will fund universities so that our support is based on the achievements of students and not school enrollment.
And we did all of this without reducing benefits or eliminating essential services.
We are transforming government in bold and responsible ways that include combining agencies, targeted cuts and hiring freezes when appropriate, and eliminating unnecessary regulation.
We can measure our success by the numbers: Our unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, down from 5.6 percent when I took office. More Arkansans are working than ever before. Our economy grew faster than three-fourths of the other states. Fewer people are on Medicaid than when I took office. This is all great news.
We have signed more than 300 agreements with Arkansas-based companies, and national and international firms to expand or to move here. Our recruiting has brought in $7 billion in investments and created more than 11,000 jobs in Arkansas; 60,000 jobs have been created in the past three years.
With a good wind at our back, this is not a time to rest. For all the progress we’ve made, we still have much work to accomplish, starting with the budget for next year. My proposed budget is conservative and cuts spending where necessary without cutting back on essential services. The reductions in spending that I propose in next year’s budget leaves a projected surplus of $64 million.
I have asked all agencies to redouble their efforts in increasing efficiencies without cutting the services that are essential. We accomplished that with the $150 million in tax cuts. Naysayers said then that we couldn’t do it. But we did it.
My most important message to the legislators is that everything we do is for the benefit of all Arkansans. Their work matters. What happens in the state capitol makes a difference in the day-to-day lives of people.
And we cannot rest in our work until everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed, whether you live in Gurdon or in Gravette; whether you were born in Tyronza or in Texarkana.
The work before us is not easy, but I know we are up to the task.
Advocating for Arkansas’s Agriculture02/09/2018
As the economy continues to grow in Arkansas, it is important to remember that agriculture continues to be our Number 1 industry. Today, I want to take a moment to thank our farmers for all they do for Arkansas. Farming isn’t easy, but important work never is.
I grew up on a poultry and cattle farm and, as a boy, I saw the hard work it took to make a living off the farm.
I’ve seen first-hand what it takes to plant, raise and harvest a crop. I know the challenge of raising livestock to maturity for market. More importantly, I know the work and investment our farmers carry out every day.
Arkansas’s agriculture has a $20 billion economic impact in the state each year. And that number has the potential to grow.
Since I took office in 2015, I’ve traveled the globe to help open additional markets for our state’s agricultural producers, including trade missions to Cuba and China and Europe.
As a result, we’ve brought back a handful of Chinese companies that will directly benefit our cotton and timber industries. And shortly after I returned from Cuba, the Cuban government ordered 4,500 tons of poultry from Arkansas companies.
As governor, not only do I make it a priority to stay abreast of the challenges that our farming community faces, but I have been — and will continue to be — a vocal advocate for Arkansas agriculture on the national and international stage. After all, farming isn’t just a pastime for Arkansans but rather a vital part of who we are as a state.
That’s why, at the National Governor’s Association meeting last summer, I took the opportunity to stress the importance of agricultural trade for our state with President Trump. It’s the reason I met with Vice President Pence to discuss North American trade. And it’s why my office facilitated two visits from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in less than a year so he could see — and hear — first-hand the issues facing our famers and ranchers.
Earlier this week, I spent a couple days in New York pitching our state to companies as a great place to do business. While I was there, I gave several interviews to editors, reporters and anchors from different national news organizations touting our economic development efforts. Those interviews are an effective way to spread the good word about Arkansas.
One of the subjects of interest to reporters was NAFTA – the North American Free Trade Agreement – which needs to be modernized but its continuance is essential for Arkansas and the rest of the nation. My message was clear: As the United States considers the future of NAFTA, the nation must be careful that it does not harm global trade. Arkansas must be able to continue its access to North American markets unimpeded by unfair trade barriers, which would inflict serious harm on Arkansas’s agriculture, retail and manufacturing sectors.
That message is especially important when you look at the statistics.In 2016, Arkansas’s agricultural exports to Mexico and Canada alone, including poultry, rice, soybeans and cotton, totaled $357 million. Our total exports worldwide in 2016 came in at $1 billion. Additionally, Mexico and Canada consume nearly 30 percent of all U.S. rice exports.
I have always stood with our famers, and I will continue to advocate for their interests, because their interests are our interests. When Arkansas’s agriculture industry succeeds, our state succeeds.
I am grateful for the farmers and ranchers who built agriculture into our top industry and for those who keep it there.
Remembering Early African-American Arkansas Legislators02/02/2018
February is Black History Month, and it is important that we as Arkansans reflect on the extraordinary contributions of African-Americans throughout the history of our state.
This year, for the first time, we honored Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on his birthday as a singular holiday focused on his contributions. As the nationally known civil rights leader, Dr. King earned the right to stand alone on that day in Arkansas.
In the not-too-distant past, we had civil rights leaders such as L.C. and Daisy Gatson Bates and the Little Rock Nine. In 1981, Irma Hunter Brown was the first African American woman to be elected to the Arkansas General Assembly in either house. In 2003, she became the first African-American woman elected to the state Senate.
But nearly a hundred years before the modern civil-rights struggle, a cadre of black Arkansans was building a foundation for the others who would follow. Their stories are worth noting. Thanks to Christopher Warren Branam, we have some of them.
As a graduate student at the University of Arkansas in 1994, Christopher wrote a thesis, which he entitled “The Africans Have Taken Arkansas,” in which he recounted the history of men such as Anderson L. Rush, who was a member of the legislature in 1868. In June of that year, Mr. Rush introduced a bill that gave African-Amercians the right to serve on juries. Governor Powell Clayton signed it into law on July 13, 1868, which distinguished Mr. Rush as the first African-American man in Arkansas history to introduce a bill that became law.
William H. Grey, Richard A. Dawson, Ferdinand Havis, James T. White, and John Rollins were also among the 32 African-Americans who served in the legislature during that time. We can still see the fruit of some of their work. In the House, for instance, Mr. Grey and Mr. White were among those who supported Senate Bill 6, which established the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Grey and White also voted to move the Arkansas Institute for the Blind from Arkadelphia to Little Rock, so that it could come under state support and control.
They understood the importance of transportation to economic development. And as Branam noted, Arkansas’s first African-American legislators, like their counterparts elsewhere, wanted to build internal improvements such as railroads, highways, and levees. “They saw industrial development as offering their own people an alternative to plantation labor.”
You can read Mr. Branam’s thesis at scholarworks.uark.edu. Type his name into the search bar. A reading of Mr. Branam’s work would be time well-spent, especially during Black History Month.
RISE and ACT: Improving Our Education01/26/2018
In Arkansas, our educators place a lot of emphasis on STEM – science, technology, engineering and math – but without solid reading skills, students will struggle to succeed in those other subjects. In Arkansas, we have created programs to ensure that our students are reading at grade level so that they can succeed in their other studies.
We know that the love of reading makes a positive difference in all our lives. Studies show that children who have access to age-appropriate books in their home are better readers and are more likely to succeed in school, regardless of how much education their parents have.
Unfortunately, not all children have access to books at home, so their reading skills sometimes lag. To address that deficiency, the Arkansas Department of Education launched Reading Initiative for Student Excellence – or RISE for short. One of the primary objectives of the RISE initiative is to make sure that by the time Arkansas students finish third grade that they are reading at third-grade level. We emphasize phonics and the science of reading. For those students who aren’t reading at grade level, we help them through an individualized plan. And we want to create a culture of reading so that reading is an integral part of our students’ lives.
Another priority for the Department of Education is to encourage high school juniors to take the ACT test often and early. The department covers the cost of every junior’s first test. But with its No Limits campaign, the Department of Education is encouraging students to take the test as many times as they need until they are satisfied with their score. A high score increases the number of universities that will accept a student and increases the opportunities for scholarships. The next test is February 27. The department’s website, arkansased.gov, provides a good guide for preparing to take the test.
The ACT test is one place where reading skills meet real life. Those who have developed good reading habits will naturally score better on the ACT.
As Dr. Seuss wrote, “The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”
We want our students in Arkansas to go places. A solid reading foundation is the place to start. Let’s see that our children have access to books and take time to read to them, so that they, too, can go places.
Passing Corporate Tax Cut Benefits on to Arkansas Ratepayers01/19/2018
One of my priorities as governor has been to find ways for Arkansans to hang on to more of the money they earn.
During my first year in office, we reduced the state income tax by one-hundred-million dollars, and last year, we reduced it by another $50 million. What that means to taxpayers is that we cut the tax rate so that the state takes less of your paycheck.
In the weeks since President Trump signed the historic Tax Cut and Jobs Act, leaders of more than 100 companies have announced plans to increase wages, pay bonuses and expand their operations.
Even Apple, well known for its off-shore operations, announced it will turn its attention and money back to the United States with an investment of $350 billion and create more than 20,000 new jobs. Apple also broke ground on a $2.6 billion data center in Nevada.
Even as Arkansans will benefit from the federal tax cut, we have found another way to turn the tax cut into a direct benefit to Arkansans by lowering your utility bills.
This is how we will accomplish that. The Arkansas Public Service Commission is the state agency that oversees utility companies that provide electricity, natural gas and water. These utility companies hold a monopoly on the service they provide. When a utility company wants to raise the price it charges its customers, it submits a rate request to the commission, which either approves it or denies it.
Part of the cost of providing electricity is the tax a company pays to the federal government. Arkansas law allows utility companies to charge rates that cover the cost of providing its service plus a rate of return on its investment.
Now that the utility companies will be paying less corporate tax, their cost to provide electricity, natural gas and water will drop.
I have asked Public Service Commissioner Ted Thomas to expedite the review and to pass this savings along to Arkansas utility customers, both residential and business.
Commissioner Thomas has assured me that he will move as quickly as possible to accomplish this.
In Arkansas, we are seeing a significant turnaround in our economy and employment. Our unemployment is close to the lowest it has ever been in the state’s history. More people are employed than ever before. Arkansas companies are expanding, and companies outside Arkansas and foreign investors are moving here. We passed a law that exempts military retirement pay from state income tax, which is keeping retired veterans here and attracting veterans from other states. When veterans use their skills in a second career or open a business in Arkansas, the state benefits.
So the news in Arkansas is good, and with this anticipated cut in your power bill, it’s getting better.
Governor’s FY 2019 Budget Proposal01/12/2018
This week, members of the Senate and the House met in a joint budget hearing as they prepare for the upcoming fiscal session. On Tuesday morning, I presented my balanced budget goals for next year.
I opened with a quick review of some of the good news from 2017, a year in which our economy grew and our wage rates were up. We saw a significant increase in the number of jobs, our unemployment rate declined to its lowest level in state history, and more Arkansans were in the workforce than ever before.
The $100 million tax cut we enacted in 2015 has put more money in the pocket of middle-class Arkansans. And because people have more money to spend, that renewed confidence is streaming money into the economy.
Medicaid enrollment is down, and benefits paid through the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are at the lowest level in nine years.
That’s just a sampling, and last year’s progress has created a strong tailwind for Arkansas as we head into next year.
The budget I propose for next year cuts $100 million in spending from my original forecast, and we project a surplus of $64 million.
This budget reflects real spending cuts in a number of agencies that we achieved by efficient spending and without cutting services.
This budget shows a slower growth in Medicaid spending. It meets the requirements of education adequacy. It increases funding for public safety. And of great significance, this budget reduces our time-worn reliance on filling ongoing budget needs by dipping into surplus funds.
I have asked a number of agencies to reduce their overhead. They will do this by improving efficiency and not by cutting the quality of service. These spending reductions come to approximately $3 million.
The Department of Human Services has been able to reduce the number of Arkansans on the Medicaid rolls by more than 116,000 in the past year. DHS accomplished that by ensuring the accuracy of Medicaid rolls, and because more people are working and increasing their wages.
The proposed budget reflects a cut of $55 million in state general revenue for Medicaid compared to the original outline we presented a year ago.
The budget includes funding for 65 new child welfare caseworkers, and $3 million for the Arkansas State Police vehicles, and $10 million to implement the Higher Education Productivity Funding Model.
All of this leads to a $64 million surplus. My budget allocates 75 percent of the projected surplus to a new Restricted Reserve Fund that can only be touched with the concurrence of the legislative branch. This restricted reserve fund also safeguards state operations against an unexpected economic downturn and sets the foundation for potential cuts to the state’s income tax. In addition, the other 25 percent of the surplus will be used to help fund future highway construction in the state.
I also took the opportunity of my presentation to the Joint Budget [Committee] to announce that I am asking all of Arkansas’ universities to freeze their in-state tuition at the current level and not increase it for the next academic year.
It’s time to give our students a break. The letter I sent to the presidents and chancellors of our four-year universities was not intended as a criticism but an encouragement, and they have been very good partners in this effort. While leaders in higher education have worked hard to reduce the cost burden on our students, I think we can do more.
Our goal as a state is to help students increase the number of credentials they can earn in a more efficient and affordable manner. Controlling costs for our students sends a strong message to students, taxpayers, and legislators that we are serious about making a college education affordable for everyone, and that we trust our institutions of higher education with our investment.
I also challenged two-year colleges to limit their tuition increases to the level of the Consumer Price Index or below.
Arkansas is on a good path. I am confident we will continue on it in the future.
New Aerial Maps of Arkansas01/05/2018
The state’s Geographic Information Systems Office has just completed a project to update all of the aerial images of Arkansas. Last week, I had the privilege of joining GIS Director Shelby Johnson to deliver a thumb drive to the leaders of Madison County. The thumb drive had the last aerial photographs to complete the statewide project.
Aerial maps are a fascinating way to view the state, but more importantly, the images are crucial to the safety and economic development of Arkansas. It is important that we keep the images up to date because the face of Arkansas is changing rapidly. We are always building new neighborhoods and shopping centers. We are constantly building new roads and widening existing highways. The maps benefit emergency responders, surveyors, farmers, realtors and lenders, public works departments, and city and county governments.
The Sanborn Map Company started the project on January 23rd of last year. Crews flew on 19 days and finished on February 25th. To ensure accuracy and uniformity of the maps, the crews always fly at an altitude of 19,000 feet and at speeds between 120 knots and 150 knots. They fly only between 10 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. so that the sun is at the same angle.
When you compare the new imagery to the last geographic mapping, some differences are obvious. You can see forests that have been cleared for pastures and pastures where farmers have planted trees. The biggest difference in the quality of the images is the resolution. In the previous images, you can see a vehicle on a highway. In the new ones, you can tell whether the vehicle is a car or a pickup.
The most obvious need for these updated maps, of course, is in emergencies when a speedy response by law-enforcement agencies and rescue crews may mean the difference between survival and death. That could have been the case last week when Madison County Deputy Lola Mitchell answered a 9-1-1 call from a panicked couple whose two-year-old son was suffering a seizure.
They were in their car, stopped along a highway, and the only landmark was a building with the name “Osage” painted on the side. Otherwise, the couple from Florida had no idea where they were.
For just a moment, the dispatchers had no idea either. The only Osage they knew about was a community in Carroll County to the north. But the 9-1-1 computer triangulated the cell phone pings and moved the dispatchers’ newly updated map to that location.
Without the updated photography, the family might have waited an hour for deputies to find them. As it turned out, they were just outside of Huntsville, as deputies found them in less than five minutes.
Their son, by the way, was okay.
I am grateful for the work Director Johnson and his team have done for the state of Arkansas.
Military Retirement Pay Tax Cut Kicks In12/29/2017
Earlier this year, I told the story of Adam and Brittany Boccher, who have decided to remain in Arkansas after Adam retires from the Air Force in mid-2019.
The deciding factor in their decision was Act 141, a new law that exempts military retirement benefits from state income tax. The law, which I proposed and which passed in the 91st General Assembly with wide bipartisan support, takes effect on January 1.
The law accomplishes several things. By exempting their retirement benefits from state tax, we honor in a small way the sacrifice of our veterans, many of whom, like Adam, have deployed overseas. During his 18 years in the Air Force, Adam has served three tours in the Middle East.
The law is a benefit to the state, as well. By enticing military families to retire in Arkansas, we will keep their skills, their experience and their leadership.
The Bocchers’ decision to stay here is exactly what we hoped Act 141 would accomplish.
But if the Bocchers’ decision to stay isn’t enough evidence that the law is a good idea, I am happy to report that another retired military family has decided to move to Arkansas because of this new law.
Thanks to the tax cut, Brittany’s parents are moving to Arkadelphia from Texas in March. Her stepfather is a retired Marine who earns his income driving a truck.
Here is the benefit tally for Arkansas: One airman who will continue his career in law enforcement when he retires in 2019, and his spouse, who happens to be the reigning Armed Services Spouse of the Year, who owns a business called Mason Chix Apparel. But there will also be another family member who is a retired Marine who will contribute to the state as a truck driver, and his spouse, who will employ her experience in industrial sales. Brittany’s parents have also bought a house.
That’s a lot of talent, hard work and passion, and that’s just one family.
I think it is safe to say that I was correct when I predicted during the General Assembly that the income tax exemption would be a “significant boost” to Arkansas.
Brittany’s parents will be able to benefit from the income tax cut as soon as they move here. Adam and Brittany will have to wait 18 months. But Starting January 1, the benefit to about 22,000 of our retired military residents is immediate, and so is the benefit to Arkansas.
To our veterans, retired or not, thank you for all that you have done for our country and our state. And to our retirees who are considering Arkansas as the place to stay, I say, welcome home. We are all better for your presence.
The Gifts of the Season12/22/2017
As I was leaving the capitol one afternoon last week, I noticed a flash of color and activity out of the corner of my eye. When I turned, I saw Stacey Tatera and Lynn Brooks applying bright-red lipstick to six school kids in candy-cane vests and Santa hats.
They were standing in the tunnel, just outside the doors. As I walked toward the kids, a couple of them recognized me and greeted me by my first name, which is just fine by me. "Asa" is much easier for deaf children to sign than "governor" or "Hutchinson."
I was delighted to see these students from the Arkansas School for the Deaf. They are members of the school’s legendary Singing Fingers group, which was founded more than 40 years ago. Four in the current lineup had already performed at the capitol this year. Last week, the Singing Fingers was one of dozens of school choirs that performed in the Sounds of the Season program.
Stacey and Lynn, who direct the Singing Fingers, assured me the singers had time to pose with me for a picture before they went up the stairs to the second-floor rotunda for their performance of “Jingle Bells,” “Christmas Time in Arkansas,” “Away in a Manger” and “Silent Night.”
I love my job as governor of Arkansas, and moments like my unexpected visit with Ananda, Angel, Braden, Danielle, Egypt and Lola make it all the better. These serendipitous meetings are an added blessing.
These unscheduled encounters brighten my days, enlighten me, and entertain me, although some are downright humbling, such as the encounter recently with a man who shook my hand and asked, “What are you doing these days?” His wife responded, “Honey, this is the governor of Arkansas.” He obviously had a lot on his mind.
Most importantly, the people I meet between my official engagements remind me why I wanted this job in the first place. For all the importance we place on our work as elected officials, most people don’t spend much time inside the capitol and city hall. In George Bailey’s great speech to Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life, George reminded the bitter old banker that he should be looking out for the best interests of his customers. Those are the people who “do most of the working and paying and living and dying in this community.” His words are a timely reminder that regardless of all that we attempt as elected officials, that our most important work is the work we achieve for the good of all Arkansans.
To be a native of Arkansas is a gift. My job and the chance to serve my fellow Arkansans as their governor is a gift. The hundreds of people I meet as governor of my home state are gifts, as well. And some days, the gifts come wrapped in red-striped candy-cane vests and Santa hats and greet me just like the beautiful children from the School for the Deaf.
What We Do Matters12/15/2017
Regan Reaves and her parents, Wendie and Wade, are a reminder on the importance of what we do in government and how it impacts real lives every day.
I met the Reaves this week at the quarterly meeting of the Tobacco Settlement Commission. Regan was waiting for me in the entrance to the Main Street Mall Building in downtown Little Rock.
She and her parents attended the meeting to thank the commissioners for their support of the idea to use money from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to provide specialized services for developmentally and intellectually disabled Arkansans.
Regan’s challenge is neurological migration disorder. Her doctors made that diagnosis when she was 13 months old after they noticed that she was not developing at a typical pace.
Regan is 19 now. She is a student at Bryant High School. Her disorder has presented many challenges for the Reaves. Her parents can’t leave her at home alone. Regan struggles with the day-to-day tasks that most of us do without thinking. Her parents help her brush her teeth and wash her hair.
About seven years ago, the Reaves applied for assistance through the Community and Employment Supports waiver, which provides at-home help for teaching independent-living skills.
When I became governor, there were more than 3,000 people on the waiting list and some had been there more than eight years. That was not acceptable. I asked DHS Director Cindy Gillespie for guidance. She proposed that the state transfer money from the Tobacco Settlement Fund to provide services for those who had been waiting the longest. I thought this was a great idea.
In September 2016, members of the settlement commission approved the idea, which allowed us to proceed to the legislature. Representative Andy Mayberry introduced the bill in the House, and Senator Jason Rapert carried it in the Senate. After both houses passed the bill during the 91st General Assembly, I signed Act 50 into law.
We have now moved 500 people off the waiting list; 201 of those people, including Regan, already are receiving services that are dramatically improving their lives.
Regan is learning to care for herself with the help of a supportive-living provider who is trained to teach developmentally disabled individuals the skills they need to become independent. She spends about three hours a day at the Reaves’ home. Wendie was near tears on Tuesday as she and Wade talked about the difference these services are making for Regan as well as the new freedom it allows them to tend to other family matters.
This is a great step forward in our effort to ensure that all the developmentally and intellectually disabled individuals in Arkansas have access to the services they need to reach their full potential. But there are still more than twenty-six-hundred people on the waiting list, and my goal is to entirely eliminate the backlog. A portion of the premium tax revenue from Medicaid’s new provider-led model of care will help us increase the rate of progress toward that goal.
After my chat with Regan and her parents, Regan and I exchanged a high-five, and then we went into the conference room to thank the commissioners for their support. The smile on Regan’s face probably was all the thanks they needed.
Miracle at an Arkansas Welcome Center12/08/2017
Nearly a million people a year stop at one of Arkansas’ 13 welcome centers. The staffs answer a lot of questions about our state and work hard to see that our visitors feel welcome. Travelers often share personal stories with members of the staff. Once in a while, employees hear a story that reminds them that their work brightens someone’s day.
Sheila Ward, manager of the Blytheville Welcome Center, recently learned that her staff had redeemed Christmas for one of the center’s visitors. Kane Webb, director of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism, oversees the centers and passed the story along to me.
One day in October, a visitor was complimenting Sheila for the center’s fall décor. A gentleman who was traveling from Iowa to Mississippi overheard their conversation. He interrupted. If you think this is good, he said, you ought to see what they do at Christmas. He said: “It is beautiful!”
Then he showed off more than 40 photographs he had taken of the Blytheville Visitor Center with his phone last Christmas. His wife joined the conversation and told the rest of the story. Sheila and the staff learned they had helped to heal this family’s broken heart.
The couple’s 19-year-old daughter had died during the Christmas holidays 18 years ago, just after she had decorated the family’s Christmas tree. The parents left the tree standing for four years. When the mother finally took it down, she vowed never to decorate for Christmas again.
Two Christmases ago, they stopped at the Blytheville Welcome Center, where the staff goes all out decorating for Christmas. The Christmas carousels and snowmen and angels took the grieving mother by surprise. She returned to their car in tears. Her husband went into the Welcome Center to see for himself. When he returned to the car, he was smiling. He didn’t speak until Memphis, and then he said: “Well, that was something.”
The experience restored Christmas for our visitor. Last year, the couple stopped to revisit the site of their little miracle, and instead of crying, the woman left for Mississippi happy.
When they stopped in October, the couple told Sheila they won’t visit at Christmas this year because their son and his family will spend Christmas with them in Iowa.
The woman told Sheila: “My son missed out on 14 years of Christmas. He will be bringing his wife, my two-year-old grandson and my four-month-old granddaughter.
“We will have our first holiday with all the stuff that I hid in the attic 14 years ago, plus we are buying stuff for new traditions. Just so you know, the decorations you put up mean something to people.”
Sheila said: “The things we see and hear never cease to amaze me, inspire me and renew me. You just never know what may touch a heart.”
I would like to thank the people who staff our Visitor Centers all over the state for the kindness they distribute to our visitors in addition to the tourist fliers and highway maps.
Wildfire Danger in Arkansas12/01/2017
This spring, severe rainstorms dumped so much rain that we saw devastating floods across Arkansas. Now, as we come to the end of autumn, we have just the opposite problem. Arkansas doesn’t have enough rain. This has led the Arkansas Forestry Commission to declare a state of High Wildfire Danger for every county in Arkansas.
Southwest Arkansas currently is enduring extreme drought conditions. As one of our Forestry Commission rangers put it, the state is bone dry.
In addition to the drought conditions in Arkansas, windy weather has combined with low humidity; frost is killing the grass, which dries out, and the hardwoods are dropping their leaves. All of this creates perfect conditions for wildfire.
As of Thursday afternoon, county judges had placed 61 counties under burn bans.
The forestry commission reports that in November, 311 wildfires had burned 6,000 acres. This has been the worst November since November 1989.
To date this year, 1,400 wildfires have burned through 26,000 acres. This is the worst year for wildfire since 2012, when wildfires burned 34,000 acres.
Any outdoor fire is a hazard, even when you set fire to a small pile of leaves. I encourage you to put off burning your debris until we receive some significant rain, and this might not happen until mid-December.
The most frequent cause of wildfires is the unintended result of carelessness with burning leaves and other debris. Arson is the second-most frequent cause. Lightning strikes, fallen power lines and tossed cigarettes occasionally are to blame, but humans – whether through carelessness or intentionally –are the culprits. Regardless of the cause, dozens of firefighters – sometimes hundreds – place their well-being at risk to put out the fire.
The forestry commission employs 195 wild-land firefighters, and a support staff that includes dispatchers, radio technicians, pilots and mechanics. The crews are spread out across the state so that we protect all Arkansans – rural, urban and those in between. Crews are trained and ready to head to a fire anywhere and anytime.
Our forestry commission teams depend on the assistance of firefighters with city, rural and volunteer fire departments, who often are the first to arrive. These departments are vital in fighting fires and protecting homes.
I applaud all firefighters who put aside their personal comfort and miss children’s birthday parties and sometimes Thanksgiving to put out our fires. They place their lives on the line to protect lives, homes, property, and one of our state’s great agricultural resources – timber.
The Impact of the Sweet Potato11/22/2017
With sweet-potato-casserole season upon us, this is a good time to consider the significant economic impact of the sweet potato on Arkansas.
I saw sweet-potato production in person in August when I visited Ridgeview Farm near Wynne, where Terris Matthews is the fourth generation of his family to grow sweet potatoes.
Rick Wimberley, the extension agent in Cross County, says the Matthewses grow more sweet potatoes at their Cross County farm than any other farmer in Arkansas. Cross County planted 2,800 acres in sweet potatoes, more than any other county. The Matthewses cultivated about 2,500 of those acres. Other top sweet potato counties include Phillips, Chicot and St. Francis.
The records of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture show that 13 farmers in eight counties grew sweet potatoes on 5,000 acres in 2017. Arkansas’ sweet potato crop ranks sixth in the nation.
Sweet potato farming is a labor-intensive crop, which makes it an expensive crop. Sweet potatoes cost about $4,000 an acre to produce compared to about $600 an acre to grow cotton.
The value of Arkansas’s 2017 crop is coming in at about $26 million, according to Wes Ward, director of the Arkansas Department of Agriculture.
Terris and Kim Matthews have sweet potatoes to thank not only for their livelihood but for their marriage. They met 18 years ago when Kim was a food merchandiser for grocery stores in Jackson, Tennessee, and contacted the Matthewses’ operation. Now, in addition to raising hundreds of acres of sweet potatoes, they are raising their two daughters, Jaylie, 16, and Tacie, 14, in the sweet potato patch.
Terris and Kim are so confident that their sweet-potato dynasty will continue that they have named one line of their potatoes “Fifth Generation.” The Fifth Generation logo includes a photograph of their daughters when the girls were much younger.
This has been a good season for Ridgeview. The harvest came in more than a week earlier than usual, thanks to an early spring and the right amount of rain.
Terris has been eating sweet potatoes all of his 48 years, and he still eats them three and four times a week. Sometimes, he will dig one out of the ground, dust it off and eat it raw. Terris prefers his sweet potatoes with butter and nothing else, but he enjoys the casseroles that include brown sugar, pecans, cinnamon, marshmallows or the other extra ingredients.
So whether you eat your sweet potatoes straight from the earth, baked with butter only, as sweet-potato fries or fancied up for the holidays, this is one home-grown food that is easy to find, easy to prepare, and gives you the satisfaction of supporting Arkansas farmers.
More Good News for Fort Smith11/17/2017
On Friday, I joined business leaders in Fort Smith for the announcement that PRADCO is expanding its injection-molding manufacturing, which will create 60 new jobs. We also celebrated the news of Walmart’s commitment to buy an additional $250 million in PRADCO products by 2023.
This good economic news is just one of many developments in Fort Smith in the past three years. Fort Smith is booming, and so are many areas in other parts of the state. Arkansas is enjoying one of its most significant seasons of economic growth in state history. More Arkansans are employed today than ever before.
PRADCO’s full name is Plastics Research and Development Company. Under many different brands, the company manufactures outdoor gear, primarily for fishermen and hunters. It is nice to point out that there is probably not a single bait stand or outdoors shop in the entire United States that doesn’t carry some of PRADCO’s fishing lures and bait scents.
The company’s roots grow deep in Arkansas. One of the company’s products, the Cotton Cordell line of lures, was the creation of Cotton Cordell, who grew up on Lake Catherine fishing and guiding fishermen. Cotton made his first lures in his kitchen and living room. He became one of the most famous and popular fishermen in the nation. At the height of production, Cordell Tackle Company was the largest manufacturer of fishing lures in the world and employed 200 people in Hot Springs.
Cotton Cordell is just one of 16 lines of fishing lures that PRADCO acquired and produces. And PRADCO’s expansion is just the most recent announcement of fourteen expansions or new companies to open in Fort Smith since 2015. Friday morning, in fact, Methodist Village Senior Living Center broke ground on an expansion that will add jobs, as well, in the service industry.
Fort Smith is the second-largest city in Arkansas. Its unemployment rate fell in 2016, and Sebastian County’s per capita personal income increased. Fort Smith’s progress matches the statewide economic trends. Arkansas’ per capita income is up at $39,000, which is an increase of 4.7 percent since January 2015.
Our unemployment rate is 3.6 percent, which is lower than the national average.
Since January 2015, 310 companies have worked with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to locate new offices in the state and/or expand their operations here. These companies have invested $7 billion in the state, and created over 11,000 new jobs. Today, more than 60,000 Arkansans are employed than were employed in January 2015.
So good things are happening in Arkansas and in Fort Smith. I’m sure there will be many more trips across the state for other great economic-news.
As for PRADCO, next time you are in a bait shop or a Bass Pro shop, spend a minute with the fishing lures and hold a piece of Arkansas history in your hand. The lures are testimony to the great opportunities to enjoy nature and to the hard work and creativity of Arkansans.
China, Japan and Back Again11/10/2017
I have just returned from my third trade mission to Asia, where Arkansas’ good reputation as a business-friendly state is well-known and growing.
Over seven days, we held 20 meetings in eight cities with more than 55 people, including U.S. diplomats, local government officials and representatives from more than 20 companies. We traveled more than 23,000 miles; and nearly 1,000 of those miles were by high-speed train.
A highlight of the trip was the official signing of the Memorandum of Understanding in China with Risever, which is opening its first plant outside of China right here in Arkansas in Jonesboro. Caterpillar is its largest American customer. Before the signing ceremony, we toured the plant and saw Risever employees welding the counterweights like the ones the company will manufacture in northeast Arkansas. This plant will be their first location in the United States. To get to Risever headquarters in Hefei, go to Shanghai, take a left, and three-hundred miles later, you arrive in the little community of eight million people. The company showed us great hospitality. The most moving moment for me was our arrival. As we exited the van, “God Bless America” was playing over the public address speakers, and they continued to play for much of our visit.
This trip also included a visit to Japan, which has been a significant partner with Arkansas since the 1980s. More than twenty Japanese companies already have a presence here. It is just as important that we nurture our long-standing relationships as it is to find new partners. But we’re always on the lookout for new companies, and at least twenty Japanese companies are interested in expanding to Arkansas. William Hagerty, the new U.S. ambassador to Japan, told me that the opportunity for us to recruit Japan investments has never been greater.
Japan is turning the corner after a decade of financial crisis, an earthquake, and the subsequent tsunami and the leak at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. Japan’s recovery will present new opportunities for Arkansas.
In addition to our trade missions to Asia and Europe, we have offices in Berlin, China and Japan. And Mike Preston and his staff at the Arkansas Economic Development Commission consistently engage with business leaders. You can’t beat face-to-face visits for building trust and maintaining momentum.
Our economic development representative in Japan is a young Arkansan named Neal Jansen. Neal graduated from the math and science school in Hot Springs and then from the University of Arkansas. Neal was the one who organized our final meeting in Japan, which was an amazing accomplishment. Neal was the third speaker, and he delivered his 20-minute speech in Japanese. While he was speaking, I turned to a Japanese businessman who was seated next to me and I asked him how Neal was doing. The businessman told me: “He’s speaking perfect Japanese.”
I am so proud of people like Neal, who represent us so well abroad. I am grateful for the members of the great team from Arkansas and the opportunity to sell our home state to foreign investors. With this team, we have attracted billions of dollars in foreign investment and created hundreds of new jobs. We will continue to pursue the right kind of industry to grow Arkansas’ economy, so that Arkansas becomes an even more wonderful place to live.
The New Higher Education Funding Formula11/03/2017
In the capitol and the halls of higher education over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been talking a lot about the Higher Education Productivity Funding Formula.
But it has occurred to me that the “Productivity Funding Formula” is a complicated-sounding name that may not mean much to people outside of political and university circles.
So I wanted to look at this in more detail.
Historically, we have based the funding of higher education on the number of students who enroll in each college or university. Under the new formula, we will fund our 11 public universities and our 22 community colleges based upon student progress and not just how many students show up on the first day of class. We want the students who enroll to progress to a degree or a certificate.
Several principles guided the creation of the new funding model. First, we must give students access to a quality post-high school education. Second, we must focus on assisting and encouraging students to complete their education, with an emphasis on students who are underserved and at risk; we must also be aware of specific needs in the employment market as we guide students to careers. Third, we should offer incentives for institutions to work together and reward programs that successfully transition students across schools.
The general assembly passed the new formula, Act 148, early in the 2017 legislative session. I signed it in February. The law was a response to concern that the rate of graduation in two-year and four-year colleges has been too low. The goal of my administration is to raise the rate of graduation and completion from the current 40 percent to 60 percent by 2025. We have committed an additional 10 million dollars to higher education as we transition to the new formula, which we will use for the first time next year, which starts July 1, 2018.
Act 148 is a much needed upgrade of the state’s financial supports of its institutions of higher learning. If we are going to build a strong workforce so that Arkansas can compete in the 21st century marketplace, we must ensure that the diplomas and certificates we award guarantee that we have taught our students well.
As Maria Markham, director of the state Department of Higher Education, said in a recent interview with the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, this is a necessary remedy to Arkansas’s historically low educational ranking.
On so many fronts, we are building a brighter future for Arkansans. We are reinforcing the foundation of our workforce with our computer science initiative by preparing students at a young age to enter a high-tech workplace with a high-tech education. We are catching the attention of foreign companies; already, we have attracted several businesses and hundreds of millions of dollars of direct foreign investment in Arkansas.
Our new formula for funding universities and colleges will further enhance our reputation as a state preparing for the future by providing an excellent, highly qualified pool of employees. We are rapidly climbing to the top of the class.
I am proud to be governor of a state whose leaders put so much thought, energy and elbow-grease into making this a state that keeps its homegrown talent at home while attracting top talent and business from around the world.
Opioid Epidemic: A National Health Emergency10/27/2017
In the nearly 20 years since I became director of the Drug Enforcement Administration, the illegal use of prescription drugs has become an epidemic that our nation couldn’t have imagined. Drug addiction is an insidious enemy of our families and our nation. Addiction to opioids is the biggest challenge we face. An addiction often begins as a legitimate use of a prescription to block pain after an injury or surgery. Addiction slips up on people who would never have considered abusing medicine.
On Thursday, President Trump declared the opioid epidemic a national health emergency in the United States, where about 175 people a day overdose on an opioid. Nationally, the number of overdose deaths by prescription opioids has quadrupled since 1999.
In Arkansas, we already are addressing the threat. This year, our legislators passed a law that allows pharmacists to dispense naloxone without a prescription. Naloxone is an antidote for an opioid overdose. Some of our first responders have saved lives because they were carrying the drug.
We have established a statewide protocol for tracking the prescribing and dispensing of opioids. Law enforcement agencies can watch for trends and anticipate problems.
We've also established drug courts, which allow judges the flexibility to offer drug offenders court-supervised treatment and other assistance instead of sentencing them to prison.
But let me bring this to a personal level. It’s the real-life stories that drive home the heartache. Linda Lary spent much of her childhood in North Little Rock, and her mother was a native of Waldo. Linda now lives in Greenwood, Mississippi. Her son Michael was an All-State football lineman in high school and an Eagle Scout by age 15. He was a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Ole Miss. He was one hour short of graduation with a degree in exercise physiology. Michael’s slide into addiction began seven years ago with 60 Percocet pills a doctor prescribed after he developed meningitis. He was in and out of rehab.
Shortly before he died, he admitted to his parents that he was addicted to heroin. He died sometime after 5 p.m. on December 19, two days before his 28th birthday. His Bible and a dose of Narcan [the antidote naloxone] were on the floor beside him.
Linda is moving from grief to action. As she has spoken out, parents have been calling her for comfort and with the names of drug dealers, which she passes to local law enforcement agents. She is a forceful advocate for the things she believes addicts need: Year-long rehab centers and sober-living houses. Strict monitoring of drug testing with an observer. Intensive outpatient therapy.
To win this fight against drug abuse, we must pay attention to how and where we prescribe opioids. And on Saturday, you can support Kirk Lane, the state director of Drug Abuse Prevention, by taking your unused prescriptions to one of the drug take-back locations and discard them, no questions asked.
Tax Cuts: My Continued Commitment10/20/2017
Two years ago, I took office as Arkansas’ Governor with the single belief that our state government can and should do better. I believe deeply in our state, in our strength and creativity, in our faith and in our future. And while we have a lot to be grateful for, I also know we have our work cut out for us.
First and foremost, our system of state taxes puts our state at a disadvantage. Taxes are simply too high. That’s why I started my term as governor with the largest income tax cut in state history. Three months after being sworn in, we passed the Middle Class Tax Relief Act of 2015 and returned $100 million annually to middle-class Arkansans. That translates into significant savings for our middle-class families – about $1000 a year for a family of four.
We didn’t stop there. This February, we addressed low-income families with the state’s second-largest cut ever. I signed into law a tax cut of $50 million to benefit families that earn less than $21,000 a year. Then I signed House Bill 1162, which eliminates the state income tax for our retired servicemen and women. This is our way, as a state, to thank members of the armed forces for their service to our country. My hope is that retired veterans will choose to live in Arkansas and start a second career or open a business.
We’ve cut $150 million from the state budget, and we’ve done it without cutting essential services. Instead, my administration has taken a hard look at the cost of state government. We’ve consolidated agencies, developed efficiencies, and cut administrative costs and overhead. We’ve also balanced the budget every year and created a long-term reserve fund. But don’t think for a moment that we’re anywhere close to done. We are laying the groundwork for even greater change – for ways to make your state government more responsive to the needs that matter most, and to do so at less cost and greater efficiency. In the coming months, I look forward to laying out my plans for our state, and for future tax cuts and government reforms.
I am not done cutting taxes. Even as I speak, the legislature’s Tax Reform and Relief Task Force is analyzing ways to reform our state's tax code.
My goal is to lower the income tax rate to a competitive rate in order to let hard-working Arkansans keep more of their hard-earned money.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival of Walnut Ridge10/13/2017
Eight years ago, community leaders in Walnut Ridge decided their downtown needed urgent care. As the current Mayor Charles Snapp describes it, the town was on life-support.
I am telling the story of Walnut Ridge to applaud the town’s success in generating a second wind. Many businesses have opened and more are coming. I also offer the success as an encouragement to other small towns that are facing the challenge of redefining the future. Walnut Ridge’s revitalization is a combination of community spirit, creative thinking, private investment, an appreciation of history, and a lot of work.
An important element in the renewing of this railroad town is the inclusion of its downtown district on the National Register of Historic Places on May 28, 2010. The detailed survey of its buildings for the historic application found that the oldest building still standing was built in 1890.
The population of Walnut Ridge is about 5,000. It is about 130 miles northeast of Little Rock. It’s one of those towns that isn’t on the way to anywhere else. Before the renewal, there wasn’t much reason for out-of-towners to visit.
But four notable out-of-towners did find the town, and their short visit fifty years ago plays a part in the story. The young men were musicians from Liverpool, England, and they landed at the Walnut Ridge airport for about an hour in September 1964. Walnut Ridge has transformed that brief encounter with the Beatles into an attraction that draws thousands to its annual “Beatles at the Ridge” festival in September and attracts tourists all year long.
The legend of the Beatles’ brief invasion inspired a public outdoor art project by local metal artist Danny West. Danny donated 500 hours to create a 10-foot-by-20-foot metal replica of the Beatles’ Abbey Road album. It’s a great backdrop for selfies.
Walnut Ridge also has capitalized on the musical legacy of the region, where many of the early legends of rock performed. The town built a 115-foot-long concrete Guitar Walk to honor some of those musicians, such as Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, who influenced the Beatles.
Walnut Ridge stands at the intersection of Abbey Road and the Rock ’n’ Roll Highway.
I know that the spirit of volunteerism and optimism are contagious, and the revitalized downtown Walnut Ridge is proof. One project leads to another as people see all that a town can accomplish.
About 15 downtown buildings have been renovated or are nearly ready to occupy. The benefits of this civic pride have spread beyond the historic district. Walnut Ridge has built a new ball field and is building a bike-and-hike trail.
Businesses report that the weekend of the Beatles’ festival is their second biggest after Black Friday. The sales-tax base continues to rise. The mayor estimates that there are at least 250 job openings within 15 miles of his office.
Walnut Ridge is one of many towns in Arkansas that is taking the initiative and meeting the challenges of the changing economy of the 21st century. Not every town has a visit by the Beatles to work with, but they all have something.
Cyber Range: Next Step in Arkansas’ Computer–Science Initiative10/06/2017
When you hear that computer hackers have stolen millions of Americans’ personal information from a credit bureau, it’s like hearing that someone has stolen all the gold from Fort Knox.
There’s a temptation to think there’s nothing we can do to stop the bad guys, and that nothing is safe from thieves and high-tech troublemakers.
But in Arkansas, we work to solve our problems. Which is exactly what the University of Central Arkansas is doing about cyber security training.
With a half-million-dollar grant from the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, UCA is building a cyber range to train students in cyber security.
On Wednesday, UCA President Houston Davis, UCA Dean Stephen Addison, and Courtney Pledger, director of the Arkansas Educational Television Network joined me at the capitol to announce the project. We hope it will be up and running by the first of the year.
A cyber range allows teachers to create a virtual computer network so that students learn to anticipate cyber attacks and how to defeat them. Instructors can set up any kind of network and inject a variety of viruses onto the range without turning a free-roaming virus loose on the internet. When the war game is over, they hit reset and start over, no harm done.
A cyber range allows students to go beyond antivirus programs to create programs that will recognize unknown viruses hiding in friendly looking email or web links. Students will learn cyber security in real-time systems.
Arkansas Educational Television Network is supporting UCA in this endeavor through a partnership to develop cyber security, coding, computer programming, computer science and other curricula in Arkansas schools.
With that support, the cyber range complements my computer-science initiative to offer coding education to students at all levels.
UCA’s state-of-the art teaching will be available through AETN to Arkansas students, both in high school and college.
National security agencies have long been utilizing cyber ranges, but this is the first time that students in Arkansas will have access to that technology. This will be the first educational cyber range in the region, and Arkansas will be the first in the country to build a range that eventually will be available for K-12 as well as university students.
UCA plans to offer an interdisciplinary bachelor’s degree in cyber security in the fall of 2018. The program will be supported by the UCA College of Business, College of Liberal Arts and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.
The cyber range is the next logical step in our computer-science initiative. This will keep Arkansas on the leading edge of computer education, which will continue attract industry that needs a well-trained work force.
The Courage of the Nine09/29/2017
This week, I had the privilege of sharing the Roosevelt Thompson Auditorium stage with the Little Rock Nine as we remembered their first day at Central High 60 years ago.
Those nine braved a gauntlet of opposition as they traversed the sidewalks and trudged up the steps into the school.
But Minnijean Brown Trickey, Elizabeth Eckford, Ernest Green, Dr. Melba Patillo Beals, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed Wair, Dr. Terrence Roberts, Jefferson Thomas and Carlotta Walls LaNier did not respond in kind. They completed their mission with courage and grace.
We gathered in Little Rock on the 60th anniversary in an effort to ensure that our state and nation will never forget the courage, fortitude and persistence they showed. The events of that fall day changed the path of a nation.
The integration of Central High was early in the civil rights movement. It was before many of the lunch-counter protests. It was before the Freedom Riders took to southern highways. It predated some of the most violent confrontations with civil-rights supporters. It was six years before Reverend Martin Luther King stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, his voice ringing out to 250,000 people as he declared: “I have a dream.”
That gives us an even greater appreciation for the lonely steps of the Little Rock Nine as they confronted hostility, the unknown and a defiant governor.
It is a significant but little known point of Little Rock history that Reverend King was quietly in the audience in the spring when Ernest Green crossed the podium to receive his diploma and became the first African-American graduate of Central High. Perhaps that moment inspired Reverend King to fully see the potential of his own dreams; perhaps as he sat here in Little Rock, he glimpsed the mountain top where all of God's children are created equal.
The bravery of those youth inspired hope for all whose dreams had been crushed by an unfair system. Their quiet determination and stubborn refusal to abandon their dreams not only forced action, but set an example to inspire all who face dream-crushing obstacles.
We all are equally challenged, motivated and grateful for those nine who said we must do it because it is right and because it is just.
On this 60th anniversary, we should remember that we should always treat one another with understanding, offer words of encouragement and act with kindness and compassion. Some of the students at Central knew that back then. Some resisted the mob mentality and hysteria and acted kindly to the Little Rock Nine, and their example can also guide us today.
We are all made in God's image, and an America that limits a person's dreams based on the circumstances of birth cannot fulfill its destiny. We must aspire to greatness by our acts of goodness.
Even as our ancestors and history do not dictate our values, the sacrificial victories of the Little Rock Nine do not guarantee equal opportunity or freedom from discrimination. We must vigilantly educate the present generation about tolerance, forgiveness and equal treatment.
Thank you to the Little Rock Nine for enduring the pain. But now all of Arkansas is proud and claims you as pioneers, heroes and role models.
The Great Arkansas Cleanup09/22/2017
No one is more passionate on the subject of trash and litter than Mark Camp, the new director of the Keep Arkansas Beautiful Commission. And to my surprise, he has informed me that discarded cigarettes are the No. 1 litter issue in Arkansas. It’s Mark’s responsibility to see that we clean them up.
The topic is timely today because we are in the midst of the 2017 Great Arkansas Cleanup. Volunteers around the state are scouring the roadsides and beating the bushes, bagging up fast-food wrappers, old tires, discarded shoes, dirty diapers and a wide variety of other man-made debris.
Mark is stepping into the big shoes of a couple of others who were passionate about keeping Arkansas picked up. The late Carl Garner started it all as chief of the engineering division for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Greers Ferry Project. Mr. Garner loved the lake, and in 1969, he started what became an annual cleanup around the lake.
In 1985, then U.S. Senator Dale Bumpers helped pass the Carl Garner Federal Lands Cleanup Act, which requires a clean-up of all federal lands the weekend after Labor Day.
For the past 20 years, Bob Phelps was the executive director of Keep Arkansas Beautiful. He retired this summer, and Mark took over.
Arkansas is one of the Top 10 states for pounds of trash per person – not a statistic we should brag about. Mark attributes our ranking to our consumption of fast food – the wrappers and cups often end up everywhere but a trash can.
Mark notes that people in pickups inadvertently contribute to the problem when they deposit their trash in the truck bed. More often that not, the wind blows the trash out.
As for cigarette butts, Mark can tick off many problems. For instance, the butts are made of cellulose acetate, not cotton, and that’s a plastic that doesn’t biodegrade.
The filters are designed to remove toxins from tobacco smoke, so each butt is a poison-filled capsule that birds and other animals ingest. Rain washes the butts into storm drains, and they eventually travel into our waterways, where fish can swallow them.
At KeepArkansasBeautiful.com, Mark and his staff have posted information about clean-up events around the state. You can register to volunteer. This year’s campaign ends October 31.
In 2016, 14,000 volunteers picked up over 500,000 pounds of trash – that’s 252 tons. Volunteers collected 1.8 million pounds of bulky waste and over 9,500 tires. Volunteers cleaned 1,100 miles of roadside, 1,300 miles of waterway and 17,000 acres of parks and other public areas. Volunteers also planted over 4,300 trees, shrubs and flowers.
Arkansans are generous people who take care of a need when they see it. The numbers from last year’s Great Arkansas Cleanup bear that out. I’m confident that when Director Camp releases the numbers from this year’s campaign, the statistics will be equally impressive. Thank you for taking care of our state.
It’s not every session that our legislators have the opportunity to pass a law that can have an immediate impact.
But during the 2017 General Assembly, they had the chance to approve life-saving legislation, and they did. The law allows pharmacists to dispense a critical drug without a prescription.
The drug, naloxone, is an antidote for an opioid overdose. For several years, first-responders have carried naloxone kits for victims of overdoses of legal opioids and of heroin.
In 2015, the Benton Police Department, under the leadership of Chief Kirk Lane, was the first police department in the state to equip officers with the kits. I recently appointed Chief Lane as the state’s director of drug-abuse prevention, and he is spreading the news of the urgent need for the antidote.
Independence County Sheriff Shawn Stephens knows first-hand the importance of Narcan, which is the brand name of the drug. Thirty-five members of his department, including school resource officers, keep the antidote at hand.
Back in May, Sheriff Stephens responded to the frantic calls that a man in his county was planning to kill himself. He was able to talk to the man by telephone and persuaded the man to reveal his location.
Sheriff Stephens found the man lying in a ditch. The man couldn’t stand. He was slurring his words. The sheriff administered a dose of naloxone and checked the time. After two minutes, as the sheriff was about to give a second dose of the nasal spray, the man opened his eyes. Soon he could speak clearly enough for the sheriff to understand him.
Medics arrived, and they took the man to the hospital.
That is one of five times Independence County sheriff’s employees have used naloxone since March, when the county started the program.
Several other law-enforcement agencies, including the Arkansas State Police, the Pulaski Sheriff’s office and the Maumelle police department have been using naloxone.
Between September 2016 and August, first responders administered naloxone at least 35 times in Pulaski County.
Until the naloxone protocol went into effect in early September, you needed a prescription from a doctor to purchase it. Under the new legislation, this important antidote is available to anyone in need from the pharmacy. Now, if you use opioids, or if a family member or friend does, you may obtain naloxone to have on hand in case of an overdose, whether intentional or accidental.
There are a couple of things to understand about naloxone. The reversal effect lasts less than an hour. Immediate emergency medical care is necessary.
Secondly, naloxone is not a cure for an addiction. It is an antidote that keeps you alive long enough to get to a doctor and seek treatment as necessary.
Our legislators have done the state a tremendous service by allowing pharmacists to dispense the drug to anyone they think need it, including teachers and others who may come in contact with someone who has overdosed.
We still have much to do in eliminating the abuse of drugs. But I am grateful that we have naloxone, which will save lives.
Restoring Hope for Arkansas Children09/08/2017
When disaster strikes, Arkansans respond in big ways. In my weekly address last week, I commended the folks who rushed to northeast Arkansas after the spring storms and to south Texas after Harvey. And no doubt, a fair number of Arkansans will show up in south Florida if Hurricane Irma ravages the state as the forecasters are predicting.
In my time as governor, I have become painfully aware of a devastation of another sort – the wreckage of families and the innocent children who end up in the state’s child-welfare system.
In the same way that I have witnessed the rush to assist during natural disasters, I have watched with admiration as our fellow Arkansans have rushed to aid these kids who, through no fault of their own, find themselves in the care of strangers.
In an effort to aid those children, we have held two statewide Restore Hope summits. At the second summit that just wrapped up this afternoon, I met hundreds of people who devote their lives and give their hearts to these children hoping for a better chance at a good and safe life.
At the time I took office, I talked with a lot of people who already were in the trenches doing good work. Many suggested ways we could improve what we were doing and proposed ways we could do more.
I am happy to report some dramatic improvements as state agencies partnered with members of the faith community and with nonprofits.
One of the first things we needed to accomplish was to increase the number of foster families. Since August 2015, the number of foster homes has increased from 1,300 to 1,800 – a big difference.
We have slowed the growth of the number of children in foster care. Based on our best information, we had predicted there would be 5,800 foster kids by August of this year, but we kept the actual total to 5,100.
We needed more money for caseworkers, so I asked the General Assembly for $24 million to hire more caseworkers to help our children. Your legislators approved the request with bipartisan enthusiasm. The load for our caseworkers has dropped from 28 cases each to 22 cases, and we’re continuing our efforts to lower that number still to meet national standards.
We have cut the number of overdue investigations from 721 to 51. That is significant. Think about what that means. We have greatly reduced the number of children who are in imminent danger through neglect or violence.
We have placed 29 percent of all children with relatives, which is a six percent improvement.
When the faith and nonprofit communities get involved, we can minister to the heart of a person, and when you minister to the heart – whether it’s an innocent child or an adult looking for a second chance, you change lives.
Arkansans show compassion in difficult times, and for that reason, I am honored to be your governor.
Arkansans In Action09/01/2017
The pictures we have seen this week from south Texas are painfully familiar in Arkansas.
We all recall the images of rising water as the spring storms savaged northeast Arkansas. As I watched that disaster day by day, I was impressed by the Arkansans from all over the state who pitched in to help their neighbors.
As Tropical Storm Harvey strengthened into a Category 4 storm and slammed the Gulf Coast of Texas over the past week, I was again moved as I witnessed the surge of compassion. Hundreds of people reacted quickly, often at their own peril, to rescue and shelter victims.
And it is no surprise to me that many of the people who have responded are Arkansans, who always rush to the aid of others.
It is impossible to fully calculate the number of Arkansans who are in Texas or on the way, but the number is close to 2,000. I would like to tell you about some of the efforts I am aware of.
Today, I authorized the Arkansas Army National Guard to deploy 1,500 soldiers to the hurricane zone. These men and women are forgoing the comfort and safety of home to help south Texas in these tough days. They may be away from their families for as many as 30 days.
Walmart has already donated $10 million in cash and goods to organizations including the Salvation Army, Feeding America and the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, and has pledged to give an additional $10 million to the relief efforts. For every dollar a customer donates to the Red Cross, the company will donate two dollars.
Nearly 50 volunteers from The Arkansas-Oklahoma Red Cross are in Texas. The Red Cross also has sent 10 emergency response vehicles.
The Arkansas Food Bank, which is a member of the national Feeding America co-op, already is drawing from its supply of food and water. The food bank is working with partners such as Entergy, the Arkasnas Electric Cooperative, the Junior League, and schools and local businesses.
And at the Salt Bowl football game at War Memorial between Bryant and Benton this Saturday, the food bank will accept donations of peanut butter and water.
The Arkansas State Baptist Convention has sent a kitchen truck and about 40 volunteers to staff it at the NRG Convention Center in Houston, which can hold as many as 10,000 people. The organization has deployed three shower and laundry trucks, two to Houston and one to Victoria.
With the support of the Law Enforcement Support Office, several law enforcement agencies have sent officers or equipment to Texas.
The Prairie Grove police department has sent officers with trucks, trailer, utility vehicle, chainsaws, first aid equipment and generators supplied by the support office.
The Lawrence County Sherriff’s Office dive team also is helping. Members of the dive team arrived at a staging area outside of Beaumont to deliver emergency supplies and to make water rescue missions as FEMA requests.
The list of those willing to assist is a long one, and these are just the people we know about.
I want to thank those who were so generous with their fellow Arkansans this spring. And I also want to thank those who have traveled to Texas to assist in this unbelievable devastation.
Whether you are an Arkansan helping here at home or running to the rescue of our neighbors in Texas, you represent our state well. I am proud to be your governor.
Flashing Red. Kids Ahead.08/25/2017
The new school year is well under way, which means that some 350,000 youngsters around Arkansas are boarding one of about 7,000 school buses every day.
School-bus safety is a top concern for the Arkansas Department of Education and the Arkansas Association of Pupil Transportation, which have completed the fifth annual campaign to remind drivers to remain alert when a school bus is in the neighborhood.
The groups have created a catchy slogan for a very serious issue. “Flashing Red. Kids Ahead” is the campaign’s easy-to-remember reminder that when you see the flashing red lights on a bus stop, children are crossing the street.
This is not simply a suggestion. It is the law. State law requires drivers to stop. In 2005, after a driver illegally passed a bus and killed 9-year-old Isaac Brian, the General Assembly passed Isaac’s Law, which increased the penalties when a driver kills a person after illegally passing a bus.
But even an increase in penalties isn’t enough for some drivers. The Arkansas Department of Education reports that on April 26, 2016, school bus drivers in 100 Arkansas school districts reported 706 instances of motorists illegally passing a school bus. That is 706 violations in one day, and that’s less than half of the school districts reporting.
Another way to look at that number is that it represents 706 miracles. Those 706 instances could have tragically changed life for a family and for many others in the same way a driver changed life for Isaac’s family.
In a tragedy such as Isaac’s, the family lost a child, innocent children witnessed the horrible accident and the driver’s family suffered a loss.
Kimberly Friedman, director of communications for the education department, points out that drivers approaching a bus from either direction must stop for the flashing red lights.
Flashing red. Kids ahead. This little phrase is easy to remember, rolls easily off the tongue and is a great reminder to watch out for our school kids.
A New Tool for High-Tech Opportunities08/18/2017
In Arkansas, we have a high-tech wind at our back. We are becoming a microhub for technology companies and entrepreneurs.
The difference between what was happening in our state two years ago and now is like the difference between a Commodore 64 computer and the latest smart phone.
Teachers around the state have seized the opportunity to learn computer coding so that they can teach it in the classroom. Our students understand that computer science opens a world of opportunities and can lead to a great-paying and satisfying career. Since the launch of my Computer Coding Initiative in 2015, enrollment in computer-coding classes has increased by 400 percent. The classes are so popular that some schools now have a waiting list.
Today, teachers have opportunities that didn’t exist before we started our push for computer science education; we are giving them the training and the resources to push their students to excel in computer science.
Companies are moving to Arkansas because their leaders recognize that we are creating a computer-savvy workforce. National publications like Wired and StateScoop have written that Arkansas is a leader in promoting computer science in education.
This week, Arkansas took another big step forward with the launch of our new website – ArTechJobs.com. ArTechJobs is a one-stop employment shop. As of today, more than 50 companies have posted openings for nearly 150 technology jobs.
This addition to our high-tech portfolio will make it easy for employers to find high-quality employees. ArTechJobs is the brainchild of the ARCodeKids non-profit and the Information Network of Arkansas Board, which created the website at no cost to the state.
It is gratifying to see enthusiastic people at so many levels catch the vision and build the foundation that is attracting young people into computer science at a phenomenal pace.
Arkansas was the first state to require computer coding instruction in all public high schools, and now we are the first state with a website to match employers with potential employees.
Next week, I will hit the road for my fifth computer coding tour. The seven high schools on our itinerary are Harrison, Alpena, Green Forest, Beebe, Forrest City, Lakeside and Hot Springs.
In the first eight months of 2017, not only have we sponsored two coding tours and launched the website, ArTechJobs.com, we also became the sixth state to connect 100 percent of its school systems to high-speed broadband internet. Stay tuned for more high-tech news as Arkansas steps up to meet high-tech challenges of the future.
Public-Private Cooperation Empowers Students08/11/2017
In a little school district in Northwest Arkansas, educators and business leaders are putting their heads together to find ways to teach students important life skills and prepare them to enter the workforce.
It all began a couple of years ago when local employers told the educators that their high school graduates weren’t prepared to begin a technical career. The educators, surprised and alarmed at that news, reacted perfectly. Rather than bristle or make excuses, leaders put their heads together and thought big. They came up with the idea for a career and technical center and presented it to McKee Foods, a local industry that is a key employer in the area.
The company liked the idea, and together, leaders of private industry and public education campaigned for a millage increase to pay for the center and to build a new intermediate school.
On Tuesday, I helped to cut the ribbon for Gentry’s Career and Technical Center, which will offer diesel engine maintenance, information technology and certified nursing.
In addition to learning their trade, the students will hone life skills such as showing up on time, clocking in at the center and keeping up with an “employee” badge.
Assistant Superintendent Christie Toland says the district is incorporating life-skills training in the lower grades to reach students earlier. As Mrs. Toland explains it, most tests measure academic achievement, but teachers want to instill life skills that those tests don’t measure. Those life skills are essential to have success in holding a job.
This cooperation between public schools and a private company is inspiring students. By affirming the notion that college isn’t the only path to an honorable, satisfying career, we free up students to open their minds to a future in a wider range of great-paying skilled occupations.
James Berry, who is the superintendent of the trucking fleet at McKee, agrees. He told a Democrat-Gazette reporter that maintaining trucks is a career path at McKee. He said, “There's not a person managing in our company who didn't start by working on trucks. That's how you become a supervisor.”
Likewise, those who take the certified nursing route will find many career options, including work in X-ray, phlebotomy and personal care.
In another show of cooperation and efficiency, schools in Gentry, Gravette, Siloam Springs and Bentonville each offer different technical courses. A Gravette student who wants to work on diesel engines may take the class in Gentry, for instance.
Students who choose a career in diesel engine repair will find plenty of opportunities right here in Arkansas, with companies like McKee, Walmart and J.B. Hunt using our state as a logistical hub.
This is great news both for our state and for industries who are considering relocating to Arkansas. We are building a strong and skilled workforce in a wide variety of fields.
On Tuesday, we cut the ribbon for the Career and Technical Center. This morning, they broke ground for the new intermediate school. It has been a busy week in Gentry, and a great week for our state, as another school district makes investments that will empower the future of Arkansas’ workforce – our students.
The Unexpected in Fort Smith08/04/2017
If you haven’t visited Fort Smith in the last couple of years, I recommend that you add it to your list of places to see. You will see some things you might not expect in Arkansas’ second-largest city.
Fort Smith has imagined its downtown as a blank canvas and turned the artists loose in an art festival that leaders have officially named Unexpected. As one newspaper headline expressed it last year, Fort Smith has created The Art of the Unexpected.
For the third year in a row, artists from all over the world traveled to Fort Smith to paint sky-scraping murals on the exterior walls of many of the city’s buildings.
I had the privilege of participating in a small way last Friday when I spoke at the unveiling of one of the most unexpected mural projects so far – the recreation yard at the Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center. With the help of 10 young inmates, London artist Lakwena spent the week livening up the four walls with a mural.
The idea for the mural occurred to Lieutenant Leslie Asbury a couple of years ago. He suggested the idea to co-workers, including Captain Chris Landrum, who is the administrator of the detention center. Eventually, the Fort Smith Leadership 2016 class undertook the project.
Ten detainees – six young men and four young women – helped Lakwena paint her mural, which incorporated the title of Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I Rise.”
Lieutenant Josh Heidelberg was one of the people who helped paint. He called the project a “heaven-sent blessing” because so many in the community put time into the mural for children in trouble with the law.
The officers say the mural makes the rec yard feel bigger, and they appreciate Lakwena’s desire to give hope to the youthful inmates.
Unexpected is brightening up Fort Smith. The artists are creating colorful reasons for people to visit. But the mural in the detention center takes the project to a higher level.
Maybe the flash of beauty inside this grim place will be the inspiration for a young person to turn from the life that landed him in custody. This concern for troubled youth is one way we will truly change our cities.
In December, Fort Smith will kick off its celebration of the 200th anniversary of its founding. Thanks to the leaders and the artists, Fort Smith has a good start on the next couple of centuries.
New Market for Arkansas Rice07/28/2017
If everything goes according to plan, Arkansas will be selling rice to China. This is possible because Sonny Perdue, secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, recently signed an agreement that allows U.S. farmers to sell rice to China for the first time in history.
This is great news for our farmers in Arkansas. We grow as much rice as the other forty-nine states combined. This deal opens up very a profitable market for the state’s growers. In 2015, Arkansas farmers raised over 200 million bushels of rice on 1.3 million acres. That’s about 4.5 billion pounds. This is good news for China, too, because the Chinese will add quality Arkansas rice to their menu.
While that may sound like a lot, it’s a drop in the bucket for China’s population of 1.4 billion people. Dr. Jarrod Hardke, who still grows rice on the family farm in Carlisle, has worked out the math. Arkansas is responsible for fifty percent of U.S. rice production. China, which consumes eighty percent of the world’s rice, could consume Arkansas’s entire annual harvest in one week. Of course, China will not purchase that much rice but it shows the vastness of the new market.
While Americans eat an average of twenty-five pounds of rice per person per year, the Chinese eat approximately 225 pounds each. If Arkansas exported its entire crop of rice to China, it would make up three percent of the annual consumption of rice in that country. In other words, this agreement is going to give Arkansas farmers access to a massive market with outstanding potential for growth.
The last remaining hurdle to begin rice exports to China is for the country to send its inspectors to visit U.S. rice mills to certify that the mills meet China’s sanitation standards. Dr. Hardke, who works for the University of Arkansas Agriculture Division, has visited most of the state’s mills, and predicts they will more than satisfy China’s expectations. The level of food safety in Arkansas’ mills is extremely high.
Our hope is that Arkansas will be cleared to ship its first batch of rice to China soon after the first of the year. In the meantime, Arkansas rice farmers are tending to this year’s crop. Many of them are still recovering from the storms that raked through northeast Arkansas in April and May. Dr. Hardke and others estimate the state lost about one hundred-thousand acres of rice, or roughly ten percent of our total crop output. But if you know anything about Arkansas farmers - you know they are some of the most resilient people around – and in light of this new export agreement, I am confident they will bounce back stronger than ever.
Rice already has a billion-dollar impact on Arkansas’ economy, but opening exports to China will be a game-changer for the industry. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue called the agreement an “exceptional opportunity with enormous potential for growth”. He went on to say, “this agreement has been in the works for more than a decade and I’m pleased to see it finally come to fruition, especially knowing how it will benefit our growers and industry.”
Here in Arkansas, we too, are glad that we have finally reached an agreement to export U.S. rice to China. We are pleased to continue building a strong relationship with China that will boost our economy and create more jobs for Arkansans all across the state.
Connecting Arkansas Schools07/21/2017
This Thursday, a large crowd gathered in the Glen Rose High School cafeteria near Malvern to celebrate as Arkansas became the sixth state to connect its entire public school system to highly secure, all-fiber high-speed broadband internet. This was the high-tech equivalent of a ribbon cutting.
I had the privilege of plugging the fourth and last internet cable into a computer switch, which set off the flashing green lights to signify we had accomplished our mission.
As of late Wednesday, when the Spring Hill district near Hope went online, every single public school in Arkansas is connected to the internet.
Every single school includes rural districts like Hamburg and McGehee in the Delta, and Maynard and Marmaduke in northeast Arkansas. The smallest districts in our state have fewer than 500 students and administrators as users. The smallest is Strong-Huttig with 430 users. The number of users at Glen Rose is 1,078.
This accomplishment levels the playing field for rural- and small-town schools. Now students in places like Gravette, my hometown of 2,300, can get their hands on every bit of information that is available to students in Fayetteville and Little Rock. Geography no longer will dictate which Arkansans have access to learning and opens broad opportunities for many that previous generations haven’t enjoyed.
Arkansas is one of only six states to meet the federal target for every state to provide at least 100 kilobits per second per student in 100 percent of its school districts. But our leaders weren’t satisfied with just leading the way. With the state’s buying power, Arkansas was able to double the federal goal and provide 200 kilobits per second per user.
I initiated this in April 2015 with a directive to the Department of Information Systems and the Department of Education to meet the federal challenge and connect all our schools. At that time, only 58 percent of Arkansas districts met the federal target. Now 100 percent are connected.
Johnny Key, commissioner of the Arkansas Department of Education, said that with this upgrade, “the learning opportunities for all students are endless.”
Yessica Jones, director of the Department of Information Systems, joined me on the stage and plugged in a cord on Thursday.
Director Jones said: “Arkansas is a rural state, and many of our school districts were falling into that digital divide cited in study after study of the national broadband environment.”
I didn’t know exactly how this one-hundred-percent connectivity project would look, but I knew for sure that the Department of Information Systems and the Department of Education would get the job done. They did, and the final product looks grand. Not only are we leading the way, we surpassed the federal goals and set a standard for the rest of the nation. And our students are the real winners.
Arkansas’ Blackberry King07/14/2017
One of my fond memories as a child was picking blackberries on our Gravette farm. And one of my best memories as a parent was picking blackberries with my children.
That brings me to Dr. John Clark, a professor at the University of Arkansas who has employed all sorts of science-based technology in grape orchards and blackberry patches as he works to improve and expand varieties at the fruit research station in Clarksville.
In the world of fruit production, Dr. Clark is a celebrity. He was in Charlottesville, Virginia, this week to spread the news about Arkansas’s two new varieties of wine grapes, which he has named Enchantment and Opportunity. The last variety he named in honor of the Natural State because our motto used to be “Arkansas – Land of Opportunity.”
Dr. Clark grew up milking cows on his family’s farm in Mississippi.
He likes to tell people that one of his goals as a child “was to not milk cows for a living.”
He says: “I made it, although not everyone would think that working in a briar patch is progress.”
The Cotton Candy grape came from the Clarksville station and is a best seller globally. Dr. Clark said that the Cotton Candy grape is “making a big ol’ buzz all over the world.”
Clark and his colleagues have patented more than 50 varieties of fruit, but blackberries are the most important crop. Dr. Clark notes that the team is “trying to make blackberries taste better, look pretty, get the thorns off, make them firm, and fight disease.”
The station also has bred a variety that produce berries twice a year.
He said, “That’s probably about the biggest thing to happen in blackberry breeding.”
One aspect of the program that I really appreciate is that fruit station’s success helps to pay for itself. Dr. Clark said his department has a “broad and thorough intellectual property program. This allows people to buy plants, and they pay royalties on them. This brings support in from other states and countries. They pay to grow them. It’s nothing but positive.”
Dr. Clark spent most of June in the blackberry patch, picking through the forty acres of plants, looking for the traits they have attempted to breed into the canes. His investigation, of course, includes frequent sampling to ensure the berries taste up to his standard.
Although Dr. Clark was born a Mississippian, he has lived more than half of his 60 years in Arkansas peach and nectarine orchards, and blueberry and blackberry patches.
And so what Dr. Clark does with fruit research is great for those of us who love berries, but it is also a boost to our economy, and he supports our small-farm operations.
Thank you, Dr. Clark.
Working Together for a Safer Little Rock07/07/2017
Over the past several months, we have seen an escalation of violence in Little Rock.
Last weekend’s shooting of 25 people in the Power Ultra Lounge in downtown Little Rock brought the problem of violence in Little Rock into sharp focus.
In the days after the shooting, I decided it was time to ask whether there was a way that the state could assist Little Rock. The department is 70 officers short.
The Little Rock Police Department is working hard to stop the violence, but with its shortage, the department can’t respond to every complaint. The department needs additional resources to target, investigate and respond to the current threats.
In my conversations this week with the Little Rock Police chief, state and local law enforcement officials, and other community leaders, it was clear we can do more together. On Thursday, I announced the creation of a joint investigative group that will combine the strength of law enforcement at all levels to gather intelligence and target violent criminals.
Agents from the FBI, Arkansas State Police, Little Rock Police Department and Pulaski County sheriff’s office will work together on their joint investigative group.
In addition to this effort, the Department of Community Correction will provide more intensive supervision of parolees and probationers with known gang affiliation in the Little Rock area.
Finally, beginning this week, the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control Division will begin more closely monitoring Pulaski County establishments and enforcing closing times with a presence of an ABC agent to assure proper closing.
Leaders of the various agencies joined me to announce these initiatives at the capitol on Thursday. Diane Upchurch, special agent in charge of the FBI division in Little Rock, offered a word of warning for the criminals who are shooting up the streets: “We are here to take back the streets.”
The looming cloud of violence harms us all … not just Little Rock but the entire state. Little Rock is our seat of government and a center for tourism, medical services and economic development.
From my experience as a federal prosecutor, as director of the Drug Enforcement Agency, and as undersecretary with Homeland Security after 9/11, I know that the key to getting the bad guys off the street is cooperation across jurisdictions.
But I want to emphasize this is a matter for local law-enforcement that the City of Little Rock must solve. The outside agencies are here only to support as we are needed.
Local leaders have pointed out that this is more than a crime problem. This is about opportunity, hope, job training, education, mental-health treatment and investment in our youth.
I agree totally. But today the urgent need is to free our streets from the grip of violence. This is about identifying violent offenders and locking them up.
This joint investigative effort begins immediately.
A reporter asked me as to how we will measure success. We will know this initiative is successful when we can walk down our streets without fear.
241 Years Later, America Still Celebrating06/30/2017
As the United States heads towards its 241st birthday, Arkansans are stocking up on charcoal and propane, and business is booming at the fireworks stands.
John Adams, our second president, foresaw all this celebratory hoopla even as he was helping to craft the Declaration of Independence.
“I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated … as the great anniversary festival,” he wrote in a letter to his wife, Abigail, on July 3, 1776.
“It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty.
“It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other from this time forward,” he said.
In Arkansas, John Adams would be delighted with our celebrations in this state. We celebrate our independence from one corner of the state to the other, from Beebe, Bentonville, Bismarck and Bull Shoals to Colt, Mount Ida, Siloam Springs, Corning and Piggott.
One of the great traditions is the Fourth celebrations in northeast Arkansas. Cities like Piggott, Corning and Portia are places that families and politicians love to go.
Every governor for the past fifty years has attended the event.
I went to my first picnic in 1986, and I have attended periodically since then. I was there during my campaign for governor in 2014, so maybe Piggott is a key to success.
July 4th at Piggott offers the chance to celebrate in the small-town family-friendly way many of us remember the Fourth of July.
The picnic began in 1936 as a fundraiser for the Piggott Cemetery. Fred Ort is president of the Cemetery Association, which receives about $30,000 from the picnic every year. Organizers expect as many as 4,000 people this year. Remember, the population of Piggott is only 3,800.
The picnic is an all-day affair that starts with a parade that travels from the city square to Liberty Park. This year, for the 90th anniversary, the parade will include veterans from every war and conflict since World War II. Kids ride their bicycles. Farmers drive their antique tractors. For seventy years, the Choate family from Searcy brought their carnival to the picnic.
Mayor Jim Poole has lived in Piggott since he was 12, but his grandparents moved there in 1922, long before the founding of the picnic. He has been to most of them, and he says, “It’s almost Christmas in July.
“Out-of-towners come home for family reunions and class reunions. I still get excited, just like when I was a kid. I can’t get that out of my system.”
Many of us still feel the same way about July 4th. My family will share hamburgers and homemade ice cream.
It is clear from John Adams’ letter to his wife that he understood the price of what the founders had set in motion. And his optimism is clear.
He said, “I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this declaration, and support and defend these states. Yet through all the gloom I can see the rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is more than worth all the means. And that posterity will triumph in that day’s transaction.”
We can celebrate the Fourth of July because of leaders such as John Adams.
Pitching Arkansas Abroad06/23/2017
Governor Hutchinson brings this week's report from Tel Aviv while on his economic trade mission to Europe and Israel.
Last Saturday, I embarked on my sixth international trade mission with Mike Preston, director of our Arkansas Economic Development Commission. These trips have been instrumental in bringing foreign investment and creating jobs in Arkansas. Each time we leave on one of these trade missions, it becomes clear that Arkansas is becoming known as a global leader in trade.
On this trip, we met with key people, both with companies who are currently operating in Arkansas and with companies interested in relocating to our state. The first leg of our journey took us to the Paris International Air Show.
The airshow is a unique opportunity to meet with leaders in the aviation and defense sector. More than 180 aerospace and aviation companies create high-paying jobs across Arkansas, making it one of our state’s top exports. After the Paris Air Show two years ago, we announced Aerojet Rocketdyne’s plans to add 85 jobs and invest $18 million in Calhoun County. As Mike Preston says, these international missions have really put Arkansas on the map as an economic contender. The recognition that we get for our record-low unemployment rate and strong workforce is exciting.
During our time in Europe, we also met with the French companies that currently operate in Arkansas. These companies operate 25 Arkansas facilities and employ more than 3,700 Arkansans. The newest, Sediver, opened a plant in May in West Memphis.
From France, we traveled to Frankfurt and Cologne, Germany. German businesses account for 1,600 jobs in our state, and our newly opened office will increase our opportunities. We had meetings with Lanxess, which employs around 500 Arkansans in El Dorado, and SMS Group, which is a key partner in our Arkansas steel industry.
We’ve just arrived in Israel for the last leg of our mission, and this marks an encouraging new opportunity for Arkansas. With Arkansas’s status as a leader in computer science education, we want Israeli tech companies to know they should look to Arkansas when doing business in the U.S. We also continued our efforts to recruit manufacturers in the firearms industry in our state.
You need to look no further than China’s recent investments in Arkansas to demonstrate the value of these international trips. We have forged relationships with Chinese leaders that have influenced four Chinese companies to establish new facilities in Arkansas. These four companies are investing more than $1.4 billion and creating more than 1,500 jobs for Arkansans. Last month we made the largest job-creation announcement in the history of Arkansas’ Delta Region. China-based Ruyi Technology will create 800 new jobs in Forrest City and invest $410 million in the area. I cannot overstate the impact this investment will have in the Delta.
Over the last five years, foreign direct investment in Arkansas has grown over 40 percent, which places Arkansas among the top states in the nation in growth and foreign investment. Nearly 450 global employers have operations in the state, employing more than 46,000 Arkansans. For us to continue to attract higher paying jobs and generate success in the ever-changing global economy, it is vital to meet business leaders who are willing to develop and invest in our state. I’m honored to lead these missions, which are providing Arkansans with more opportunities for prosperity and are maximizing our economic potential. When we have the opportunity to pitch the strengths of our state abroad, companies take notice, and Arkansas reaps the benefits.
Students Coding to Save Lives06/16/2017
I want to share a computer-coding news scoop about a pair of 13-year-old football playing Arkansans who built a device that has the potential to save the life of dozens of children around the country.
Mason Covington’s and Tyler Duke’s invention was among ten finalists out of 5,000 entries in the 2017 Samsung Solve competition, and the U.S. Patent Office has granted them a patent.
While they were in Washington to demonstrate their new idea to Samsung judges, they also discussed it with Senator Tom Cotton and Representative French Hill. Although their invention wasn’t among the final three, they still brought home $50,000 worth of Samsung technology for their school.
Mason and Tyler are students of a special teacher named Tate Rector at Beebe Junior High. Mr. Rector was a football coach at Beebe for seven years before he switched to teaching coding, robotics, and design and modeling.
At the start of the 2016 school year, Mason and Tyler teamed up with Mr. Rector to work on an after-school robotics project. They wanted to build something that could help people through technology.
Their inspiration came from news of a man who accidentally left his son in a hot car for several hours. Regretfully, the child died from the heat.
With assistance from the Innovation Hub in North Little Rock, the boys designed and built a heat-sensing device that will set off an automobile’s horn and flash its lights when a child is left in a car.
The boys are on the football team, and they worked around practice and games to work on the project. After football season, they stayed after school three and four days a week. They tested it in Mr. Rector’s Jeep, and Mr. Rector well remembers the moment it worked.
The device attaches to a child car-safety seat. The weight of a child in the seat connects the surfaces of a pressure plate. If the engine is off while a child is in the seat, the sensor measures the temperature inside the car. Once the temperature reaches 80, the horn sounds and the lights flash.
They have won the patent at a good time. Last week, the United States Congress passed the Hot Car Act, which will require automakers to install child-reminder devices in all cars built starting in 2018.
Tyler and Mason have invented a device will cost about $50 retail, a small price for saving lives. Drivers won’t have to buy a new car in order to own the child-saving technology.
Tyler and Mason and their teacher have affirmed my commitment to teaching young people to work in technology. Tyler and Mason are two more young people who will help us to attract new companies to Arkansas even as we give our home-grown talent more reason to pursue their professions in their home state.
Opportunities for College Students06/09/2017
It is well known that economic growth for our state is one of my top priorities.
Another of my priorities is a high-quality education system that will increase our workforce with more graduates who can program computers, balance budgets, create new products and in so many other ways improve the opportunities in Arkansas.
With that goal, one of my priorities during the just concluded 91st General Session was legislation to increase the number of Arkansans who further their education beyond high school. The result of that is the Arkansas Future scholarship program, which the Arkansas Department of Higher Education calls ArFuture for short.
We are accepting applications, and the deadline for the 2017-2018 school year has been extended to July 1.
Any prospective college student who has graduated from an Arkansas high school, Arkansas homeschool, or GED program is eligible to apply. And anyone with a high school diploma who has lived in Arkansas for the past three years can apply.
The only requirement is that you must enroll in a high-demand or STEM program and cannot already have a bachelor’s degree. You must complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid and apply through the Department of Higher Education’s online YOUniversal scholarship portal.
Through the ArFuture Grant, we are ensuring that all Arkansans have access to affordable higher education by a grant that pays all tuition and mandatory fees through a two-year college program or technical school.
Our other scholarship program, of course, is the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship, which provides approximately 30,000 scholarships each year to in-state residents.
This is a scholarship that is funded by the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery. The deadline to apply for that scholarship is June 15. Scholarships are available for four-year schools, two-year programs and approved nursing schools. The amount of the scholarship increases for students who remain in school. We reward students for succeeding in higher education – those who seek a four-year undergraduate degree in biology and those who seek two-year associate degree in welding.
The two important deadlines to remember are June 15 for the Arkansas Academic Challenge Scholarship and July 1 for ArFuture. I encourage you to take advantage of the educational opportunities your state offers and join forces to make Arkansas better than ever.
Glenwood is a sawmill town that is on the rebound, and the townsfolk are excited.
I saw this firsthand this week when I went to Glenwood to cut the ribbon for Caddo River Forest Products. Caddo River is a new company that is reopening the old Curtis Bean sawmill that shut down in 2010.
Glenwood is in the part of the state we call the Wood Basket, where you can see the strength of Arkansas’s timber industry in the hundreds of thousands of acres of trees.
The closing of the Bean mill threw three-hundred people out of work. Some people moved away. Others drove long distances to work. School enrollment fell.
Seven years later, though, the sawmill is up and running, backed by investors who know the business. The state has helped, but it was the local support that made the critical difference. In addition, a local café has reopened and a real-estate company is opening an office there.
Billy Plyler is one of the many people I met in the planing shed at the ceremony on Thursday. Billy’s family owns John Plyler’s Home Center, which started as a plumbing store in the 1940s, then added lumber. Now it sells a little bit of everything. The company celebrated its 70th anniversary this year.
Billy, who has lived his entire 63 years in Glenwood, said business has fallen off forty percent over the past seven years. But in the year since Caddo started refurbishing the mill, sales have picked up. Plyler’s even sold Caddo River its new flagpole.
The mill has hired about 100 people already, and every job in the mill represents another job in the logging woods.
Billy is of the opinion that a sawmill creates more indirect jobs than any other industry.
“They have got to have somebody in the woods getting logs to them,” Billy said.
The news is all good. Plyler’s will sell lumber milled at Caddo River. “I hope I’m the first load out of there,” Billy said.
At Thursday’s event, the podium was bordered by thousands of board feet of two-by-sixes that are waiting to be dried and planed. The lumber is evidence that the perseverance and hard work of so many will pay off.
I see a lot of good days ahead as our state is attracting industry from around the world even as we take care of business with our Arkansas-grown industries such as the Caddo River sawmill in Glenwood.
The Forefront of Computer Science Education05/26/2017
If everything about my job was as easy and as much fun as encouraging students to learn to program a computer, I wouldn’t call it work at all.
My granddaughter educated me about coding when she wrote an app that we used during my campaign for governor. I was so impressed, and she was only 11 at the time. So implementing computer coding education became one of my core initiatives.
Two months after I became governor, I signed the law that requires all public and charter schools to teach coding. Arkansas was the first to do so. Three years later, more than 5,000 students all over the state are learning to program. That is nearly a 400 percent increase over four years ago.
On my Fourth Governor’s Coding Tour, I visited the high schools in Russellville, Flippin, Yellville, Sheridan, Watson Chapel, and Mountain Home. In Mountain Home, I met Jackie Meissner. Jackie is a graduate of Mountain Home and returned to her alma mater to teach seven years ago.
Jackie graduated from the University of Arkansas with a master’s degree. As a student at Mountain Home, she was a member of the robotics team. In 2012, she led her students to an international robotics championship.
And then at Sheridan High School, I met Chris Jones. The state coding requirement is the reason Chris Jones got a teaching job at Sheridan.
Chris, who grew up in Bryant, was a business major. He was applying to teach business at Sheridan. But what principal Rodney Jones really needed was a computer science teacher.
Chris had practically no knowledge of coding. In fact, his only experience was two weeks of self-taught coding as a student teacher at Central High.
Principal Jones asked Chris whether he would be willing to teach computer science.
Chris said: “I would have said anything to get the job. [I said] ‘Of course I would.’”
So in the summer of 2016, Chris took advantage of a governor’s stipend to study coding at Henderson State.
After only two years with the program, Sheridan will offer an AP class in computer coding in the fall of 2017.
Teachers like Chris and Jackie have led Arkansas to the forefront of computer science education in the nation. As our reputation spreads, and businesses look more and more to move to Arkansas, we can offer them a well-educated work force.
With the enthusiasm and skill I saw on the fourth coding tour, I returned to Little Rock with plenty to brag about when we recruit companies to do business in this state.
*Click HERE to view the recap of the Fourth Governor's Coding Tour.
The MyIdea Project05/19/2017
From the day I took office in January 2015, one of my primary goals has been to cut out unnecessary government and to streamline the parts of government that are worth keeping. I want to transform Arkansas state government.
On Thursday, we launched a program we are confident will accelerate that transformation. I am confident this will succeed because we are tapping into the best resource available: the 3 million people who live in Arkansas.
We call this project MyIdea. MyIdea is a statewide high-tech suggestion box that allows anyone with an idea and access to a computer or a telephone to submit tips for trimming government or improving government service.
Some of the nation’s most successful products were discovered in employee suggestion boxes, including 3M’s Post-it notes and Amazon-dot-com’s Prime membership program.
But MyIdea is not an employee suggestion box. It is for every citizen to make suggestions on how we can do better in state government.
To quote Sam Walton, the founder of Wal-Mart: “There is only one boss. The customer. And he can fire everybody in the company from the chairman on down, simply by spending his money somewhere else.”
MyIdea gives you a direct line to tell us how we can improve the delivery of services for the customer.
The three-step process is simple: Go to the website, which is MyIdea.arkansas.gov.
In the first box, we will ask you to tell us your idea.
In the second box, we will ask you to tell us how to implement your idea.
The last step is to give us information about yourself and how to contact you, although that is not required. We will accept anonymous suggestions. If you would prefer to offer your idea by phone, the number is 844-7-MYIDEA.
We will monitor the agencies as they consider your suggestions. Employees of the state’s Department of Finance will monitor the website and phones. We have not added a single job in state government to implement this initiative.
DFA will forward each idea to the head of the appropriate agency. I have instructed each agency to respond within 30 days. And you will be contacted to thank you for your idea and to let you know if we will be able to use it.
We are launching MyIdea to help me to keep my promise to transform government. In addition, I have appointed Amy Fecher chief transformation officer. Amy is executive vice president of operations for Arkansas Economic Development. In the spirit of MyIdea, Amy accepted this significant addition to her responsibilities without an increase in salary.
The best ideas often come from those who see a process with fresh eyes. I hope to hear from a lot of you.
Arkansans Bounce Back05/12/2017
As the floodwaters in northeast Arkansas recede, we are only beginning to measure the devastation and loss in that corner of our state. I have flown over the area twice, most recently with Sonny Perdue, our U.S. Secretary of Agriculture, and we observe that the flooding is enormous.
The damage we see in photographs and video is striking, but as Secretary Perdue noted, you have to see the hundreds of square miles of water with your own eyes to begin to understand how bad it is.
The winds and water across the state killed nine Arkansans. We are blessed that the toll of the dead and injured didn’t go higher. We don’t know the exact monetary cost of the damage to dwellings, buildings and crops, but we know it will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
A team from the Federal Emergency Management Agency started its assessment on Wednesday. Representatives from the Arkansas Department of Emergency Management, the Small Business Administration, and local emergency agencies joined FEMA in inspecting about 90 of 400 homes in Washington County this week.
The team rates damage to homes as minor, moderate, damaged or destroyed. Melody Daniel, who is the deputy public information officer for ADEM, reported to my office that the team she accompanied saw major damage to homes.
Some homes were not on the list for inspection because homeowners had not reported damage. “If you have damage, let your local emergency management office know,” Melody said.
The Arkansas Army National Guard deployed 116 soldiers during the height of the storm.
Army National Guard Lieutenant Dalton Shannon coordinated rescues over the hardest-hit counties of Randolph, Clay, Lawrence, White and Prairie. The National Guard and Arkansas Game and Fish Commission agents made more than 50 water rescues in Randolph County alone.
Game and Fish agents picked up residents in boats and transported them to soldiers waiting in National Guard trucks to take them to shelters. The communities took great care of the men and women who arrived to help. Townsfolks cooked for them, washed their clothes, and gave them places to shower and sleep, Lieutenant Shannon said.
In spite of the mind-boggling destruction that Melody Daniel saw, the bigger impression that her trip left on her was the spirit of Arkansans.
As she said, “Arkansas as a state is resilient to disasters.” She saw one woman who was taking a break from the cleanup to work in her flowerbed.
“People were happy someone was there to look at the damage. We bounce back. We work together. That warms my heart, makes me proud.”
I declared a state of emergency for all of Arkansas on May 1. President Trump sent Secretary Perdue, a former farmer and an ex-governor of Georgia, to Arkansas on May 7. We hope for a federal declaration, which will infuse more money into our efforts.
There is little we can do to erase the grief and emotional trauma of this loss. But I hope you will have confidence that we have not forgotten you. We will do everything in our power to help you recover from the physical loss. To repeat Melody Daniel: Arkansans bounce back.
The Courage of Arkansas’s First Responders05/05/2017
On a tour of our state this week, I saw rivers topping levees and creeks covering highways. I saw washed-out roads and houses battered by wind and filled with floodwater.
And over several days, I learned at least seven Arkansans had died in storm-related incidents, including firefighter Doug Deckard, who was chief of the Cove Creek Pearson Fire Department.
Chief Deckard was killed on Saturday when a car struck him as he inspected water lines along Arkansas 25.
Thursday was International Firefighters Day, and Chief Deckard’s death reminds us of the risks that our first responders take to keep us safe. When civilians are fleeing from harm, police officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, and forestry firefighters are running headlong into danger. They often are the first to arrive, and most of the time, they don’t know exactly what they are about to face.
Sometimes, as Chief Deckard’s death reminds us, the difference between a routine call and high danger is nothing more than a rain-slick highway.
Or in the case of Oak Grove Fire Chief Randy Pogue, the danger was from an icy highway.
Chief Pogue was driving a fire truck over icy roads to the scene of an accident near Maumelle in 2014. The truck slipped off the highway and crashed into a ditch. The impact of the crash broke his back. He died a month later of complications from his injuries.
Former Little Rock firefighter Marvin Benton says: “There is no such thing as a routine call.” Marvin suffered burns over 38 percent of his body when a burning house collapsed. “I was burning to death,” he says.
He spent two months in the hospital, and even after two years of rehabilitation, his career as a firefighter was over. He has written a book about his life called “Unfallen Hero.”
But not all of their calls, obviously, end in tragedy. The first responders often save lives. Rusty McClain, who just retired after 25 years with the Wynne fire department, remembers that one of his first calls was a head-on crash in which a young woman’s legs were pinned beneath the dash of her car. Rescuers cut their way into the car and put in two IV lines, which Rusty held. “She survived. She could walk,” Rusty says. And he adds, “That really changed how I looked at my job.
“Sometimes young people or parents will come up and hug you. They remember you from working a wreck.”
In 2014, firefighters dedicated a memorial statue in honor of firefighters who died in the line of duty. With the help of the state legislature and many private contributors, the Arkansas Fallen Firefighters Memorial stands as a tribute to the sacrifice of all firefighters, and in memory of those who died protecting others.
The 108 names inscribed on the memorial include Stewart Warren, Ed Hudson and Reginald Robinson, all of whom died in an explosion in West Helena in 1997, and Don Payton and David Carpenter, who died later that year fighting a fire in Mammoth Springs.
And so on this weekend, let’s remember the firefighters and other emergency responders and thank them for their service. And let’s remember the sacrifice of Chief Doug Deckard.
Governor Calls Special Session04/28/2017
On Monday, members of the state legislature will meet in Little Rock to gavel in an extraordinary session of the 91st General Assembly. Though we will take up several items, the primary purpose will be to consider timely reforms to the state’s Medicaid expansion program called Arkansas Works.
Since I took office in 2015, my administration has repeatedly sought waivers from the federal government to allow us to add cost-saving reforms to Arkansas Works. These changes will enable us to tailor the program to the unique needs of our state and ensure that the program is sustainable. I am happy to say that the changes we intend to make are now likely to be approved by the Trump administration. I am confident that the Legislature will authorize the state to formally ask the federal government to approve the proposals.
One of the waivers would allow us to establish work requirements for certain able-bodied adults covered by Arkansas Works. To do this, the Department of Workforce Services will link Arkansas Works participants to career training and job search services. Individuals who participate in these programs will satisfy the work requirement. This is a common-sense reform that will promote personal responsibility and empower Arkansans to climb the economic ladder and to obtain commercial insurance. Arkansans want to work, and this initiative provides the training and opportunities to help them do just that.
The second waiver we are seeking would reduce the income eligibility limit for Arkansas Works from 138 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. This will save $66 million over the next four years and enable us to focus our Medicaid resources on Arkansans who are elderly, disabled, and those in poverty. Those without access to affordable employer-sponsored coverage will be eligible for federal subsidies through the health insurance exchange. As a result, all Arkansans will continue to have access to affordable coverage options.
While Washington continues to debate federal health reform, we are working to ensure that Arkansas’s health care safety net is effective and sustainable. We will continue to take steps to streamline and strengthen Arkansas Works, while also encouraging participation in the private insurance market.
Other items on the agenda for the special session include a bill to increase the transparency of the Arkansas Health Insurance Marketplace, bills to consolidate medical marijuana and certain ethics laws passed during the regular legislative session, and a bill to transfer $105 million to a long-term reserve fund. But our primary mission will be to enact conservative reforms to Arkansas Works that will save millions of taxpayer dollars and enable us to tailor a uniquely Arkansas approach to health care. I am asking the legislature to act quickly to approve these waivers so that we can adjourn within three days with a victory for the people of Arkansas.
Arkansas’s National Treasure04/21/2017
We have endured the early mornings and late nights of the 91st legislative session, which is enough to require some rest and recreation out of town.
And with a special session looming in May, the Buffalo River getaway the First Lady and I have planned is looking even more like a really good idea.
I was in law school when I first discovered the Buffalo River, which stretches 153 miles from the headwater to its confluence with the White River. The U.S. government declared the Buffalo a national river in 1972, the first river to earn that distinction.
I have floated the river and enjoyed each bend. I introduced my sons to the river and look forward to enjoying it with my grandchildren.
I treasure the Buffalo River, and I want to keep it healthy.
I am not the only person, obviously, who treasures the river. Some of our writers in our state’s Parks and Tourism Department have spent as much time as anyone on the river, and they have written beautifully about it and its tributaries.
“The Preserve is 1,316 acres of beautiful, rugged Ozark forest bisected by Smith Creek, a tributary to the Buffalo National River.” And she notes there are more than 10 miles of hiking trails, waterfalls, swimming holes and great spots for birding.
She says, “It offers preservation for one of the longest caves in Arkansas and a home for bats. … Sherfield Cave is where the state’s largest colony of Indiana bats hibernates each winter…
“Smith Creek Preserve, along with an easement that The Nature Conservancy purchased … limits disruptions to the endangered bats during hibernation. ... The preserve, which is also home to gray bats, black bears and elk, conserves the surrounding forest necessary for the Indiana bats’ foraging and roosting needs. It also helps ensure the water flowing into the cave and the Buffalo River … remains clean.”
In August 2014, the headline over a story by Democrat-Gazette writer Jack Schnedler said, “Buffalo River waterway is a joy in any season.” In another story, Jack reports on the elk he spotted in Newton County near Ponca. Arkansas’s only herd of elk lives in the Buffalo watershed.
You can read much about the Buffalo River at Parks and Tourism’s website.
Or you can do as the First Lady and I plan to do, and float it for yourself.
Drug Courts: A Compassionate Alternative04/14/2017
This week, I had the privilege of addressing 250 professionals at the Statewide Drug Court Conference in Little Rock. These professionals have embraced a compassionate alternative to prison. Our drug courts give judges and probation and parole officers the freedom to design punishment that fits the person as well as the crime, but still holds them accountable. We personalize consequences and offer a human touch that increases the chance that a person will defeat addictions to drugs and alcohol.
Drug court allows us to tailor the treatment options for participants based upon the strength of their character, rather than their weaknesses. The traditional adversarial system is one of fighting it out. In drug court, both parties are on one team working to encourage success for those who are struggling. By focusing on recovery rather than simple punishment, our drug courts are finding creative ways to help participants battle addiction.
I recently became aware of a new program in Pope County that captures the intent and spirit of drug courts. The agents in the Russellville office realized that a lack of transportation was often an obstacle to success. Using money from an Accountability Court Grant, the drug court has purchased one bicycle and has money for four more. The first individual to take advantage of the bicycle program has not missed a single meeting with the probation office, and now holds a full-time job. The idea “is one of the ways we thought we could increase the chance of staying sober”, according to Lisa Wells who works in the Russellville drug Court.
Drug court cuts costs for states by reducing the number of inmates in state jails. Drug courts also reduce the number of repeat offenders and increases the odds that a user will beat addiction.
Today, nearly 3,000 drug courts operate in the U.S. Of those, 79 are in Arkansas. That number includes 44 drug courts for adults, 13 for juveniles, 1 family drug court, 11 for veterans and 9 for DWI. I have seen the drug fight from many angles — as a community leader, as a member of Congress, as a federal prosecutor, an administrator of the DEA and now as Governor. My heart goes out to the families that struggle with this nightmare.
I appreciate the long hours and the heart the judges and officers of Arkansas’s Drug Court put into this compassionate alternative.
I am serious about reducing drug use in Arkansas. I also want to assure you that I also try to lead by example. In my office, we draw names from the staff for weekly random drug tests. A couple of weeks ago, a representative from the drug-test company drew my name. So I went into a small work room and submitted the inside of my cheek for a swab sample. I am happy to report that I passed.
A drug free Arkansas is a strong Arkansas. I am committed to making Arkansas a better place to live, start a business, or raise a family. I am pleased that Arkansas drug courts are working hard to do the same through providing compassionate and personalized care that provide a way out and a hand up for those in recovery.
Women in Technology04/07/2017
I recently saw the Oscar nominated film Hidden Figures, which prompted me to also read the book of the same name by Margot Lee Shetterly. Hidden Figures shares the true story of three African-American female mathematicians who worked at NASA in the early 1960s. Their contributions would prove to be vital to the launch of astronaut John Glenn into space. These incredible women broke countless social barriers to fill a pivotal role during the height of the Space Race when I was growing up. Their contributions to NASA altered history.
Women provide a critical voice in the workplace, but, in some fields, women are clearly underrepresented. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, only 26 percent of those employed in STEM occupations are women. In Arkansas, we are working to improve that number by encouraging young women to study in these fields to prepare them for careers in business and STEM.
There are currently 5,500 high school students enrolled in computer science courses in Arkansas, and 28 percent of those students are female. This number shows a 49 percent increase in female enrollment in computer science over the previous school year. The percentage of female students involved in computer science has not yet met our goal, but I am confident that our state will continue to see that number rise in coming years.
Arkansas continues to set an example nationally by encouraging young women to engage in STEM fields. Just last month, I was pleased to announce Yessica Jones as the Director of the Department of Information Systems for our state. In addition, she also serves as the State Chief Technology Officer and the State Broadband Manager. Arkansas’s Amy Fecher has also led the way in technology and innovation through her role as Chief Transformation Officer for the state of Arkansas. Both of these leaders have earned national recognition, being named among the Top Women in Technology for 2017 by StateScoop, a national government and technology publication.
Next week, I will attend the Women in IT Conference at the Walton College of Business. I’m looking forward to speaking to the importance of increasing the involvement of women in fields of technology. These leaders serve as an inspiration to other women pursuing STEM careers, and I am confident they will continue to lead the way in advancements in technology in our state.
Altogether, the innovation and entrepreneurship of women in fields of technology play a critical role in enhancing and continuing the development of Arkansas’s technology industry.
In 1961, the "hidden figures" blazed a trail for African-American women by calculating the trajectory for Apollo 11 and 13. Arkansas is hard at work to continue that legacy by training and equipping the next generation of female STEM trailblazers.
Wrapping Up the Session03/31/2017
After three months of rigorous debate, the 91st General Assembly is winding down. As I reflect on the things we have accomplished, I am pleased with the results of this session. We have achieved important goals like providing tax relief for low-income Arkansans and military retirees. We’ve made higher education more accountable for the success of our students and have provided for the education of young Arkansans who want to enter high demand fields. And today we passed the Revenue Stabilization Act to finalize the state’s budget.
This budget includes over $54 million in proposed annual savings for Medicaid. This will result in nearly $126 million in federal savings annually for a combined total of $900 million in state and federal savings over the next 5 years.
This plan also includes $6.1 million in annual general revenue savings from a reduction in the amount of employees on the state payroll. In addition, most of our agency budgets will be held flat during the next two years. This means most general revenue funded agencies will remain at or below their current funding level through 2019. In a world of constantly increasing budgets and bloated government, this is a remarkable achievement.
While it is necessary that we maintain a balanced budget, it is also important that we address some additional areas in need of our attention. For that reason, this budget includes an additional $3 million to ensure that Arkansans have access to quality Pre-K programs and restores funding for state libraries.
The state’s foster care program will also receive an additional $26 million in general revenue to ensure they are equipped to handle their increasing caseload and can properly serve the most vulnerable children in our state.
Additionally, I included $2.5 million to fund teacher training for my computer science initiative. According to Wired Magazine, Arkansas is leading the nation in computer science. Providing our computer science teachers with quality training will ensure that we continue to do so in future.
Another priority reflected in the budget is the establishment of regional Crisis Stabilization Centers, a $5 million project recommended by the Criminal Justice Task Force. These facilities, in conjunction with crisis intervention training, will give local law enforcement officers and first responders the resources they need to effectively deal with the mentally ill, without drawing on the resources of local jails.
This plan takes the responsible approach to budgeting. In fact, the 2.9 percent growth reflected in this budget is lower than the five, ten and twenty year averages for all periods through 2016. I am pleased that we were able to strike the proper balance between maintaining a conservative approach to spending and ensuring that we adequately fund the needs of our state.
Governor’s Legislative Accomplishments03/24/2017
After nearly three months, the work of the Arkansas General Assembly is nearing completion. And while there is more work to be done, I am very pleased that all of my legislative priorities have passed.
The first item we tackled was the $50 million tax cut for lower-income Arkansans. This builds upon my $100 million tax cut for the middle class from 2015 and sets the stage for future reductions as we work towards a long-term goal of flattening Arkansas’s tax rate.
I was also pleased to sign the retired military tax cut into law. This will eliminate the state income tax on military retirement pay. We want to make Arkansas an even better place for military retirees and their families.
Another priority we accomplished was redirecting a portion of the Tobacco Settlement Funds to decrease the backlog of those on the disability waitlist. This underscores our state’s commitment to those in need.
When it comes to education, I eagerly anticipate the outcomes of our new Higher Education Productivity Funding formula. It’s a model that will focus on student success and program completion instead of just enrollment numbers.
In Arkansas, student achievement is paramount. To help students complete their degrees, we created the Arkansas Future Grant program. Now, students who are pursuing a high-demand field of study, like computer science or welding, will receive funding for two years of tuition and fees at an Arkansas community or technical college. This will increase educational opportunities for our high school graduates.
When it comes to managing the use of taxpayer dollars, it’s important to always be looking for ways to be more efficient and cost-effective. During the session, we did this by eliminating over a dozen unnecessary boards and commissions. Additionally, we proposed realignment of several agencies to improve their delivery of services; and we created the Transformation Advisory Board, who are volunteer citizens, to help find ways to improve state government and the services it provides.
For state employees, legislation was passed to reform the state pay plan, and for our law enforcement community, I signed the Mental Health Crisis Stabilization Centers bill into law – which will help reduce the incarceration rate of those with mental illness and increase public safety.
And last, but certainly not least, we separated the dual holiday celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and General Robert E. Lee, in addition to supporting Civil War education in the classroom. This initiative was especially meaningful to me, and I could not be more pleased with the outcome and bipartisanship of this bill’s passage.
Thanks to the great work of the members of the 91st General Assembly, our state has enacted measures that drive economic development and identify better ways to serve Arkansans. As governor, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished this session, and I look forward even greater milestones as we reach those in the future.
Arkansas’s Tourism Boom03/17/2017
Earlier this week, I joined nearly 400 tourism leaders at the 43rd Annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism. It was an opportunity to highlight the outstanding accomplishments of those in Arkansas’s tourism industry and to kick off the travel season.
It’s been another record year for Arkansas. There are more visitors spending more money in our state than ever before. In 2016, we hosted more than 29 million visitors who spent almost $7.7 billion in total travel expenditures. Visitor-spending in 2016 was 5% more than it was in 2015, and this continues the growth we have seen in our tourism industry over the past few years. Since 2012, total travel expenditures in Arkansas have increased by more than 32%.
Once again, this goes to show just how important tourism is to our state’s economic development. A strong tourism industry provides support for our state’s growing economy, and a strong state economy creates opportunity for our tourism industry to grow. Each one spurs the other, and ultimately, Arkansans reap the benefits.
This past year, I have had the opportunity to see tourism develop in almost every region of the state.
In the fall, I visited South Arkansas to celebrate the dedication of the El Dorado Arts & Entertainment District—an $80 million project, which will transform six city blocks into a thriving community of great food, art and El Dorado charm.
I also recently visited the Delta for the grand opening of Big River Crossing—the longest pedestrian bridge in the United States. At nearly a mile in length, Big River Crossing connects West Memphis to Memphis, providing a state-of-the-art track for cyclists and pedestrians alike.
Mountain biking and cycling is a growing market niche in the state, attracting travelers and enhancing the quality of life of our residents. That’s why I also attended the International Mountain Biking Association World Summit in Bentonville, which brought over 500 visitors from 40 states and 11 countries to Northwest Arkansas.
From corner to corner, the Natural State is brimming with beauty, hospitality, history and culture. Whether you travel down the road or across the state, Arkansas has something for everyone.
Eat Better, Live Better03/10/2017
In July of this year, Savannah Shields of Fayetteville was crowned Miss Arkansas. Just a few months later, she would go on to earn the title of Miss America. Savannah, or Savvy as she’s commonly known, ran on the platform of Eat Better, Live Better. She decided on her platform of healthy living because of her own difficulty with sleeping and migraines as a result of an unhealthy diet. After changing her diet, Savannah felt noticeably better and was able to improve her focus and get better sleep.
Now that she’s been crowned Miss America, Savvy will spend the next year traveling to promote healthy lifestyle choices in diet and exercise all across the country.
Savannah’s advocacy for healthy lifestyle choices is particularly relevant here in Arkansas. In a recent survey, nearly half of the Arkansans who responded reported that they consumed less than one serving of fruit per day, and another 30 percent claimed to eat less than a serving of vegetables daily.
Of greater concern, 36 percent of the state’s adult population is considered overweight. This is an area where we must improve. An unhealthy Arkansas is an expensive matter for the people of our state. In fact, those suffering from obesity spend on average $1429 more per year on medical expenses. This issue also hits taxpayers in the pocket, as 40 cents of every dollar spent on healthcare costs are public funds. According to the National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the medical costs associated with unhealthy lifestyles total $1.2 billion a year in Arkansas alone.
To change this, we launched the Healthy Active Arkansas program. Healthy Active Arkansas is the state’s strategic plan to encourage and empower Arkansans to make healthy lifestyle choices by implementing community based strategies to increase access to healthy food options. One of the ways we are improving access to healthy foods is by promoting the state’s wonderful farmer’s markets. These markets increase the availability of healthy eating options by providing our communities with delicious locally grown food. I encourage you to support our farmer’s markets by finding healthy recipes that incorporate your favorite locally grown produce.
Healthy Active Arkansas also seeks to increase the opportunities for exercise. One of the ways I enjoy staying active is by playing basketball. In fact, just this morning, I woke up early to play a few pick-up games with a group of early risers on my staff.
As we move into Spring, I invite you to find your own fun ways to get exercise, whether by joining a competitive sports league or playing a pick-up game between friends. While you may not win every game, you cannot lose when you make the right choices when it comes to improving your diet and exercise.
Learning from History03/03/2017
In July 1962, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. sat in a small jail cell in Birmingham, Alabama and penned a collection of his most powerful sermons, which were later compiled in a book called Strength to Love. In that book of sermons, Dr. King wrote these compelling words: “We are not makers of history. We are made by history.”
The defining points of our past inform our decisions in the present, and it is important that we emphasize the lessons we can learn from history today.
I am pleased that Senate Bill 519 has been filed to emphasize the historic importance of the work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the classroom. Under this act, our state will enact a statewide policy of teaching our children about the lessons in leadership from the Civil War for the first time. In addition, this bill will coordinate classroom instruction about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and other civil rights leaders.
At its core, this bill is about teaching history, but that’s not all. This legislation also separates the holidays honoring General Robert E. Lee and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. – giving a distinct day to honor Dr. King and a day of remembrance for Robert E. Lee.
As governor, I’m pleased to announce my support and endorsement of this important legislation. This week, I have asked the General Assembly to support this proposal as it goes through the legislative process, and I will work to see that it is fairly presented.
The separation of these holidays is important for all Arkansans to fully recognize the contributions of Dr. King. It is my sincere hope that we are united in celebrating the legacy of Martin Luther King – his courage, his conviction and his lasting influence on our nation.
This legislation not only gives us an opportunity to emphasize important lessons learned from our past; it gives us the opportunity to show respect to each other in the present. Whenever we feel divided – over race, religion or politics – may we remember this as a mark of mutual respect and unity for our state and nation.
From the capitol to the classroom, we are making decisions and creating ideas that are shaping history. It is my firm conviction that these measures are the right direction for our state. And I hope to see history shaped yet again, by the members Arkansas General Assembly and the people of Arkansas.
Efficiencies and Model T’s02/24/2017
Several years after Ford Motor Company was founded, the Model T hit the market in 1908. It captured what Henry Ford wanted for the everyday American – an affordable, reliable and efficient automobile.
To keep up with the high demand, Ford revolutionized his production process, which allowed the company to build vehicles faster and keep costs lower. He was innovative, efficient and consistently worked to meet the needs of consumers. By the late 1920’s, Ford Motor Company had become the largest manufacturer in the world, having produced more than 15 million Model T’s.
Now, I’ve never built a Model T, but I have worked to improve the performance and efficiency of state government. Just as Henry Ford focused on producing his autos efficiently, today, we turn our focus on creating leaner government services in Arkansas.
In 2015, the Arkansas legislature voted to consolidate four state agencies at my request. Already, these moves have helped our agencies streamline services and better utilize taxpayer dollars. Over the next five years, we’re expected to save around $10 million. These changes are yielding big savings – and contributing to a new generation of ideas and efficiencies in state government. This year, I proposed three additional reforms:
First, transferring the Energy Office from the Arkansas Department of Economic Development to the Department of Environmental Quality in order to more effectively implement our energy programs.
Secondly, moving the Office of Health Information Technology from being a stand-alone agency to the Department of Health.
And finally, transferring the War Memorial Stadium Commission to the Department of Parks and Tourism, giving the stadium access to more resources and new marketing opportunities for revitalization.
Thanks to the work of the General Assembly, these three efficiency measures have passed and will soon become law. I’m pleased to see our state’s lawmakers and leaders coming together and working smarter for the people we serve. Reducing the costs of government and being more efficient is something we work on every day.
In the words of Henry Ford, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” When we work together, there’s nothing our state can’t accomplish. It’s not a Model T, but it’s a model that’s reliable, efficient and makes state government work well for everyone.
The Story of Scipio Jones02/17/2017
When I think about black history in Arkansas, I am always reminded of the pivotal role African Americans have played in the development of our state. From trailblazers like Daisy Bates, to poets like Maya Angelou, many exceptional black Americans have called Arkansas home.
One of those exceptional Americans was Scipio Jones. Jones was born into slavery in 1863. After gaining his freedom, Scipio Jones enrolled in Philander Smith College to begin his studies, before eventually earning his bachelor’s degree from Shorter College in North Little Rock. After graduation, Jones continued his education by reading law books and studying under Little Rock attorneys in his spare time, and in 1889 he took the Arkansas Bar Exam and passed.
Through determination Scipio Jones eventually became one of the most prominent black attorneys in Little Rock. He used his talents to defend African Americans from discrimination in the court system, successfully arguing to have several wrongful convictions overturned.
But what Scipio Jones is best known for his defense of twelve black men unfairly sentenced to death for inciting mob violence. In October of 1919, an episode of racial violence would break out that would catapult the Arkansas Delta into the national spotlight. The three days of violence that ensued would later become known as The Elaine Race Massacre. In the aftermath of the tragedy, five whites and an untold number of African Americans were dead.
After a hasty trial, twelve African American men were sentenced to death for their alleged roles in the massacre in a trial that was marked by the presence of mobs and threats of lynchings. Undeterred by threats of violence, Scipio Jones jumped at the opportunity to represent these twelve in their appeal. He was determined ensure they were given a fair trial.
After some brilliant legal maneuvering, Jones successfully had the Elaine 12’s sentences overturned by the Supreme Court, saving each of them from the death penalty.
To this day, Jones’s victory in the Moore vs. Dempsey case is considered a landmark decision for the court. The ruling established a precedent for the high court’s use of writs of habeas corpus to ensure that lower court trials did not deprive citizens of their right to due process.
Scipio Jones bravely risked his life to seek justice for his clients. In doing so, he opened an avenue for others to seek justice through the Supreme Court. I am proud that Arkansas history is full of trailblazers and courageous men like Jones, who have left their mark on the history of our state. This Black History Month I invite you to learn more about men like Scipio Jones who have contributed so much to both Arkansas and American history.
Retired Military Tax Cut02/10/2017
It’s been two years since Adam and Brittany Boccher moved to Little Rock from Houston, Texas. Because Adam is a seventeen-year Air Force Special Investigations Agent, his family is accustomed to adapting whenever his orders take them somewhere new.
But when Adam, Brittany and their two small children settled into life in Central Arkansas, they knew it was the right place for their family.
While Adam works 60 hours per week at the Little Rock Air Force Base, Brittany serves as a small business owner and the founder of a local non-profit. Rather than living at the base, they decided to move to a nearby neighborhood in the effort to better immerse into the Little Rock community. This Texas family planted deep roots in Arkansas.
But with only three years until Adam’s retirement from the military, the Boccher family has been considering where they will settle in the coming years. According to Brittany, one of the biggest factors in their decision is the state’s tax rate on veteran’s retirement benefits.
The family had been expecting to move back to Texas after Adam’s retirement, but because of this week’s passage of House Bill 1162, also known as the Retired Military Tax Cut, Adam and Brittany Boccher say that they now plan to call Arkansas “their forever home.”
These are the stories that I love to hear. That’s why I proposed the Retired Military Tax Cut in the effort to recruit new military retirees to the state by eliminating the tax on military retirement pay.
This week, the Retired Military Tax Cut passed through the General Assembly with wide bi-partisan support in both the Arkansas House and Senate, and this new law will go into effect starting January 2018.
This is great news for all Arkansans. Creating tax relief for military retirees will not only make Arkansas a more military friendly retirement destination but will also encourage veterans to start their second careers or open a business right here in the Natural State.
The average new military retiree is 38-44 years old and will have another 20+ years of productive earning as part of Arkansas’s workforce. Adding these skilled and educated veterans to our workforce will further prompt economic development in our state.
When involved, hard working veteran families like the Bocchers choose Arkansas as their permanent home, our communities are made better, our economy is made better and, ultimately, our state is stronger. And I have no doubt that the steps Arkansas has taken to reduce the tax on military retired pay will do just that.
$50 Million Tax Cut Passes02/03/2017
The 91st General Assembly opened on January 9 and the session is now in full swing. I am honored to work with our legislature to make our state a better state to live, work and retire. With the approval of the General Assembly, I am pleased to announce the passage of my $50 million tax cut through both houses with overwhelming bipartisan support. The bill arrived on my desk on Wednesday of this week, and I was proud to sign it into law.
While my first round of tax cuts targeted middle income levels—those making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year—this second tax cut will bring relief to the state’s lower income brackets, specifically Arkansans who earn below $21,000 annually.
This plan reduces the burden on an estimated 657,000 working Arkansans, 120,000 of whom will be removed from the tax rolls completely. With the signing of this bill, over 1.3 million Arkansans—or 90% of the state’s individual income taxpayers—will have benefited from substantive tax relief legislation since 2015.
As Governor, I frequently meet with companies who are looking to create jobs or move their operations to the state. Through these conversations, it is clear to me that one of the main factors these companies take into consideration when deciding where to locate is a state’s income tax burden. The lower the income tax in a given state, the higher likelihood that companies will consider locating there. That’s why one of my top priorities has been to bring Arkansas’s income tax rate closer in line with our surrounding states, so that we have a better chance of competing for the business of companies who are looking to create jobs or relocate in the region.
As Governor, it is important for me to balance the needs of our state with responsible tax policy. While I know there are those out there who were hoping for much larger tax cuts, it is clear that this is the most conservative reduction we could make at this time. We have taken a responsible approach to lessening the state’s income tax burden, while also ensuring that the state is still able to meet its obligations.
I have no doubt that the steps we are taking to reduce the tax burden will make Arkansas more competitive with our surrounding states and will spur job creation, economic growth, and put more money back into the pockets of hardworking Arkansans.
RISE to the Occasion01/27/2017
Reading has always been one of my favorite pastimes. Today, most of my reading goes home with me in binders of issues and ideas for our state, information on the next day’s meetings and new legislation. But whenever I get the chance, I love to sit down with a good book and expand my understanding of the world around me.
Reading is critical for people of all ages, especially our youngest learners. That’s why my office and the Arkansas Department of Education are spearheading an effort to foster a culture of reading across the state. The Reading Initiative for Student Excellence – or RISE Arkansas, for short – is a bold, new campaign promoting literacy and highlighting the importance of reading proficiency for student success.
The Department of Education is hard at work organizing events to support the goals of RISE Arkansas. They are kicking-off a social media campaign, hosting their Second Annual Reading Conference for educators, and continuing their work with community partners.
Additionally, the department has created the RISE Academy to improve literacy training for Arkansas teachers and has put books into the hands of students and schools. Our goal is to work with community education partners to cultivate vibrant reading communities, not just in schools, but wherever possible, including at home and in libraries across the state.
Student success may be measured in the classroom, but it starts at home. Author and poet Maya Angelou once said, “Any book that helps a child to form a habit of reading, to make reading one of his deep and continuing needs, is good for him.” Studies show that when a student has age-appropriate books available to them in the home, they are more likely to experience greater academic success, regardless of their parents’ education level.
According to our National Assessment of Educational Progress test scores, only 31 percent of Arkansas’s fourth grade students were proficient in reading in 2015. The proficiency scores for eighth grade students were even lower at 27 percent. That same year, under 40 percent of Arkansas’s graduating seniors met reading readiness benchmarks on the ACT. These numbers demonstrate the importance of establishing a culture of reading that will elevate student success in the classroom and open our children’s eyes to new horizons. Let’s all continue working together and RISE to the occasion.
As governor, I encourage you to explore ways that you can promote reading in your communities by organizing a book drive, volunteering to read to students or donating books to local libraries. These actions might seem small, but they can go a long way.
Daisy Growing in Arkansas01/20/2017
Earlier this week, I attended the 2017 Shooting Hunting and Outdoor Show, known as the SHOT Show, where I had the privilege of announcing more jobs are coming to Arkansas. I joined officials from Daisy Outdoor Products and their parent company, Gamo Outdoors USA, to announce Daisy is expanding in Rogers, where the company is headquartered and manufactures airguns. In addition, Gamo Outdoors announced plans to relocate their corporate headquarters to Rogers. Through this growth, approximately 30 new jobs will be created at the Daisy/Gamo Outdoors facility.
The SHOT Show has been good to Arkansas. I was the first Arkansas governor to attend the show as we realized this is a wonderful opportunity to speak directly to leaders in the firearms and ammunition industry. I talk about the many reasons Arkansas is a great fit for business. A central location, a workforce with knowledge and experience in firearms manufacturing and our support of the Second Amendment make Arkansas a perfect location for any firearms or ammunition company considering expanding or relocating.
It was these factors that made two job creation announcements possible at last year’s SHOT Show. At the 2016 show, we announced SIG Sauer would locate a new ammunition manufacturing facility in Jacksonville and also announced Remington’s plans to expand their existing facility in Lonoke.
Together, these announcements mean more than 130 new, good-paying jobs for Arkansans. SIG Sauer has now completed all renovations on their new manufacturing facility in Jacksonville and production is scheduled to begin soon. In fact, the company recently held a hiring event and then extended employment offers to more than 50 applicants for what will be their first shift. SIG Sauer’s leadership reported they were very impressed with the quality and experience of our workforce.
While world-class firearms brands such as SIG Sauer continue to locate new facilities in the state, Daisy has been manufacturing products in Arkansas since 1958, when they moved all operations to Rogers. Daisy is a name not just familiar to Arkansans. The company, which is celebrating 130 years in the airgun business, has had well-respected airguns in the youth and young adult categories for decades, and it’s no wonder why Ralphie dreamed of owning one in the classic movie, “A Christmas Story.”
Another example of a growing Arkansas-based gun company is Wilson Combat in Berryville. A producer of high-end custom firearms, ammunition, and accessories, gun enthusiasts travel from around the world to tour their Berryville manufacturing facility, where more than 150 people are employed with continued plans for growth.
National media is taking notice of our growth in the firearms and ammunition sector. Forbes magazine named Arkansas among the most gun-friendly states. We have the second-highest rates of gun ownership among all states with 42 firearms for every thousand residents. As an avid duck hunter myself, I can certainly understand why Ducks Unlimited ranked eastern Arkansas as one of the “Greatest Places to Hunt Waterfowl.”
The economic impact of the industry on our state is undeniable. The National Shooting Sports Foundation reported 2,600 Arkansans were directly employed by firearms manufacturers and another 1,300 Arkansans were employed indirectly. The industry accounted for more than $145 million in direct wages in Arkansas annually along with an overall output of more than $700 million.
While other states are regulating gun manufacturers away, Arkansas is here with open arms. By reaching out to our nation’s gun and ammunition related businesses, we have an unprecedented opportunity to grow and diversify our economy. That is why I was proud to represent Arkansas at the SHOT Show last week.
Governor’s State of the State01/13/2017
This week's Column and Radio Address is the Governor's State of the State Address to a Joint Session of the 91st General Assembly on January 10, 2017.
Thank you, and I salute you as well. It is good to be back with you.
Mr. Lieutenant Governor, President Dismang, Speaker Gillam, Members of the General Assembly, Mr. Chief Justice, Members of the Court—I see Cabinet Members here as well that are key parts of my administration.
This is an occasion that is meaningful to me, personally, but it is also significant for the state of Arkansas because we are gathered together as Arkansans, as people who are devoted to the public good. And so, those of you who are new here, congratulations. Those of you who are returning, congratulations—and I’ll tell you, there are surprises in both categories.
I also see our constitutional officers that are here, and that makes this a particularly auspicious occasion to kick off the 91st Session of the General Assembly.
Another year is upon us, and the year 2017 brings historic opportunities for our state and the people we serve.
Speaking of history, 50 years ago today on January 10, 1967, Winthrop Rockefeller was inaugurated as the 37th Governor of Arkansas. In addressing the 67th General Assembly, he said this:
“It is true that you have been allotted an unusual moment in the history of Arkansas, as have I… a moment subject to special scrutiny… laden with special challenges… and rich with special opportunities. I believe that together we can become worthy of the moment.”
Today, ladies and gentleman, we have our own moment in history and we can only be worthy of this moment if we work together.
We, together, have been chosen by the people of Arkansas to govern and to lead in three, coequal branches of government—all represented here today. And we must govern and lead, not only with a spirit of cooperation, but within the context of our time—our time in history.
And what defines our time in history? Our place in history is defined—I think you will agree—by change.
Every generation faces change, but in today’s world though, the change comes at a faster clip than ever before. Our time of change includes the exponential growth and unbounded potential of technology, the persistent challenge of terrorism, the competitive and ever-evolving global market place, and, quite frankly, the reduced level of confidence in our institutions of government.
All of this, all of this change impacts us here in Arkansas. But while change defines our place in history, we must not be driven by the wind. We must be anchored and confident that our character and values will shape the future of Arkansas and the decisions we make as leaders.
Most certainly, there is not a more exciting time to be an Arkansan. The state of our state, I’m happy to report, is exceptional.
We are growing in terms of people who call Arkansas their home. I expect this year that we will cross the three million mark in population. While some states are enduring out migration, we are enjoying a growth surge. This movement of people to our state is important to our economy and for our international companies that depend upon the ability to attract and retain the best talent in the world.
Last year’s economy grew at a faster pace than three-fourths of the states. Our unemployment rate was significantly lower than the national average and wage rates are going up. Our per capita income increased faster than the national average, as well.
We have more people working today than at any time in history. In fact, 55,000 more Arkansans have jobs today than two years ago. At the same time, people are going to work. Those dependent upon those safety net features appropriately in our society, from SNAP benefits to others, there has been a reduction in food stamp benefit recipients by over 50,000 since 2015. That means we are progressing in our economy.
And we are attracting more visitors to the Natural State than ever before. People want to come here, and entrepreneurs and companies want to locate here.
Companies are locating and expanding in Arkansas from Sig Sauer in Jacksonville to Sun Paper in Arkadelphia; from Metova in Conway to Mars Pet Care in Fort Smith; from FMH Conveyors in Jonesboro to JB Hunt Trucking in Rogers. Yes, we are creating jobs in Arkansas. And we are also, together, working to accomplish other objectives.
We provided a $100 million middle class tax cut. We have moved Arkansas to number one in the nation in computer science education and we have started changing the way we run state government by focusing on efficiency and service.
And with all the change in and out of Arkansas, we need to make sure that Arkansas plays a leading role in shaping the future.
As more authority is returned to the states in the areas of education and healthcare, we have a unique opportunity to innovate, reinforce the important values of work and responsibility, and to assure equal and excellent world class education to every child in Arkansas.
We help shape the global economy because we are global leaders in agriculture, medicine, retailing, manufacturing and energy. Our voice is experienced, it is strong and needs to be heard. We are in a position to shape the global marketplace. We do this through engagement, by education and exchange.
Consistent with these goals, my administration will continue to pursue international opportunities for Arkansas in manufacturing, agriculture, technology and tourism. At the same time, we will seek foreign direct investment to create jobs, boost our economy and capitalize on the central location of our state.
To accomplish these goals, I’m asking for your help. Thank you for your continued support of our economic development mission, and our efforts both here and abroad. I am committed to devoting my time and energy to these efforts, because it makes a difference for our state every day. But there are other agenda items.
First, one of the goals of this administration is to improve the performance and efficiency of state government. We need to eliminate unnecessary boards and commissions, and we need to realign a number of state agencies in order to wisely use taxpayer money and better provide services to the people of Arkansas.
Secondly, we must improve the way we fund higher education. Let’s base the dollars to higher education, not on the number of students enrolled, but upon the educational progress of the students. And so I ask you to support the new legislation that will create a new funding formula for higher education, and that you will help support the additional funding necessary to implement that higher education funding formula.
Thirdly, we should resolve to reform our tax code. We need to lower our state income tax rate and be more competitive with our surrounding states.
If you pass the $50 million tax cut for those Arkansans making below $21,000, then you will provide additional tax relief for more than 600,000 Arkansans. When this is combined with the Middle Income Tax Relief of 2015, then we, together, will have reduced the tax burden for more than 90% of Arkansas taxpayers.
Yes, that means there’s more to do. I pledge to continue down the path of lowering the income tax rate for all Arkansans. And when it comes to our military personnel, when they retire, I want them to know that we will not tax their retirement income.
Many of you advocated for this in 2015, and I applaud your leadership. But this is tax relief that has to be paid for, and it will be. The tax reduction for the retired military will be 100% paid for by ending or reducing three exemptions that I have previously identified.
Now, I know that some of you say, well, this is not enough and that we need to have a more comprehensive tax reform package. I agree with you. We need a specific plan for the future so that the public knows the direction we are heading and how we can get there. My goal from the beginning has been to reduce the overall high income tax rate in Arkansas and to do it for all Arkansans.
Today, I am asking your support for a Blue Ribbon Legislative Task Force to be created and directed to recommend further reform. The priority goals are fairness, competition, simplification and economic growth. The focus of the plan is to reduce the high income tax rates in Arkansas. We need to have a plan to reduce the tax rate over time to a more competitive level. Let’s create that task force, and I ask your support.
Fourthly, we also need to assure opportunity for the next generation. This includes those who wish to go to college, those who choose to pursue a career—whether welding or construction—and those who feel left out through no fault of their own.
It is essential that we, as a state, give every high school student a simple promise: If you pursue a high need job skill or degree, then we will assure you that all your tuition and mandatory fees will be paid through a two-year college program or technical school.
It is a simple promise with a big return for our state and the next generation. It is called ArFuture Grants and it will require a mentoring program for the student. It will require working in the state for three years after college. But it will be created with existing program funds and used in combination with other education funds that are already available.
Because of ArFutures, it will be not only possible, but practical, for a student to get two-year degree or certificate without any student debt.
Let’s not leave anyone behind, and that is why I am asking your support for a higher level of funding, also, for our foster children in Arkansas. We need to improve the system. We need to adequately provide for our foster children that are in our care. We need to address their needs, and hopefully, provide a way out and restore family relationships. But we need to provide the additional funding that is being requested in the budget.
We need to remember the needs of those on the disability waiting list that have been there far too long. They are in need of more service, and so I am asking that you redirect a portion of the tobacco settlement funds, to reduce that waiting list by at least 500 as a step in the right direction in a faith commitment to those who are in need.
I ask you also to remember those who are challenged with mental illness. I’ve asked for $5 million to be set aside in the budget for Mental Health Stabilization Centers and crisis intervention training. That will be a start in helping our law enforcement community and those who deal with crisis circumstances to identify mental illness, to identify the help that is needed and to provide that help.
We need to continue looking at our criminal justice system in this state to assure that our incarceration policies are right—to assure that our policy is balanced between public safely and giving those a second chance in life who have fulfilled their responsibilities to society.
And so, I can say that in my life, I have lived the Arkansas Dream.
I was raised on a farm in Northwest Arkansas by parents who did not have much but believed we had everything important: family, faith and opportunity.
Let me conclude by reaffirming a commitment Governor Rockefeller made to the people of Arkansas at that historic changing moment in history 50 years ago:
“Now is not the time for party politics. I was elected by Republicans, Democrats and Independents by people of all races and all creeds, from all walks of life. As Governor of Arkansas, I intend to represent all, and so I dedicate my administration to the people of Arkansas.”
Today, I am honored to serve as Governor of Arkansas for all the people of this state. May God bless each of us as we work to make sure the Arkansas Dream that I experienced is possible for everyone.
Thank you, and God bless this assembly.
Looking Forward to the 91st General Assembly01/06/2017
This week, the State Capitol was buzzing as the final days of preparation before the upcoming legislative session came to an end. Monday, January 9, 2017 will mark the beginning of the 91st General Assembly of the Arkansas State Legislature.
The state legislature has changed a lot throughout our state’s rich history. Over the years, members of the General Assembly have expressed positions and perspectives as diverse as the people of Arkansas, themselves.
And there is always change. For example, today, Republicans hold a large majority in the Arkansas Legislature. But a few decades ago, former Representative Preston Bynum from Benton County was the only Republican member of the House. Once during the 69th General Assembly in 1973, the chamber broke into caucus, and the Speaker of the House joked, “Democrats caucus will meet in the Committee Room. Republicans caucus in the phone booth.”
Even though times are different in our state legislature, ultimately, our democratic system has remained effective due to our legislature’s willingness to work together, regardless of party, to accomplish good things for Arkansas.
I am pleased with the great contribution our state legislature has made in recent years. Most recently, the Arkansas Legislature has gained national attention for its success in improving the fairness of our state’s tax administration. Arkansas adopted several reforms to change the state tax regulations and create a more fair system for taxpayers, such as eliminating the requirement that taxpayers pay or post a bond before an independent hearing could be held.
The adoption of these reforms earned Arkansas designation as the “Most Improved” state in a recent report by the Council on State Taxation. According to this report, Arkansas now ranks as a top 10 state in fairness of tax administration.
This is just one example of the good things that happen when the Arkansas Legislature works together for the people of our state. I look forward to working with the general assembly on further reforms and improvements in the upcoming session.
This year, I am proposing an economic development initiative to create a tax cut for low income Arkansans, as well as a tax cut for retired military service members. In education, I am proposing a number of initiatives, including the ArFuture Grant Program and a new Higher Education Funding Formula. In terms of government efficiencies, I am proposing a reform of the state pay plan, ongoing improvements to address foster care, repurposing tobacco settlement funds to decrease the disability waitlist and more. All of this will focus on my priorities of economic development, education and efficiencies, and I look forward to working together with the legislature to make them a reality during the 91st General Assembly.
Year in Review12/30/2016
In 1902, Winston Churchill was interviewed for an article in the newspaper. When asked what qualities a politician required, Churchill humorously responded, “The ability to foretell what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year – and then to have the ability afterwards to explain why it didn’t happen.”
Churchill understood that a lot can change in a year. And as I look back over 2016, I am pleased with the change in Arkansas and our success. We continue to build on our state’s momentum in economic development, employment rates, efficiencies, education and infrastructure, to name a few.
From opening an office of transformation for state efficiencies to opening a trade office in Germany, we have continued to pursue excellence in our state government and economic development. This year, our economy grew at a faster pace than 75% of all other states in the country, and our unemployment rate was significantly lower than the national average. Additionally, 2016 has been a year of continued growth in the number of people who call Arkansas their home. The movement of people to our state is important to our economy, to the next generation of Arkansans, and to the dozens of companies that have relocated or expanded in Arkansas this year.
We’ve had great success in economic growth this year, but it’s important to recognize that success in economic development starts with a solid infrastructure. That’s why, this May, I worked to pass legislation that provided much needed funding to support our highways and roads to continue creating jobs and supporting hard-working Arkansans.
This year, our state pushed towards a more economically responsible approach to healthcare through the passage of Arkansas Works, putting a greater emphasis on work opportunities, personal responsibility, increased usage of employer-based insurance and cost-savings.
In education, over 200 Arkansas schools have been connected to high-speed broadband since the beginning of 2016, and our state continues to lead the nation in computer science education with over 5,500 students enrolled in computer coding courses. As educational opportunities improve throughout the state, likewise, opportunities for economic growth, health care and community development will increase.
It’s been a busy year. These accomplishments only scratch the surface of the advancements our state has made since last January, and I’m eager to serve Arkansans in 2017 by continuing to work for economic development, education and efficiencies. 2016 was a good year, but we’re not done yet.
Back to the Basics12/23/2016
Christmas has a way of bringing us back to the basics. For me, that means counting my blessings, especially when it comes to faith and family. It’s a time that brings back memories of my youth, or when my now-grown children would sing in the kid’s Christmas program at church. Yes, Christmas time is special for Arkansans young and old.
Each of us have our own holiday traditions. On Christmas Eve, many will retell the Christmas Story of Christ’s coming to the little town of Bethlehem. Others will prepare to light the first candle of the Hanukkah candelabra to celebrate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem. Later this month, I will attend the Menorah Lighting Ceremony in Little Rock to kick-off the Festival of Lights. Regardless of how you celebrate this wonderful time of year, I hope that you are joined by those you care for most.
The holiday season often brings out the best in people. I encourage you to find ways to serve someone who is less fortunate and practice goodwill toward our fellow man. Consider giving not only presents, but giving your time to the needy and neglected. Write a card to a shut-in, volunteer at your local soup kitchen or bake some goodies for a friend.
Everyone can find some way to celebrate Christmas not only this week, but throughout the year. Give unexpected gifts to people you care about. Tell your coworkers or family members that you appreciate them. Show kindness to others, even if it’s something as simple as buying them a cup of coffee.
I’ve said it before, but Arkansans are some of the kindest and most giving people around. One of the best perks of being governor is getting to meet Arkansans from all walks of life. We know how to give and are ready to lend a helping hand. I see that mentality in every corner of our great state throughout the year, especially leading up to Christmas.
In the words of Winston Churchill, “Christmas is a season not only of rejoicing, but of reflection.” I hope each of you will reflect upon your blessings, get back to the basics and rejoice that we are able to call Arkansas home.
As governor – from my family to yours – Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and have a blessed holiday season.
Second Round of Tax Cuts12/16/2016
During my campaign for Governor, one the most important pieces of my platform was my promise to lower our state income tax. Shortly after being sworn in as Governor in January of 2015, I signed into law a $100 million Middle Class Tax Cut, the largest income tax cut in Arkansas history. On Tuesday of this week, I announced my second round of tax cuts—this time a $50 million cut to the state’s income tax rate.
While my first round of tax cuts affected the middle income levels—those making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year—my newest proposal would offer relief for the state’s lower income brackets by focusing on Arkansans who earn below $21,000 annually.
This plan would reduce the burden on an estimated 657,000 working Arkansans, 120,000 of whom would be removed from the tax rolls completely. Of course, this proposal will need the support of the Arkansas General Assembly, but if it’s adopted, a total of 1.3 million Arkansans—or 90% of the state’s individual income taxpayers—will have benefited from substantive tax relief legislation since 2015.
In addition to my proposed $50 million tax cut, I also announced on Tuesday my support for exempting all retirement benefits of retired military service members from state income tax. If passed, Arkansas would join the 16 other states that currently exempt retired military pay. I believe this exclusion is the right thing to do for our veterans and for the Arkansas economy. We want retired service members to consider Arkansas when starting their second career.
It’s important to note that this exemption would result in a $13 million reduction in General Revenue. As Governor, it’s my job to ensure that our tax policy is aligned with the realities and obligations of the state. That means any additional tax reductions—apart from my income tax cut proposal—must be offset with the repeal of certain tax exemptions. This is a responsible and conservative approach to cutting taxes.
Both of these proposals are key economic development initiatives and are important priorities to me as we prepare for the 2017 legislative session. I have no doubt, if passed, these measures will make Arkansas more competitive with our surrounding states and will spur job creation, economic growth and put money back into the pockets of hardworking Arkansans.
Moving Forward with Arkansas Works12/09/2016
This week, I received some great news from Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell. After negotiating terms with Washington over the past several months, she has now informed me that the waiver request for Arkansas Works will be granted.
We pursued four major elements of reform through the waiver, all intended to better align the Medicaid expansion program with the private insurance market. Our requests to establish work referral requirements and to promote premiums for some enrollees to encourage personal responsibility for health care costs were both approved. Our request to provide incentive benefits for enrollees who meet personal responsibility requirements and participate in wellness visits were also approved. And finally, we were granted authority to place a greater emphasis on employer-sponsored insurance through new employer incentives, setting a national precedent for reform in this area.
This is great news, and I look forward to further strengthening our state’s health care system under the next Administration. I’ve spoken with President-elect Trump and his team about Arkansas’s health care system. He has publicly indicated a firm commitment to allowing the states more flexibility to determine how to operate the healthcare program. I am excited for the new perspective that the Trump Administration will bring to Washington, and look forward to seeing what states will achieve, given greater flexibility and the power to innovate.
In the coming months, I expect us to push forward for more reform. Under soon-to-be President Trump, we plan to revisit our waiver application to request additional changes, such as broadening incentives for companies offering employer-sponsored insurance, and establishing more stringent work and training requirements for Medicaid’s healthy adult population.
Our end goal is to develop a responsible and conservative approach to health care that helps those enrolled in safety net programs to advance economically. For this reason, Arkansas Works was created and adopted by the legislature last year. And soon, the program will start providing healthcare coverage for more than 300,000 Arkansans.
We knew at the start of this process that we wouldn’t get everything, but the majority of what we requested within our waiver application was granted, and we are confident that we can work with the next Administration to strengthen the program. With the waiver approved, we can proceed with Arkansas Works and the coverage it provides to many of our citizens, while better managing the costs of the program through the new reforms.
As we move into 2017, and as the new leadership team takes shape in Washington, I am optimistic for what’s ahead for our nation AND for the people of Arkansas.
Christmas at the Mansion12/02/2016
One August day in 1741, George Frideric Handel sat down in his England home feeling so inspired by the Biblical account of Jesus Christ’s birth, death and resurrection, that he began writing what would become one of the most famous musical compositions in history. Handel finished the 259-page oratorio in less than four weeks, and still, today, this piece of music, known as Handel’s “Messiah” continues to awe and inspire crowds 275 years later. When Handel’s “Messiah” first hit the musical stage in the spring of 1742, it was intended to be Easter music. But today, when we hear this compelling piece of music, we are reminded of the beauty of the Christmas season.
It is that beauty that the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion hopes to inspire in the imaginations of Arkansans this year as it celebrates the holidays with decorations themed as a “Tribute to Handel.”
Last month, more than thirty volunteer designers and artists gathered from across Arkansas to transform the Governor’s Mansion into a Baroque European-style hall, reminiscent of the great cathedral where Handel’s “Messiah” was performed almost 275 years ago.
The Arkansas Governor’s Mansion is sometimes called “The People’s House,” and the First Lady and I hope that the moniker becomes truer than ever before as guests from every corner of the state visit and enjoy the spirit of the season at the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion this year.
The First Lady and I welcome you to come see “A Tribute to Handel” at any of this year’s holiday events at the Governor’s Mansion. I encourage you to stop by this Sunday, December 4th for the annual Governor’s Mansion Christmas Open House, or to attend the Tribute to Handel Concert on Friday, December 9, featuring choirs from Ouachita Baptist University and Fellowship Bible Church in Little Rock. You can also enjoy the “Christmas High Teas” every afternoon from December 12-16.
All proceeds from the Mansion’s holiday events benefit the Arkansas Governor’s Mansion Association, a nonprofit organization that raises funds for the renovation, improvement, furnishings and endowment of the Mansion.
To learn more about the Governor’s Mansion Holiday Events, visit friendsofthemansion.org. It is my hope that Arkansans statewide will come to The People’s House and experience “A Tribute to Handel” this Christmas season.
In 1621, the first Thanksgiving was held in Plymouth Colony between the Mayflower Pilgrims and the Wampanoag Indians. Historically, the first Thanksgiving was not the feast we enjoy today. Rather, it was a time when the Native Americans and European settlers gathered together to give thanks.
They were thankful for their bountiful harvest, the abundance of wild game and for fellowship. It wasn’t just a celebration – it was a joyful outpouring of gratitude for their many blessings.
The first Thanksgiving came after a hard year. During their first winter, more than half of the English settlers died, largely because of harsh weather and poor nutrition. These struggles followed a perilous 66-day voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. The Pilgrims had left their homes and their lives for one thing – freedom against religious persecution.
William Bradford, a member of the Mayflower expedition, who was elected as Plymouth Colony’s second governor, kept a record of the journey across the Atlantic. Upon landing at Plymouth Harbor, he writes about his fellow travelers: “Being thus arrived in a good harbor and brought safe to land, they fell upon their knees and blessed the God of heaven, who had brought them over the vast and furious ocean, and delivered them from all the perils and miseries thereof.” After enduring more than two months of rough seas, stale food, cramped living quarters and seasickness, they gave thanks.
This year, as we celebrate another Thanksgiving in our great country, Arkansans, and all Americans, have much to be grateful for. We are so blessed to be part of this place and time in history – our history.
Just as the Mayflower Pilgrims gave thanks when they reached the shore and celebrated our country’s first Thanksgiving, we too should give thanks for the blessings we enjoy today. Thanksgiving teaches us to count our blessings in trying circumstances, and to find joy during the struggles and hardships of present day, both locally and nationally. It’s a day for Americans to realize how fortunate we are as a nation and to be grateful for our country’s brave heroes from the time of our inception to present day.
My favorite author, Henry Van Dyke, once said, “Gratitude is the inward feeling of kindness received. Thankfulness is the natural impulse to express that feeling. Thanksgiving is the following of that impulse.”
As you gather together with your loved ones, remember to show your gratitude for friends, family, food and fellowship. Yes, here in Arkansas, we are truly blessed.
Celebrating Arkansas’s Arts11/18/2016
Arkansas has a rich history of leaders whose contributions have done much to increase the quality of life for the people of our state. From business leaders who employed tens of thousands across generations to philanthropists whose gifts have made the arts accessible to all Arkansans, these leader’s contributions have made their mark.
One Arkansan who had a large impact on the state was Joseph T. Robinson. Joe Robinson was born in Lonoke County, Arkansas, and in 1894, he became the youngest member of the Arkansas General Assembly at the age of 22. He served as the twenty-third Governor of Arkansas and then in the United States Senate. Robinson passed away at the age of 64, but the impact he had on our state endures to this day.
One of the reminders of his legacy is the Robinson Memorial Auditorium, which was first completed on December 8, 1939. Through the years, the auditorium has served as a Little Rock icon, hosting some of the most influential performers and speakers of the past century including Elvis Presley, Ella Fitzgerald, Ray Charles, The Beach Boys, Dwight D. Eisenhower and Bob Hope.
As a native Arkansan, I have many special memories from the Robinson Center. My favorite performance at the Robinson center was an event produced by Ballet Arkansas in 1983, featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov. I also have a picture in my office from May 2000, when a crowd of more than 2,000 gathered at the Robinson Auditorium to honor the memory of Daisy Bates on her birthday, just months after she had passed away.
Several weeks ago I had the pleasure of speaking at the grand re-opening of the Robinson Center in Little Rock. The new state-of-the-art facility received an incredible makeover to bring the 75-year-old performing arts center into the modern age.
Tomorrow, I will be in attendance at the grand re-opening of the Walton Arts Center in Fayetteville after the completion of a $23 million renovation and expansion project. The beautiful performing arts venue was made possible by a partnership between the University of Arkansas and Arkansas’s most influential family – The Waltons. I am excited to see the new facility and to hear of all of the exciting programs that will be on display for Northwest Arkansas in the coming year.
The need for updated facilities and increased seating for these two theaters underscores the growing attention the arts are getting in Arkansas. The Robinson Center and the Walton Arts Center are both well positioned to stimulate increased tourism and leisure spending in Arkansas. As Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft put it, “the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery, and achievement in our country.”
I am proud that here in Arkansas, we are ensuring that the arts remain accessible to all, and that future generations will be able to experience the exciting new offerings at these two outstanding venues for generations to come.
Honoring Those Who Fought for Freedom11/11/2016
It’s been a historical week. The people of America have spoken, and in a few months, we will welcome the 45th President of the United States to office.
Franklin D. Roosevelt once said, “Let us never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us. The ultimate rulers of our democracy are not a President and senators and congressmen and government officials, but the voters of this country.”
The votes of the American people were cast, and democracy has prevailed. We’ve elected another president through this time-tested process, and the will of the people has been carried out.
In January 2015, when I gave my inaugural speech at the Arkansas State Capitol, I talked about my excitement for a new day in Arkansas. We live in a time of constant change. It’s something we can always count on. And it’s something that takes us – and our country – in a new direction.
I am forever an optimist, and I’m always proud to be a citizen of this great nation. But freedom is not free. Today, as we enjoy the liberties that our brave men and women fought and died for, we remember our nation’s finest on this year’s Veterans Day.
In Arkansas, we want to do all we can to support our veterans. Together with the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, we are making it easier for Arkansas veterans to have access to vital resources and services. Over the last year, we have opened six regional offices across the state to serve veterans. And today, I am pleased to announce that the final two offices in Hope and Russellville are ready to open their doors – four years ahead of schedule.
But there’s more good news. With Veterans Affairs Director Matt Snead, we also announced the grand opening of the Arkansas State Veterans Home in North Little Rock. It’s an innovative “small-house design” that includes eight cottages that can house up to 12 residents. Along with a community building, this 31-acre site will offer Arkansas vets top-notch care and has plenty of room for future expansion opportunities.
Yes, there’s much to celebrate on this Veterans Day. I encourage everyone to say “thank you” to one of nearly 250,000 Arkansas veterans. Remember their service, honor their sacrifice and preserve their legacy today, and every day.
It’s been quite a week. At the end of the day, we’re all in this together, and we’re blessed to be citizens this great country we can proudly call home.
Arkansas Black Hall of Fame11/04/2016
The Induction Ceremony for the 24th Annual Arkansas Black Hall of Fame is always a noteworthy day—a day to celebrate the contributions of dedicated individuals with a history of accomplishments.
For twenty-four years, the Black Hall of Fame Foundation has recognized the rich historical contributions of some of Arkansas’s best and brightest leaders in business, medicine, law, music, media and more.
In the past, those who have been inducted into the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame have played at Carnegie Hall or flown with the Tuskegee Airmen. Others have become leaders in AIDS research or titans of business innovation. Many have dedicated their lives to serving the community.
But this past weekend, I had the opportunity to recognize and celebrate six of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame’s newest inductees—men and women who have contributed to a significant part of American history and Arkansas history through their lives and accomplishments.
This weekend, we recognized individuals like Cynthia Scott, a leader in vocal performance, who has given joy to millions of Americans through her music, sharing the stage with performers like Ray Charles and Gladys Knight. We celebrated Justice Richard Mays, Sr., who has devoted himself to the cause of justice and civil rights through his time on the Arkansas Supreme Court and in the state legislature. We remembered Estella and Knoxie Hall who, as entrepreneurs, could neither be stopped nor discouraged by those who did not want to give them a chance. We celebrated the life of Judge Mifflin Gibbs, a businessman and politician who was appointed to office by three Presidents and continued innovating and creating for his entire life, even starting a new business at the age of 80. We applauded Gregory Davis, a native of Fort Smith, who created a media empire in Georgia in the span of his 39-year television broadcasting career. And we also recognized June Carter-Perry from Texarkana who served as a Foreign Affairs Officer in tough assignments across the globe.
Every 2016 Arkansas Black Hall of Fame inductee has a distinctive story and path in life, but each and every one is a pioneer and a world changer. These inductees have made diverse and extraordinary contributions that have touched not only Arkansas, but also influenced the world more broadly.
In the words of Rosa Parks, “Each person must live their life as a model for others.” Our state and nation are changed by these men and women who forged their way into history with their unbelievable lives and their courageous stories. If you would like to learn more about the outstanding accomplishments of current and past inductees, be sure to pay a visit the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame Exhibit, located in the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center in Little Rock. I encourage you to stop by and honor those who have made invaluable contributions to both Arkansas and the world.
Governor Responds to Issue 7 Removal10/28/2016
Imagine my surprise when I heard the news about issue seven only minutes after going to the polls myself for early voting. I just cast my vote in Rogers when I found out the Arkansas Supreme Court had disqualified one of the marijuana measures.
It is unfortunate and ill-timed that the challenge to the validity of the signatures on issue seven was decided so close to the General Election. This decision will likely result in confusion for voters, as the measure will remain on the ballot, but the votes on that measure will not be counted.
While I accept and respect the Arkansas Supreme Court’s decision, I am disappointed that the people of Arkansas will not have the opportunity to vote on this measure, as well as several other measures, proposed by the people. Regardless of where I stand on the issues, it’s important for Arkansans to be able to voice their vote at the polls.
The best part of our country is the process of democracy, and Arkansas is fairly unique in that the people of our state have reserved for themselves a form of direct democracy. As provided in Article 5, Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, “[t]he first power reserved by the people of Arkansas is the initiative.” This power allows the people to propose legislative measures, laws and amendments to the Arkansas Constitution by submitting an adequate number of valid signatures on an initiative petition to the Secretary of State.
The Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified issue seven because the sponsors failed to submit the minimum number of valid signatures to qualify the measure for the ballot. In addition to issue seven, the Court also disqualified two other measures: the casino amendment and the tort reform amendment. Those measures were disqualified because of insufficiencies in the ballot titles of those measures. When issues come to the ballot box, it’s important to get them right. That way, people will be able to honestly evaluate each measure and be well-informed when they cast their vote.
The Court is in a very difficult position with these issues because the Arkansas Constitution requires petitions to be filed with the Secretary of State not less than four months before the election. This year that deadline fell on July eighth. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for the Supreme Court’s decisions on the sufficiency of statewide petitions to come days before the election – and that is because of the late deadline to submit initiative petitions to the Secretary of State and even later challenges to those measures.
This year, challenges to the various initiated measures were filed as late as early September. The case concerning issue seven, the second marijuana measure, was not submitted to the Court until last Thursday, October 20th. The Court rendered their decision only a week later.
The Court was left with no choice but to issue its decision, even though it came so close to this year’s election. In order to prevent the Court from having to make these decisions so close to the election, it is necessary to move the deadline to file petitions with the Secretary of State. This change would require an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution. One option would be for the General Assembly to propose this change as one of the legislatively referred constitutional amendments during the upcoming session.
Democracy is not only the cornerstone of state government, but the foundation of our country. Your voice, and your vote, matters. And after it’s all said and done, democracy – and the will of the people – will prevail.
Bringing Jobs Back to Arkansas10/21/2016
I am delighted to wrap up another successful trade mission in China with my Arkansas Economic Development Commission team. This week, I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Suzhou Tianyuan Garments Company, which will result in the creation of 400 new jobs and an investment of $20 million in Little Rock.
This is great news not only for Central Arkansas, but for our state’s entire manufacturing sector. Tianyuan’s investment in Arkansas represents the first apparel company to bring manufacturing jobs from China into the United States. As the major supplier of apparel to brands like Adidas and Armani, Tianyuan will be a valuable addition to Arkansas’s manufacturing sector.
But this trip wasn’t just about the deal with Tianyaun, but also met with Chinese officials to discuss increasing Arkansas’s agricultural exports. While making the case for Arkansas, we visited five cities over the course of six days in four Chinese provinces. I also met with the Vice Minister of Agriculture in Beijing and the Secretary General of Foreign Affairs. It was a big undertaking, but the trip is already yielding results and will continue to provide us with further opportunities to do business with China.
Agriculture is a major part of China’s economic landscape, with 45 percent of the Chinese population being employed in the agricultural sector. And with agriculture being Arkansas’s number one industry, we both have much to gain from building a stronger trade relationship.
Four companies that are owned by China-based corporations currently do business in Arkansas. One of the four, Sun Paper, is still in the planning stages, but will soon bring a tremendous boost to South Arkansas’s timber industry. And now, with our latest agreement, Tianyuan Apparel is set to become the fifth.
In today’s global economy, Arkansas can’t afford to sit on the bench when it comes to recruiting foreign investment in economic development. Last year, China’s Gross Domestic Product, or GDP, represented more than 17 percent of the world economy at $10.8 trillion. During that time, Arkansas’s exports to China totaled nearly $295 million, and because of our efforts to grow Arkansas’s relationships with China and its business leaders, our state is in great position to improve upon those numbers.
In the words of AEDC Director, Mike Preston, “When you’re doing economic development, relationships matter." Fostering strong relationships with industries across the world is critical to our economic development efforts. It is important that we continue to meet with government officials and business leaders face-to-face to advocate for Arkansas’s quality products and skilled workforce. Whether we are hosting foreign companies in our state, or sending trade delegations to advocate for Arkansas on the international stage, the relationships we build will lay the groundwork for continued success in job creation here in Arkansas.
Energy in Arkansas10/14/2016
This week, Arkansas watched and stood ready to assist as Hurricane Matthew took a toll on our nation’s eastern coast. We were saddened to hear of the devastating loss of life, destruction of property, and hardship for the communities impacted by the storm. Hurricane Matthew caused damage from Florida to Georgia to the Carolinas, including widespread power outages for about 2.2 million households.
But disaster relief crews from across Arkansas were ready to help. Most people run from hurricanes; but one Arkansas energy company ran towards Hurricane Matthew, providing assistance and relief to areas affected by the power outages. This week, Entergy Arkansas sent 70 servicemen to the east coast to help Florence, South Carolina turn the lights back on.
The devastation of 2.2 million homes suffering power outages demonstrates just how fundamental reliable energy is in protecting the health and safety of Americans. A sustainable and diverse energy supply powers our industry, transportation and way of life.
As the Chairman of Southern States Energy Board and the Chairman of the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission, I recognize just how critical the effective supply of reliable, affordable energy is for our state and our nation.
In recent history, our nation has emerged from an energy importing country to the world’s largest oil supplier, exceeding Saudi Arabia and Russia. Unconventional natural gas drilling has opened up such a large resource base that prices are affordable and supplies have created an enormous potential export market. Just last year, Arkansas had the nation’s seventh lowest average electricity prices at about 8.5 cents per kilowatt-hour. Today, in the West South Central Region of the U.S., which includes Arkansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma and Texas, residential electricity prices are averaging just over 10 cents per kilowatt-hour.
This just goes to show how important the South’s role in the energy marketplace is. Five new nuclear power plants are being built in the region, meaning that the South will soon supply about 50% of the nation’s nuclear energy.
But the key factor in supplying energy resources for the benefit and security of our citizens is building diversity in our energy resources. Arkansas uses coal, natural gas, nuclear, solar and hydro as a balanced mix in our energy supply. Reliable and affordable energy of many different varieties enables states to pursue jobs and business development.
A state’s economic development is inextricably tied to the energy policies we pursue. This is why, in Arkansas, I emphasize state leadership for the protection of our energy industries and for the responsible regulation of one of our nation's most vital resources. Let’s continue working towards strong, state-led energy policies to benefit our communities, our state and our nation.
Protecting and Serving Arkansas10/07/2016
Last week, I welcomed thirty-two Arkansas State Police Recruits to the 2016 Recruit School Graduation. As I addressed Arkansas’s newest State Troopers, I thought back to the many stories I had heard just the night before at the Chiefs of Police Banquet – stories from some of Arkansas’s most seasoned officers who have experienced their fair share of interesting moments on the job. Their accounts made it clear to me that Arkansas’s newest State Troopers have quite a future ahead of them.
As I reflect on the stories I’ve been told by our state’s law enforcement officers, I think about the extraordinary courage and dedication that our officers have demonstrated over the last few months and how we need to recognize their service.
I think about the kindness of five Arkansas State Troopers who threw a birthday celebration for a ten-year-old boy from Hot Springs Village.
I remember visiting Trooper Roy Moomey of Crawford County, who was severely injured when he risked his life to save another, colliding with a car driving the wrong way on the interstate.
I think about the initiative of Trooper Gabriel Chambers when he brought water and groceries to a group of bikers stranded on the side of the interstate in Fayetteville in the middle of the July heat.
I think about the unwavering perseverance of Corporal Jason Chester and Sergeant Trey Dupuy when they swept a storm drain three times to rescue a 13-year-old boy who had been trapped there.
And with a heavy heart, I remember the courageous life of Sebastian County Corporal Bill Cooper who was tragically shot and killed in the line of duty. His selfless service to his community will not be forgotten.
Whether police officers or state troopers, our law enforcement community works hard to protect and serve Arkansas. And it is the responsibility of our law enforcement leaders to provide critical law enforcement training and best practices to those making life and death decisions on the frontline.
That is why our law enforcement officers are becoming increasingly involved in programs like the Arkansas Law Enforcement Accreditation Program – a voluntary process where Arkansas police agencies prove their compliance with the highest standards to ensure the public safety and the protection of individual rights. This is also why I have committed to supporting Crisis Intervention Training, which teaches officers how to identify symptoms of mental illness and appropriately respond to mental health emergencies.
Now, more than ever before, it is the call of our law enforcement to go above and beyond their everyday responsibilities. I am grateful for the ways that our officers have demonstrated leadership by protecting, respecting and serving our communities.
Again, thank you for your service, and keep up the good work.
President John F. Kennedy once said, “The war against hunger is truly mankind’s war of liberation.”
In Arkansas, one in five people are food insecure. One in four children face hunger and forty percent of senior citizens are uncertain of the next time they will receive a nutritious meal.
Although Arkansas’s food insecurity rate declined slightly from 19.9 percent in 2014 to 19.2 percent in 2015, there is still much to be done.
These statistics represent Arkansas’s children, parents, grandparents and friends – they are our neighbors. Let’s set aside our differences and rally as a state to make an impact in someone’s life.
Throughout the month of September, Arkansans from near and far made donations to the Great Arkansas Food Drive. Many used the “Be Neighborly” smartphone app that allows people to purchase and donate pre-filled grocery bags to one of six Arkansas hunger relief organizations.
September is nearly over, but each of us can continue fighting hunger by donating to local food drives, using the “Be Neighborly” app or offering a helping hand to those who are in need. As we close out the month and enter the fall, I urge all Arkansans to continue looking out for each other, especially within our communities.
As a state, we are incredibly fortunate. Our economy is growing, our unemployment rate is low and our students are being better prepared for what lies ahead of them. But sometimes we forget to appreciate the simple and great importance of daily meals.
Having lived through the Great Depression, my parents knew the struggle of hunger. As a child, I remember eating simple foods like cornbread and all kinds of stew that my parents had been raised on. My family was fortunate to always have just enough to go around, but we were continually mindful and careful to share our bounty with neighbors.
Those experiences taught me the importance of doing all we can to aid and assist those who go hungry. Hunger should never be the norm. What we do in Arkansas matters. Together, let’s unite in the fight against hunger and support our neighbors in need.
Autumn in Arkansas09/23/2016
American journalist Jim Bishop once wrote, “Autumn carries more gold in its pocket than all the other seasons.” And I would argue that autumn in Arkansas carries the most gold of all. Yesterday marked the first official day of the fall season, one of my favorite times of the year. It’s a season for family, football, hunting, pumpkin pie and, most of all, for some of Arkansas’s best festivals.
From Newport to Camden to Bella Vista, Arkansans statewide will be enjoying the season’s cooler weather at craft fairs, car shows and cook-offs.
This fall, take a trip to experience some of Arkansas’s favorite traditions at the 81st Annual Championship Duck Calling Contest in Stuttgart or the 25th Annual Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. If you’re like me, you’ll enjoy Arkansas’s best local, homegrown tastes when you stop by the Arkansas Championship Hillbilly Chili Cook-off in Bull Shoals or Pumpkin Hollow in Piggott. Whichever corner of the state you visit, you won’t be far from fall fun and Arkansas hospitality.
I’m looking forward to joining in the fun of Arkansas’s fall celebrations this season, too. In a few weeks, I’m heading down to Arkansas’s Delta for the 31st Annual King Biscuit Blues Festival in historic downtown Helena to eat some southern favorites and listen to some of the best blues in the world.
And Arkansas’s Delta isn’t the only part of the state with good food and great blues. This week, Northwest Arkansas is celebrating one of the state’s most famous traditions—Bikes, Blues, and BBQ, the largest motorcycle rally in the U.S. that benefits local charities. Bikes, Blues, and BBQ draws bikers from across the nation to the Ozarks for some of the most beautiful motorcycle riding in the country. Last year, over 400,000 visited Fayetteville, generating an estimated $69-80 million economic impact.
Once more, this goes to show that tourism and economic development are inextricably linked. In 2015, Arkansas hosted more than 28 million visitors who spent $7.2 billion in total travel expenditures, $374 million in state taxes and $137 million in local taxes. Plus, some 120,000 Arkansans work in the tourism and hospitality industry, which is over a billion dollars in payroll.
Autumn is a time of change, but one thing that remains the same year after year is that Arkansas is an outstanding destination for visitors and a one-of-a-kind home for residents. There is no better place to be this fall than in the state of Arkansas.
For more information about fall festivals, events and destinations in The Natural State, visit Arkansas.com.
Saving for College with 52909/16/2016
In the year 1173, construction of the Leaning Tower of Pisa began in Italy. After more than three centuries, the great leaning tower was finally completed. The architects had not originally designed for the tower to lean, but because of poor planning and an uneven foundation, the Leaning Tower of Pisa will never stand straight.
Laying a firm foundation at the start of any project is essential to success. Whether you build a city or plan for your child’s future education, you want to plan and lay a strong foundation.
In Arkansas, we are helping parents of young students do just that through the Arkansas 529 GIFT College Investing Plan. Throughout the month of September, which is College Savings Month, one kindergarten student in every county in Arkansas will be eligible to receive $529 in a GIFT college savings plan account.
Here’s how it works. Every kindergarten student can participate by sending in their artwork and a parental consent form to the State Treasurer’s Office by September 30th. Then, early in October, a random drawing will be held to select one winner from each participating county to receive a $529 award in an Arkansas 529 GIFT College Investing Plan. The official rules, entry form and parental consent form are available online at arkansas529.org.
The Arkansas Department of Education, the Arkansas State Treasury and the Arkansas 529 GIFT College Investing Plan Review Committee have joined together to sponsor this initiative – working to help spread awareness of the importance of starting to save early for a college education. And with the Arkansas 529 GIFT plan, parents and grandparents can start saving money for their child’s college education one day at a time.
Once a student is ready to go to college or vocational school, all 529 qualified withdrawals that cover higher education expenses like tuition, computers, books or room and board, are exempt from state and federal income tax. That means your savings go directly toward paying for your student’s college with no tax penalty.
Consider this – If a parent or guardian puts just four dollars every day into a 529 fund, in just five years, you could have saved more than $8,200 – all for the price of a large cup of coffee. If you continued to contribute at the same pace and gain five percent interest each year, in 18 years, more than $42,000 could be available to help your student afford a college education.
As governor, I have the privilege of helping to lay a solid foundation for our state through job creation, improving education and marketing Arkansas to the world. Everything we do today will have an impact on our state and on our families. And there’s no better time and place to start setting a firm financial foundation for our future college students than today, in Arkansas.
Governor’s Computer Coding Competition09/09/2016
In October 1879, Thomas Edison successfully tested a light bulb that burned for a ground-breaking thirteen and a half hours, a moment that changed the world. But the impact of his short-lived accomplishment lasted more than thirteen and a half hours. It required hard work and perseverance, two things that Edison knew well. This is why he is known for saying, “good fortune often happens when opportunity meets with preparation.”
140 years later, our nation faces a shortage of skilled computer science professionals, despite vast opportunity for great paying STEM careers. With 1,700 currently unfilled computing jobs in Arkansas and only 272 recent computer science graduates, it is my commitment to do everything possible to help “opportunity meet with preparation.” As Governor, my goal is to ensure that Arkansas students are fully equipped to meet the possibilities that await them in the workforce.
That is why I visited Little Rock’s Hall High School this week to announce the kick-off of the Governor’s All-Region and All-State Coding Competition. This competition, supported by a $40,000 grant from Verizon, is open to teams made up of three students each, grades 8-12. The teams will compete regionally and the top two winners of those competitions will receive an invitation to participate in the All-State Coding Competition. Members of the top three teams will each receive a scholarship award of up to $2,000, and the school that produces the All-State champs will also receive an award of up to $20,000.
The Governor’s All-Region and All-State Coding Competition will not only test students’ computer coding skills, but will continue to develop their ability, creativity and ingenuity. Why is this important? Because fostering these qualities in our students will equip them for possibilities they may not even realize are available to them.
Last week, I traveled to Greenwood, Arkansas on my 2016 Coding Tour and met with students in computer coding classes, robotics classes and some students who had no interest in computer science at all. But after sharing that one million of the best jobs in the nation could go unfilled because of a shortage of computer science professionals, I received an email from a Greenwood senior named Alexandra who said, “[Getting a degree in computer science] has always been in the back of my mind but you definitely persuaded me today.”
These are exactly the kind of stories that I love to hear. I believe that many of the world’s up-and-coming innovators are right here in Arkansas. And it is my goal to prepare them with the education they need to meet the opportunity ahead.
I am looking forward to all that the students will learn in the upcoming Governor’s All-Region and All-State Computer Coding Competitions. The competition will demand hard work and dedication from the competing teams. But I know that there are no students who are more up for the challenge than those right here in Arkansas.
Texarkana’s Best and Brightest09/02/2016
Last week my travels took me to Texarkana to honor some of Arkansas’s best and brightest. At Arkansas High School in Texarkana, I presented certificates to 17 Advanced Placement Scholars who were recognized by the College Board for their exceptional work in completing their AP courses. I also awarded financial incentives to 60 of these students who earned qualifying AP test scores last year.
At Arkansas High, students are able to take up to six AP classes during their junior and senior year. If they pass the exams, they can potentially graduate with a full year of college credit. On top of tackling two semesters of college before even enrolling, these students receive $100 for every qualifying AP grade they earn. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
Arkansas law requires every high school to offer at least four AP classes. There are 38 AP courses offered at high schools across the state, and 21 are now offered at Arkansas High School. Within the past year, the Arkansas High School AP program’s participation rate has grown by 17 percent.
And here’s the thing, these tests can be taken by anyone. Since the state pays for students to take the AP exams, which are more than $90 per test, these classes are offered at no cost to students. This means students have the option to earn up to a year’s worth of college credit without spending a dime – giving them the opportunity to save thousands of dollars by earning credit for college in high school.
Arkansas is unique in this effort because we are the only state to cover the full cost of students taking AP tests. For example, 606 AP exams were administered to students at Arkansas High School last year. In total, these tests cost more than $55,000, but not one student was required to foot the bill. Through the Arkansas Department of Education, we are able to cover the complete cost of the tests.
Here’s what past and present Arkansas High School students have to say:
Andrew, a senior student at the U of A, said, “The AP program showed me that I love to learn, and it gave me the tools to be able to learn as much as I want to. They pushed me as a student… teaching me a level of time management skill that has made college easy.”
Armonté, Arkansas High School senior student, said, “It’s an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything.”
Mason, a student at UCA, said, “The teachers at Arkansas High have gone above and beyond their expectations as educators… taking a personal interest in the futures of their students – and the result shows.”
Blaine, the Arkansas High School Freshman Student Class President, said, “I can already see the differences in the coursework. I am more challenged, motivated and interested.”
Sarah, a junior at the U of A, said, “I would encourage every student to consider taking at least one AP course during their high school career so that they can begin to understand the depth and workload of a college class.”
Five students – five stories – and a lasting impact on the bright future of every high school student in Arkansas challenging themselves in AP classes.
The Case for Coding08/26/2016
This week, I was delighted to kick-off my second computer science coding tour at Arkansas high schools. I went to Benton, Bryant, Manila and Spring Hill. Next week, we’ll continue the tour.
At the start of each assembly, I asked the audience a simple question: How many of you are interested in taking computer science? Only a smattering of hands were raised from the audience, and I knew immediately how important it was for me to be there.
My goal was to reach those students who hadn’t raised their hands. Once they heard what computer science was all about and how they could use it to create something new, I got a very different response. When I asked the same question at the end of the presentation, the number of hands tripled.
This year’s coding tour is a chance for me to tell students directly that exciting opportunities in computer science and coding are real and available to them. It’s about helping students discover professions within these fields and learn to speak the language of 21st century innovation: computer coding.
Every aspect of education is important, and computer science is just one more way our students can engage with the world around them. Whether you want to be the next Steve Jobs, design video games, create security software, or start your own business, learning to code will help you get there.
Part of being successful is about being able to communicate effectively. This is why communicating in code to maximize what computers can do is giving coders a competitive advantage. It’s a numeric language that speaks directly to computers, and anyone can learn.
With the help of the General Assembly, I initiated the first effort in the nation to mandate computer science in every high school. But here’s the thing, students aren’t required to take the class. That is why it’s so critical that we continue to raise awareness for our students, parents and guidance counselors about these exciting opportunities. These classes give our students a chance to explore the exciting world of coding, while also earning credit that counts towards graduation.
My mission as governor is not only to create jobs and grow Arkansas’s economy, but to put our students ahead of the competition. We’ve taken a bold step onto the national stage with this initiative, but the most exciting part is that we’re just getting started.
In just one year, Arkansas saw a 260 percent enrollment increase of students taking computer science in high school. Just imagine what that number would look like in another year or two when every day, more students, teachers and businesses are seeing the benefits of computer science education. And it’s slowly, but surely, putting Arkansans on the cutting edge of the computer science movement.
A New Way to Fund Higher Education08/19/2016
As another school year begins, many recent high school graduates are gearing up for their first semester of college. It’s an exciting time for our students as they explore their academic passions and lay the foundations for a promising career path.
Arkansas’s colleges and universities work hard for success with the students as they work toward their degrees. Currently, the funding of our higher education institutions is based upon enrollment numbers, but doesn’t take into account the student success rate of these institutions.
When I took office, I set a goal to increase post-high school degree and certificate completion from 40 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025. That’s a tall order. But with the help of the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and the support of our state colleges and universities, we’ve created a new higher education funding formula with a focus on degree completion. That means when more students succeed, colleges and universities are rewarded in their funding.
The new funding formula will put a greater emphasis on student success and increase the productivity, efficiency and accountability of Arkansas’s colleges and universities – regardless of the school’s size or number of degree programs. It will incentivize school leaders to focus on activities that encourage and empower our students to graduate on time.
This is a big step forward for our schools and – most importantly – for our students. And I’m not the only one excited to see these changes. Higher education professionals from all across the state have provided ideas and solutions to help make this happen. By working together with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education, we’ve developed a funding formula that prioritizes outcomes, rather than just enrollment numbers.
So why is degree completion so important? Because students who complete their degrees are better equipped to compete in today’s workforce. On average, the first year earnings for Arkansans with a high school degree are around $12,000 annually. But with a college degree, our graduates typically start at nearly $30,000, which more than doubles their annual income right out of school.
In Arkansas – where the unemployment rate is at an all-time low and we have added more than 54,000 jobs since January 2015 – jobs are both available and attainable for students.
Those who pursue higher education in Arkansas deserve every opportunity to excel. Under this new funding formula, there will be greater focus on ensuring that students are able to walk across the stage on-time, and with a diploma in hand – all the while providing the college or university with incentive to be more efficient with how they use their budget.
Together, with the Arkansas Department of Higher Education and our state’s outstanding colleges and universities, we’re working to make Arkansas a national leader for student success. And with the Arkansas Higher Education Coordinating Board’s recent vote to pursue the new funding formula, we are now ready to present it to the Arkansas General Assembly. This would make Arkansas the fifth state in the nation to base higher education funding on student outcomes – the possibilities for Arkansas’s students are endless.
From AR Farms to AR Tables08/12/2016
Arkansas has a rich tradition of family farming. Out of the 45,000 farms in Arkansas, ninety-seven percent are family-owned. We lead the nation in rice production and are among the top ten states in the production of poultry, catfish, sweet potatoes and lumber.
The agricultural industry adds nearly $20 billion to our state’s economy each year, all the while sustaining a long tradition of homegrown production.
Yes, in Arkansas, our agricultural roots run deep.
This week, to show my support of our farmers, I issued a proclamation for “Farmers Market Week” in Arkansas. From August seventh to thirteenth, nearly 100 farmers markets sold their homegrown products in every corner of the state.
These markets – stocked full of everything from bacon to jellies – allow our farmers an outlet to sell their goods and contribute to the health of local communities. And let me tell you, there’s nothing quite like the taste of a freshly picked tomato or ear of corn that was grown less than 50 miles away. In fact, last week I picked up a watermelon and it reminds me that our Hope and Cave City watermelons are the best in the world.
To put the industry in perspective, farms span across 13.8 million acres of Arkansas land and account for one out of every six jobs. But not only are farmers critical to Arkansas’s economic success, they also lay the foundation for a healthier Arkansas.
An important part of our mission is to increase access to fresh, affordable, healthy foods. Farmers markets have played a major role in helping us accomplish this goal, bringing nutritious, top-quality produce right where you live and eat. Through the federal SNAP benefits program, Arkansas can double the purchasing power of SNAP benefit cards at farmers markets. That means more people will have access to healthier food choices and greater opportunities for a balanced diet.
And every year, “Farm to School” programs gain more popularity as schools choose to buy fresh fruits and veggies from local farmers to feed students. These programs provide healthy choices for our kids, invest in communities and support local farms.
The momentum of the farm-to-table movement and our efforts to advocate for farmer’s markets have tripled the number of markets in Arkansas over the last three years alone. That means more jobs are created, families and children are eating healthier and local farms become more sustainable. It’s a win-win. And it is part of my Healthy Active Arkansas plan.
As governor, I am proud to support Arkansas agriculture and the farm community. To our farmers – our greatest natural resource – thank you for bolstering our economy and supporting our uniquely Arkansas way of life.
And to those who have a hankering for some homegrown produce and Arkansas hospitality, find out when a local farmers market is open near you, and come hungry.
Revitalizing Downtown Jonesboro08/05/2016
Last month, I took my second international trade mission to Europe as governor to tell Arkansas’s story on the global stage. It’s exciting to talk about the state’s economic development, job growth, computer coding initiative and natural beauty, but what I really enjoy is telling the stories of Arkansans at the local level.
Every part of Arkansas has a story to tell, and some of the best stories are about people who work and live for the people in their community. The Downtown Jonesboro Association, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the downtown scene, has worked to offer resources and programs to improve the quality of life for Jonesboro’s citizens and businesses downtown.
From art murals created by A-State University students to the nationally accredited “Main Street” program, the Downtown Jonesboro Association is making its mark on Northeast Arkansas. The nonprofit received six statewide awards last year from the Main Street Arkansas program for recent projects and for the creation of the signature street market event, “Alive after Five.” This emerging program is comprised of local farmers, bakers, musicians and shops, and attracts more than 500 visitors each month.
The Downtown Jonesboro Association has also helped create 87 new jobs through business recruitment last year, bringing the total number of new businesses in the downtown area to 17 – and this year, they’ve already seen six more businesses open their doors.
In June, the Downtown Jonesboro Association came to Central Arkansas to accept an Arkansas Historic Preservation grant of $15,000 to go toward building improvement, downtown parking, public art initiatives and more. In essence, these funds will go directly back into the community – making downtown Jonesboro an even more vibrant place to live, work and play.
In the words of the Downtown Jonesboro Association’s Executive Director, Hailey Knight, “Since 2000, local community members and stakeholders have worked continuously to improve our streetscape, recruit businesses and rehabilitate buildings – all helping to promote the area as the ultimate destination place for Northeast Arkansas.”
There’s a lot of reasons to love Arkansas, and small town stories that have a big impact are some of the greatest examples. If you’re wanting to take a weekend trip before summer ends, consider visiting places like Jonesboro. And if your story takes you there, use the Twitter hashtag #WeAreDowntowners to share your experience with others.
Naturalized in the Natural State07/29/2016
The phrase “E Pluribus Unum”, found on the Seal of the United States, means “out of many, one.” Those words not only recall the history of the 13 colonies coming together as one nation, they also remind us that the United States is a melting-pot of immigrants from all over the globe. When people and cultures combine on U.S. soil, they weave the beautifully diverse fabric that makes our nation so great.
This week, I had the opportunity to meet 101 of our nations’ newest citizens at the Old State House Museum in Little Rock. People from 37 countries were administered the Oath of Allegiance, swearing their loyalty and patriotism to the United States. The youngest person to take the oath of citizenship was 19, the oldest, 80. And each of the 101 can finally, proudly, call themselves Americans.
If growing up in this country has taught me anything, it would be that no matter where you come from, you have the potential to accomplish great things. I’m proud of my roots. I was raised in the small town of Gravette, and I’ve had the opportunity to do everything – from shoe-shining to governing – as a citizen of the United States. This is my version of the American Dream.
As I watched those 101 men and women recite the Oath of Allegiance, it was clear that the American Dream is now a possibility for them.
Of the many stories told at the ceremony, one that stood out to me was that of the Bruzatori family. Their journey to American citizenship began in 2002 during the Argentine Great Depression. As a result of a severe economic downturn, the Argentinian government defaulted on $155 billion of debt, causing hyperinflation across the country. To make matters worse, the government froze citizen’s access to personal savings accounts and tightly restricted all bank transactions, keeping many from using the money they had saved to support their families.
Guillermo Bruzatori, searching desperately for a way to offer his family something more, soon found himself convinced by a family friend that greater opportunities for his three children – Guillermo Jr., Florencia, and Camilla – could be found in the United States. Full of hope for a brighter future, Guillermo and his wife, Garciela, packed their bags and set off to pursue a new life for their family in the great state of Arkansas.
Today, two of the Bruzatori children have graduated from college, with the third in the process of earning her degree. After the family took the Oath of Allegiance, Florencia said, “We are very excited and proud to now be fellow Americans.”
The journey of the Bruzatori family, and of all those who received citizenship that day, have now been woven into the fabric of the American story. As we welcome our newest citizens, we can take pride in our country’s status as a beacon of hope and opportunity around the globe as the greatest nation in the world. God has truly blessed the United States of America, and in Arkansas, we are blessed to have these 101 new citizens.
Broadband Access for AR Schools07/22/2016
It’s always good to go back home. This summer, I’ll be returning to the small town in Northwest Arkansas where I grew up to reconnect with friends and family and to enjoy the memories of my youth. Growing up in Gravette has helped me to appreciate the value of the close-knit community that small towns often produce.
When I return home, I am reminded of the importance of continuing to invest in these smaller communities that may sometimes be overlooked. One of the best ways we can invest in our state’s small communities is to work hard to provide the best educational resources, particularly by ensuring that these communities have access to broadband Internet. Over the past 10 years access to the Internet has transitioned from a luxury to a necessity, and communities that lack access are at risk of falling further behind.
Forty years ago, the world was very different. Growing up, I recall taking trips to the library and sifting through card catalogs to find information for my school projects, but today, most students research information online or through a digital library catalog. Methods of education are constantly evolving along with the development of new technology. Technological advancements have provided students, teachers and communities with vast resources for research and study. The Internet provides massive amounts of information at the click of a button.
But for students living in rural areas, online research may not be so simple. Much of the time, small towns in rural Arkansas have difficulty accessing online information simply due to a lack of broadband connectivity.
As Governor, it is my objective to eliminate hurdles that limit opportunity and affect the quality of our schools and communities.
For example, tasks like applying for jobs and signing up for health care coverage now require an internet connection. Public safety, economic development, business, education and health care are all significant factors in the economic growth and quality of life within a community.
This is why, last year, the Arkansas Department of Education, the Department of Information Systems and myself set a goal for 100 percent of K-12 public schools in Arkansas to have sufficient high-speed, secure and state funded broadband access.
In 2013, the Federal Communications Commission issued an internet-access target of 100 kilobits per second per student in public schools. In Arkansas, we have doubled that standard, so that we will provide access to 200 kilobits per second per student in 100% of Arkansas public schools. As I visit communities across the state this year, I am encouraged that even the smallest towns in rural Arkansas are closer to having access to broadband internet service available in their communities.
In September 2015, Fort Smith became the first school district in the state to connect to the upgraded high-speed network, called the Arkansas Public School Computer Network. Since then, hundreds of Arkansas schools have followed suit, and every week, another half-dozen schools get connected. Today, nearly 80 percent of the state’s schools now either meet or exceed the FCC’s Internet access target, ranking the state at 21st in the nation for broadband connectivity. Soon our state will be one of only three states with 100 percent K-12 broadband connectivity.
This is excellent news for education in both small towns and thriving cities in Arkansas. Arkansas is preparing our students for a greater future. As educational opportunities improve throughout the state, so will other opportunities improve for economic growth, health care and community development. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”
Promoting Arkansas Across the Pond07/15/2016
Last Saturday, I boarded a flight to London with a team from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to attend the Farnborough International Air Show. Over the last 10 years, Arkansas has had a significant presence at the Farnborough Air Show – and this year was no exception. Attendees included 86 of the world’s top 100 aerospace companies and over 100,000 trade visitors from 56 countries.
Farnborough provided me an excellent opportunity to meet with aerospace industry leaders and sell Arkansas. In recent years, the aerospace industry has been one of Arkansas’s chief exports, accounting for nearly $2.3 billion in total export value over the last two years.
During our visit, Mike Preston, the Director of Arkansas Economic Development, and I met with representatives from more than 20 companies. We encouraged them to consider what Arkansas has to offer their businesses as they look to expand, and we were pleased by the level of interest we received during those meetings. In our conversations, several businesses in the aerospace and defense industry expressed their interest in the state, and let us know they were impressed with Arkansas’s computer coding initiative. As a result of these discussions, I am pleased to report that we have nearly a dozen leads with major companies to increase jobs and grow our state’s economy.
After the Farnborough Air Show, our delegation continued the trade mission’s momentum by traveling to Germany to announce the official opening of the Arkansas Economic Development Office for Europe in Berlin. The German office will be Arkansas’s third international trade office, with two others already operating in Japan and China.
So why, of all places, did Arkansas open a trade office in Germany? One of the reasons is because our state already has a strong working relationship with this country. In fact, Germany leads the list of countries with business operations in the state. Germany’s 30 Arkansas subsidiaries include manufacturers of automotive parts, power tools, and plastics. Together these German companies employ more than 1,600 Arkansans.
Germany’s central location in Europe and its position as our state’s largest foreign direct investor gave us yet another incentive to locate the office in Berlin. Over the next several years, this office will serve as the central hub for our efforts on the continent, enabling us to reach companies in the entirety of Europe with ease.
Today, more than 34,000 workers in Arkansas are employed by foreign-owned companies. These investments directly contribute to Arkansas’s growing economy and help us continue to improve our already record unemployment rate. The math is simple – more jobs mean even lower unemployment numbers, and more money in the hands of Arkansans. This week, I was proud to lay a foundation for Arkansas’s economy in the heart of Europe. I am excited to see the effects our efforts in Europe will have in bringing job growth and investment to our state.
Growing Economic Success07/08/2016
Earlier this week our state received some great financial news. The Arkansas Department of Finance submitted the year end revenue summary for 2016. I am pleased to report that Arkansas finished the year with a $177 million budget surplus. This is an excellent reflection of our growing economic success.
Our budget surplus is a direct result of conservative principles in action. One of the first steps I took upon being elected Governor was to sign the largest middle class tax cut in Arkansas’ history. This tax cut affected what I like to call the “sweet spot” of the state’s economy by easing the burden on individuals making between $21,000 and $75,000 a year.
Opponents of tax cuts often cite the opinion that cutting taxes will reduce the government revenue base and hinder its ability to fund services. After this week’s news, it is clear that the exact opposite has been the case. The tax cuts we passed in 2015 went into effect on January 1 of this year. Even with the impact from $100 million in tax cuts, net revenue from the state income tax grew by 4.4% over last year’s collections.
Reducing the state income tax rate to a more competitive level is a key component of our economic development plan. When we pitch our state to companies who are exploring establishing or relocating in Arkansas, one of the first things they consider is the income tax rate of the target state. Companies want to make sure their employees are able to maximize their take home pay, so they tend to favor states with a lower tax burden. A competitive tax rate will help us recruit more companies like Big River Steel and Sun Paper to the state which in turn will expand our tax base and increase the total tax collections without the need to raise taxes.
Relieving the financial burden on the middle class not only helps us bring more jobs to the state, it also drives economic growth by putting money back in the hands of wage-earners. After all, the more money hardworking Arkansans have in their pockets, the more likely they are to support local businesses, buy school clothes for their children and to spend in manner that creates growth for our state.
It is important to note that economic growth is just part of what is necessary to build our $177 million surplus this year. It was also important to control spending. At my direction, our state agencies have continued to look for savings and efficiencies in their budgets. One of the ways we have kept costs down is the continuation of the hiring freeze for state agencies. Before the hiring freeze went into effect our agencies often filled vacant positions with no consideration as to whether the positions were still needed. Now our agency directors are taking a deeper look at ways they can streamline their agencies to be more efficient to ensure that we are making the best use of public funds. In fact, current estimates, as of the end of the 2016 fiscal year, show nearly $7 million in savings from the hiring freeze.
Conservative budgeting also means that we need to be well prepared for the future. While we are doing well right now, it is important that we protect ourselves against the possibility of another economic slowdown. For that reason, I plan to direct as much of our $177 million surplus to our state’s rainy day fund as possible. Currently, we have $41 million in our fund and we’ll be adding another $13 million in monthly payments to the rainy day fund throughout the year.
As Governor, I am working hard to lead our state in preserving funds and wisely allocating money to best grow our economy, ultimately putting money back into the pockets of hard-working Arkansans.
Celebrating Our Liberty and Freedom07/01/2016
Two hundred forty years ago, John Adams wrote to his wife Abigail and predicted that for centuries to come, July the 4th would “be celebrated, by succeeding generations, as the great anniversary festival,” which would include “illuminations from one end of this continent to the other.” Centuries later, as Adams predicted, we continue to commemorate our nation’s independence by lighting up the sky in celebration of our liberty and freedom.
The freedom that we enjoy as a nation was, and continues to be, hard-fought and hard-won. In fact, within the first few years of America’s conception, many of the founding fathers feared that our newborn country was already on the cusp of collapse.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, George Washington participated in vigorous debate about how to structure the government of our fledgling nation. Benjamin Franklin, the Pennsylvania delegate and elder statesman at the convention, later noted that Washington sat in a chair with the image of a sun carved into its wooden back. Franklin remarked that he was unsure whether that sun was rising on a new, free nation, or setting on idealistic hopes for a nation conceived in liberty. As thirty-nine delegates signed the U.S. Constitution, however, Franklin was confident that the sun was, indeed, rising rather than setting.
On July 4th, it is important to look back and honor the men who charted our path as an independent nation two centuries ago. This year, many are hearkening back to the beginning of our country by attending the mega-hit show on Broadway, “Hamilton.” “Hamilton” has sparked worldwide interest in American revolutionary history. The hip-hop musical tells the story of America’s first Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, and the pivotal role he played in the early years of our nation.
Alexander Hamilton certainly lived the sort of eventful life that was made for the stage. He served in multiple wars, helped draft the Constitution, served as the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, founded the New York Post, and wrote over two-thirds of the renowned Federalist Papers, a series of essays that defended the yet-to-be-approved Constitution.
Alexander Hamilton had his hands in nearly every aspect of our nations founding. He devoted his life to creating the country’s solid foundation and securing the liberties that we know today in the United States of America.
It is my sincere hope that we never lose sight of how priceless those liberties truly are. It was Alexander Hamilton, himself, who said on December 13, 1790, “However weak our country may be, I hope we shall never sacrifice our liberties.” The founders of our nation understood the outstanding courage required to establish and maintain liberty and justice for all, and they also predicted that if courage failed and fear prevailed, these liberties would disappear as well.
Fourth of July should not only be a celebration of our independence, but also a reminder of the courage, resolve, and sacrifice required to secure it. As we enjoy the holiday on Monday, keep the words of President Eisenhower in mind. He said, “Freedom has its life in the hearts, the actions, the spirit of men and so it must be daily earned and refreshed – else like a flower cut from its life-giving roots, it will wither and die.”
AR Economic Milestones06/24/2016
In 2012, Fort Smith was dealt a staggering economic blow when Whirlpool permanently closed the doors of its manufacturing facility, eliminating more than 900 jobs in the area.
Although some might have expected the people of Fort Smith to pack their bags and call it a day after such challenges, the Fort Smith community refused to let this setback define them. Fort Smith’s leadership worked hard to bounce back. Part of its strategy has been to recruit world-class companies to the community and create an atmosphere that encourages existing businesses to grow. Since 2012, companies from all over the world have announced plans to locate or expand in Fort Smith, resulting in the creation of thousands of new jobs.
Fort Smith is just one example of an Arkansas city that is experiencing recent economic growth. Arkansas is bringing jobs from business around the world to communities all across the state. In March, I traveled to Northwest Arkansas to announce 100 new jobs in Rogers. From there, I traveled immediately to Northeast Arkansas to announce 110 jobs in Jonesboro. Through these two announcements, 210 Arkansas families in two different communities on far ends of the state will experience a greater a quality of life because companies are making significant investments in our state and our workforce.
As more industries begin to take notice of the friendly business climate in our state, our unemployment rate continues to drop. The unemployment rate for the state is 3.8 percent—the lowest it has been since at least 1957, when the unemployment rate was first recorded in Arkansas. This brings the total number of employed Arkansans to 1.3 million. There are currently 54,000 more Arkansans who now have a steady flow of income to support their families than when I took office in January of last year. This is great news!
Arkansas is gaining the attention of business across the globe. In just a year and a half, the Arkansas Economic Development Commission has signed incentive agreements with 150 new or expanding companies in the state. These 150 companies will create more than 6,300 new jobs at an average hourly wage rate of almost $19.25, and will invest $2.5 billion in their Arkansas operations.
Arkansas regularly trades with dozens of countries from Japan to Cuba. Five European countries ranked among Arkansas’s top 20 trading partners in 2015, accounting for 16.9 percent of all exports from Arkansas. Germany leads this list with 23 German-based firms located in the state, employing more than 1,600 Arkansans.
Because of Arkansas’s connections with Germany, I will be joining with our economic leaders to officially open a new office in Europe, which will put us in a better position to recruit foreign companies to do business in our state. This office will allow us opportunity to be even more successful with global companies that are looking to expand in the U.S.
Ultimately, our goal is to share our story with the world to create better opportunities for hard-working Arkansans. Already, it’s been a great year for job growth in Arkansas, and with our state’s natural beauty, thriving lifestyle, effective infrastructure and entrepreneurial mindset, Arkansas will continue to attract new talent and business for years to come.
National Great Outdoors Month06/17/2016
Last Friday, I spent the evening with eight Central Arkansas families to celebrate National Great Outdoors Month. The event was part of a nationwide “Governor’s Capital Campout,” and Arkansas was one of 17 states to participate this year.
It was the perfect evening for a campfire, s’mores and stories. As we gathered around a campfire at Pinnacle Mountain State Park, it was hard to miss the excitement of the kids and parents enjoying nature together – many experiencing camping outdoors for the very first time.
The world of outdoor living has always been a big part of my life. Growing up in rural Northwest Arkansas, I spent my childhood surrounded by nature – literally. My brother and I had bedrooms on the very top floor of my family’s old farm house, which of course had no air conditioning.
During the summer months, we would take our bed sheets and pillows to go sleep outside and get some relief from the heat. As we enjoyed the cool nighttime breeze, I fell in love with the sounds that make up nature’s symphony – crickets chirping, frogs croaking and the gentle breeze rustling through the trees. Still today, those sounds are music to my ears.
Not only did I grow up in that environment, I raised my children to love the outdoors as well. They’re all grown now, and they seem to enjoy recalling memories of our camping trips. They always talk about my camping skills – or as they would put it – my lack of camping skills.
When they were teenagers, we went camping on top of Mount Magazine. It was March and it had been pretty cold. As night approached, we wanted to start a fire. I, however, forgot to bring the matches. So there we were on the tallest point in the entire state – unable to start a fire, but I absolutely refused to leave. I don’t think they’ll ever let me live that one down. But I love our state parks, camping and all that the Natural State has to offer.
This summer, Arkansas’s travel and hospitality industries are starting on a strong note. Our tourism tax collections are 7.8 percent ahead of last year’s revenues, which were also up from the previous year. Low gas prices and great weather are making it easy to get outside and enjoy the beauty of the Natural State. And last weekend, I did just that at the “Governor’s Capital Campout.”
Our state parks are not only great for your physical and mental health, recreation, and timeless family memories, they’re great for the economy, too. As the nation celebrates National Great Outdoors Month in June, I encourage you to take your family on an unforgettable Arkansas outdoor adventure. You could make a kayaking trip through the class four rapids at Cossatot River State Park, take in the beautiful scenery at Cedar Falls, or spend a night or two camping out with your family at Mississippi River State Park.
You can’t go wrong spending time at any one of Arkansas’s 37 state parks. And remember, even when you forget the matches, the memories you’ll make at any Arkansas state park will last a lifetime.
Medical Schools Expand In Arkansas06/10/2016
Twenty-three year-old Jackson Bagby from Van Buren grew up with a desire to become a physician. When he graduated from the University of Central Arkansas, he knew he wanted to go into osteopathic medicine. He began researching osteopathic programs outside of Arkansas, but, when Arkansas State University announced plans for a college of medicine on its campus, Jackson knew exactly where he was meant to be. He was accepted into the school’s first class of students, beginning this fall.
Jackson says he’s “an Arkansan through and through,” and that his love for Arkansas has made him even more committed to learning and practicing medicine in the Delta Region.
The Delta Region isn’t the only portion of Arkansas that will benefit from the educational opportunities of future medical professionals. In April, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine in Fort Smith received pre-accreditation to begin recruiting its first class. The inaugural class of the Fort Smith medical school is predicted to have 150 students and will begin in August of 2017.
According to the U.S. Office of Management & Budget, a rural area is classified as having fewer that 50,000 people in one city. In the United States, 77% of rural counties are facing a shortage of primary-care providers, and 8% don't even have a single primary-care physician.
With nearly 45 percent of our state’s population residing in rural areas, some Arkansans experience difficulty accessing healthcare due to a shortage of medical health professionals in their region.
We are working diligently to ensure that this will soon be a thing of the past. Studies show that eighty percent of medical professionals remain in the region of their first job or residency.
With our state’s flagship medical school, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and with the establishment of two new osteopathic medical schools, Arkansas’ network of medical professionals is growing rapidly.
Last week, I traveled to Jonesboro for the rededication of Arkansas State University’s Wilson Hall, the newly renovated home to our state’s second medical school, the NYIT College of Osteopathic Medicine.
NYIT at Arkansas State will further help meet the health needs of Arkansans by strengthening our state’s ability to train future medical health professionals.
Already, the school has accepted 124 students and the current waitlist sits at around 150 applicants. Additionally, 48% of the students accepted to be in the first incoming class are Arkansans.
Together, with UAMS, and the additions of two more medical schools in Jonesboro and Forth Smith, we are providing an excellent opportunity for our state to address a shortage of medical health professionals and become a frontrunner in higher education for medicine and science. Higher education should be in the business of meeting the needs of Arkansas; both new and established institutions for medical education throughout our state are doing just that.
As one of A-State’s newest medical students, Jackson Bagby said, “The thing about medical school is that it’s your first step to pursuing a career in lifelong service. I’m taking step one in learning how to change lives for the better.” As Governor, I will continue working with our higher education entities to ensure we retain talented medical students, like Jackson, here in the great state of Arkansas.
The Future of Arkansas Graduates06/03/2016
Another school year has come to a close. Many high school and college graduates across Arkansas have now earned their degrees and are preparing to enter the workforce. It’s an exciting time.
Graduation day is something you remember forever. You hold your head high, receive your diploma, and as you return to your seat, you meet the eyes of friends and family who couldn’t be more proud of you.
Carla Webb, age 45, from Buckner, Arkansas, finally got that experience for herself after earning her degree from Southern Arkansas University – only two hours before her son, Darryl Webb III. The path toward earning her degree was anything but easy. And yet, on May 6, 2016, Carla was awarded her degree in Criminal Justice, followed shortly by her son, who earned a double major in Engineering Physics and Mathematics.
When asked about her experience, Carla said deciding to start college at age 45 was a challenge. But because of her determination and support from her family, Carla continued to push herself and finally walked across that stage.
Many Arkansans share a similar mindset. We know the values of hard work and persistence – and with many skilled and professional workers heading toward retirement, there will be an estimated 5.8 million job openings nationwide, with nearly 60,000 of those openings in Arkansas.
The jobs are here; all it takes are the right tools, a willingness to learn and an opportunity to get them.
As governor, I get a lot of calls about economic development. When a business is considering relocating or expanding in Arkansas, the abilities of the state’s existing and upcoming workforce are always a key part of the discussion. It is critical to equip our students, young and old, with workforce training opportunities to give them a competitive edge. That way, Arkansans can graduate with skills that meet the needs of employers – and ultimately, can be successful in any career.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest." In Arkansas, we are moving closer toward bringing a new generation of skilled workers and professionals into our state’s labor force. Already, our state has funded several new Secondary Career Centers in the past year, bringing the statewide total to more than 40 centers. We’ve also seen innovative career development programs in local school districts and more than 20 regional workforce grants issued by the Arkansas Department of Higher Education over the past year.
Additionally, Arkansas is working to close the education attainment gap by setting goals in the Department of Higher Education to increase post-high school degree and certificate attainment from 40 percent to 60 percent by the year 2025. It’s a bold mission – but when our students excel, so do our businesses, our communities, and, our economy.
The future of Arkansas graduates – like those from Webb family – is bright, and I encourage learners of all ages to go out and make your own success stories. You’re never too old to start learning, and you’re never too young to aim high and achieve great things.
Honoring the Fallen05/27/2016
On March 3, 1945, Arkansan Jack Williams was on the island of Iwo Jima with the 3rd Battalion, 28th Marine Regiment. Upon seeing a fellow marine wounded by a grenade on the frontlines of battle, Williams braved enemy fire and ran to assist the wounded marine, shielding the man with his body while dressing his wounds. As he assisted the soldier, Williams was shot four times. He paid no attention to his own injuries, but instead finished helping the man and rushed to the aid of another marine in need. It was then that he was shot and killed by an enemy sniper. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery and selflessness that day.
On April 25, 1951, Charles Gilliland from Yellville, Arkansas was serving in Korea in the 7th Infantry Regiment. When his company came under attack, they were greatly outnumbered. But Charles Gilliland refused to give up. He held a strong defensive position and fired continuously at the enemy line, even after suffering a severe head injury. Gilliland stayed behind to provide covering fire as the rest of his company retreated. He was never seen again. His family was presented with the Medal of Honor just one month before his 18th birthday.
On March 17, 2010, Hot Springs native Chief Petty Officer Adam Brown and his Special Ops Assault Team were engaged in an enemy fire fight in Komar Province, Afghanistan. The enemy fire pinned down many of Chief Petty Officer Brown’s fellow soldiers until he made the selfless decision to charge the enemy, drawing the fire from his comrades. Chief Petty Officer Brown saved their lives by sacrificing his own that day.
Jack Williams, Charles Gilliland and Adam Brown are just three of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have counted the cost and paid the ultimate price, laying down their lives in service to our country. We say their names and we retell their stories that we may never forget their sacrifice.
It is traditional for soldiers to honor their fallen comrades following combat by paying tribute to them in a final roll call. The Sergeant Major calls the name of each soldier in the unit. When he reaches the name of the fallen soldier, however, the room fills with silence. The Sergeant Major calls the fallen soldier’s name once again. No one responds. Finally, the Sergeant Major calls the fallen soldier’s full name and rank. The first sergeant then steps forward and responds with the soldier’s full name and rank, declaring that the soldier was killed in action.
Acknowledging the absence of the fallen soldier is often a difficult and somber affair, but the soldiers call roll with the conviction and resolve that all unit members will be accounted for and that the fallen soldier will never be forgotten.
In the same way, we resolve to commemorate the fallen—those who have served our country in centuries past, along with those who have fought and died in recent years. We say their names, tell their stories and strive to honor their memory everyday.
This Memorial Day, as is my custom, I will be speaking at the Arkansas Memorial Day Ceremony at the Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery. However you observe Memorial Day this year, I encourage you to take a moment of silence honoring those who have laid down their lives in service to our country. We owe them a debt we can never fully repay.
Paving the Way05/20/2016
We all learn from history and that includes Arkansas history.
In 1911, the Arkansas Legislature met for the first time in the new State Capitol. The building was still unfinished, but it was “finished enough” for legislators to meet for a general session.
During the session, Arkansas’s 22nd Governor, George Donaghey, proposed three bills that would help with the final completion of the Capitol Building. Two of his bills easily passed through the legislature. The third, however, was filibustered to death on the last day of the regular session.
The gavel came down at noon on May 13, 1911, signaling the end of the general session. Only 30 minutes later, Governor Donaghey issued a call for a special session – marking the third special session in Arkansas history since the adoption of the 1874 Constitution.
Five items were on the special session’s legislative agenda, including bills to help fund the completion of the Capitol. Although the building was not fully finished until four years later, Governor Donaghey was pleased everyone had worked together and had gotten the job done.
Now, more than 100 years later, the Arkansas State Capitol continues to house the daily operations of state government. It’s seen quite a few special session since the days of Governor Donaghey. And this week, it saw another as the 90th General Assembly gathered for their third special session.
We’ve taken on a number of items, but our main objective is to address Arkansas’s highway funding needs. We need to ensure that our state has adequate funding for our highways, roads and infrastructure.
Back in January, I outlined a five-year highway plan that would fund our current roadway needs and support future highway projects in Arkansas – all without raising taxes. My plan calls for the use of existing revenue and surplus funds for our highways while still allowing Arkansans to enjoy savings at the pump. A little extra pocket change can go a long way.
Today, the “Arkansas Highway Improvement Plan of 2016” will continue through the various committees of the legislature. Some characterize the plan as a short-term fix, but I do not view it as a one-time solution. It’s a plan to meet our federal funding match for the next five years or more. There’s always the option of doing something different down the road, debating our options and looking for long-term solutions. But for right now, we’re off to a good start.
In President Ronald Reagan’s first Inaugural Address, he said, quote “We must act today in order to preserve tomorrow. And let there be no misunderstanding – we are going to begin to act, beginning today” end-quote.
This weekend, the legislators will continue working and preparing for the special session activities on Monday. They will look for ways to achieve greater government efficiencies, protect our Worker’s Compensation program, lighten the workload for our foster care caseworkers and resolve challenges facing our state’s schools.
As governor, I am proud of what we’ve accomplished so far, and I applaud our legislators for diligently working to find solutions to our state’s most pressing issues. Keep up the good work, and keep “paving the way” for Arkansas’s future.
After all, we’re making history – and it’s a story we’ll all be able to tell.
Law Enforcement Heroes05/13/2016
Last month in Hot Springs Village, Angela Andrews sent invitations to a birthday party for her son, Toxey. The Mom invited twenty-one of Toxey’s friends to celebrate over a bonfire, hot dogs, cake and ice cream. This was a big day. Toxey was turning ten years old.
On the day of the party, however, Toxey was crestfallen when none of his friends arrived. According to his mother, the ten-year-old was overwhelmed and disappointed, saying, “I just wanted people to come.”
Two days later, Toxey found that he had friends he had yet to even meet who were eager to celebrate his birthday.
After learning of the unattended party through Facebook, five Arkansas State Troopers exhibited extraordinary initiative and compassion by throwing Toxey his very own birthday celebration. With the permission of Toxey’s mother, five state troopers named Corporal David Forthman, Troopers Kyle Sheldon, Tim Callison, Brandon Cook and Terry Sawyer surprised Toxey at his home, bringing along presents, a birthday cake, and even a K-9 named Rhino. Together, the troopers ate cake, played basketball, and taught the ten-year-old how to activate the lights and sirens in the troopers’ vehicles.
Having experienced one of his best birthdays yet, Toxey said that he was so happy, he cried. He hopes that one day, he too will become an Arkansas State Trooper.
The efforts of these five troopers to care for a member of the community when they had no official obligation to do so exhibit leadership, caring and policing at its finest. The story of Toxey’s birthday surprise has traveled all over the world, eliciting responses from people in Taiwan, France, Malaysia, Germany, Hong Kong, Poland and Tanzania, as well as hundreds of responses from across the United States. One man from Sweden sent a letter to the Arkansas State Police Department saying, “I will definitely make a stop in Arkansas next time I am back in the USA—seems to be a nice and friendly state.”
Next week our state joins in observing National Police Week and Peace Officers Memorial Day, recognizing those who work to protect our citizens and commemorating the service and sacrifice of over 20,000 United States law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty. Of these, 283 were killed while serving in Arkansas. Whether police officers, state troopers, or correctional officers, these brave men and women help keep us safe and they daily put themselves in harms way. Many times, their work goes unrecognized and underappreciated.
Now, more than ever before, it is the call of law enforcement to not only protect their community but to go beyond what is required and show kindness in many different ways to the community they serve. I am proud that Arkansas law enforcement officers demonstrate that leadership, respect and initiative every day, even to the point of celebrating the birthday of a ten-year-old boy from Hot Springs Village.
Our officers do so much more than their normal responsibilities, and they demonstrate to the world what Arkansans are like.
As governor, I thank those who work to preserve public safety and protect our citizens. I appreciate your service and your commitment to our communities and to our state. Because of your hard work and dedication, the world is able to see that superheroes do exist—right in the state of Arkansas.
Restoring Hope to AR Foster Kids05/06/2016
Jarvis Hale, a Division of Children and Family Services Investigator who’s been on the job for nearly two years, recently shared a heartbreaking story. One evening, not long ago, he was called to a home by law enforcement who had found a toddler walking alone down a street. When Jarvis arrived at the home of the toddler, he saw a gut-wrenching scene.
There were dirty diapers on the floor, old food rotting in nearly every corner of the home, and roaches – some alive, some dead. Besides the wandering toddler, there were three other children living in the home. The oldest was just 15, and had been trying to take care of their younger siblings for quite some time. But since there was no food in the home, the small toddler had gone searching for something to eat.
Jarvis loaded the kids into his car and took them to the nearest DHS office. Sometimes, when children are taken into foster care, they bring in clothes, toys and toiletries. However, this sibling group had nothing. Their only clothes were dirty and too small. Soon after their arrival, a worker made sure the children had something to eat, went out to Walmart and bought each of them clean underwear, pajamas, shoes and personal items.
Sadly, this dismal scene is all too common. No child should have to experience what these four children knew as their everyday reality. That’s why it’s important for us to do everything we can to protect and care for our state’s foster children.
Currently, there are more than 4,900 children in foster care in Arkansas. As a parent, grandparent and governor, my heart goes out to these children who need our help and our support. In government, when you work on issues like foster care, results can sometimes come in forms of mandates and stand-alone events. But I want to do more, which is why I held the Restore Hope Summit last summer.
Already, our attention to this issue has resulted in changes within DHS and at the Division of Children and Family Services. The thoroughness of investigations has improved, the percentage of children receiving protective services who are abused or neglected is down, and the average time for adoption has decreased. Additionally, the number of beds for foster children has increased by nearly 400 since my Restore Hope Summit.
We have made progress, but there’s still more to be done. May 2016 is National Foster Care Month and Arkansas Foster Care Month. To help meet the needs of our foster children, I urge every Arkansan do your part and help build a brighter future for children like those rescued by Investigator Hale.
If you are able, please consider making a donation to the statewide donation drive to help make children’s first night in foster care a little easier. Items such as new clothes, suitcases, toiletries and kid-friendly snacks can be dropped off on weekdays in May at any of Arkansas’s 85 DHS county offices.
Every young Arkansan should know the safety and love of a permanent home. It’s up to us to help our children start their lives on the right paths. Together, we can make a difference for the next generation and give more hope for the future.
Sun Paper’s Natural Choice04/29/2016
Last November, I went on a trade mission to Japan and China. During the trip, I met with top executives from a China-based company called Sun Paper that employs more than 10,000 people worldwide.
After touring the company’s headquarters in China’s Shandong Province and explaining the benefits of Arkansas’s timber industry, myself and Hongxin Li, Sun Paper chairman and founder, signed a letter of intent. In this letter, Sun Paper committed to investigating building a facility in South Arkansas.
Now, only four months later, the letter of intent has become a reality. This week, Sun Paper announced they will invest $1 billion to open a bio-products mill in Arkadelphia. The opening of this mill will create 250 new jobs that pay an average of $52,000 annually. It is also expected to result in more than 1,000 indirect jobs for those working in South Arkansas’s timber industry. It is estimated that this mill will generate at least $28 million a year for timberland owners in the area.
In addition to this significant economic impact, more than 2,000 construction workers will be hired over a two year period to build this new facility.
Sun Paper’s investment in Clark County is among the top two largest private investments in Arkansas’s state history. It required a lot of teamwork. Legislators and leadership teams in Arkadelphia and Clark County worked hard to make this project a success. Stephen Bell, President and CEO of the Arkadelphia Regional Economic Development Alliance, was an instrumental part of the project.
Bell is excited about Sun Paper coming to Arkadelphia, but also for all the economic activity that goes along with it. He estimates the mill will bring millions of dollars each year to the area economy.
New tax revenue coming into the area will allow for greater improvements in infrastructure, which will help recruit industry and support existing businesses. Also, millions of new dollars generated from increased activity will go toward local businesses and strengthen our schools and colleges.
When Bell heard the big news, he said, “I was ecstatic and felt a great sense of pride for the community. This was a big accomplishment for the economic development team, and we couldn’t have done it without the coordinated efforts of AEDC.”
During the Sun Paper announcement, Chairman Li not only credited the economic advantages of choosing to do business in Arkansas, but also the development of personal relationships between Arkadelphia, the State of Arkansas and myself. He said, after researching and investigating locations for more than four years, “We are delighted to find a place to call home.”
We are glad to have them here. Arkansas was a natural choice for this project, and it’s been a pleasure working with everyone involved. There really is no place like home – especially if home is Arkansas.
Working Together for Arkansas04/22/2016
I love history, and this week I was reminded of a speech made in the British Parliament during the critical days before World War II, when Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was taking England and our allies down the wrong path. Prime Minister Chamberlain had just made a speech in parliament and it was up to the opposition party leader, Arthur Greenwood, to give the response.
Greenwood began very nervously: “I am speaking under difficult circumstances, with no opportunity to think about what I should say, and I speak what is in my heart at this moment.”
Another member of parliament, Leo Amery, was on the back row of the chambers and was frustrated that Greenwood was simply speaking for the Labour Party at this perilous time for England. Amery stood up from the back of the chamber and shouted, “Speak for England, Arthur!”
At that moment, Greenwood changed his message, spoke for England and gave the greatest speech of his life and, perhaps, changed the course of history.
This week in the Arkansas General Assembly, we might not have been as dramatic as the debate before the Great War, but I was proud of what we did. We all came together and spoke for Arkansas.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas Senate passed funding for Arkansas Works, with twenty-seven voting in favor of the legislation. Yesterday, another three-fourths vote was achieved in the House.
Passing Arkansas Works has been a difficult journey. But we’ve accomplished what we set out to do because our legislators looked for and found a solution, together. Both Republicans and Democrats brought the General Assembly together to support the funding for Arkansas Works.
After I received the legislation, I exercised my line-item veto authority, which rejects the sunset clause which would end the Arkansas Works program on December 31. Now, the funding bill has been passed and signed into law.
This has been a long process, starting with the formation of the Legislative Task Force on Healthcare Reform, all the way to setting up the framework for reform to encourage more work opportunities and more reliance on employer-based insurance. I applaud Senator Jim Hendren and Representative Charlie Collins for their exemplary leadership as the reform bill moved through the legislature.
The budget session began last week, and now, only eight days later, the funding of our state’s healthcare needs has been accomplished. We attained stability in our healthcare system and bipartisanship within the legislature. That is a good week.
There was a lot of courage involved, and I commend our legislators for their resolve and their passion in dealing with this subject. As governor, I applaud the action of the Arkansas General Assembly this week and everyone who worked to make this a success.
It’s been quite a week, but we’ve still got more business to do. At the end of the day, I am confident the people of Arkansas will be pleased with what we’ve accomplished. And that’s something that we, as public servants for the State of Arkansas, can ALL be proud.