Leader Blues

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

EDITORIAL >> Arkansas is getting help

Arkansas’ good fortune in dodging the worst of the global economic collapse will not be its perverse undoing. President Obama assured Governor Beebe on Monday that Arkansas would not be penalized in the distribution of billions in emergency school aid because the state has held the public schools harmless from economic travails since 2003.

Unlike California and most other states, Arkansas has not reduced school funding in the long recession. The Arkansas Supreme Court said in 2002 that the state Constitution forbade it, and the legislature changed its fiscal laws to insure that whatever else happened the schools would not be penalized when the economy turned south.

But Beebe worried that Arkansas might be penalized in the big economic stimulus program because it did not have the same financial woes that other states had. (Ours just happen to be longstanding, not recent.)

We had suggested after the election that the governor pursue federal stimulus funding for part of the $1 billion of capital needs in Arkansas schools, which were identified in a legislative study two years ago. Arkansas school facilities are among the worst in the nation. Although the state set aside a large sum to help the schools build, remodel, renovate, weatherize and modernize classrooms, not a lot has been done because schools have not been able to raise the money for their matching share. Why couldn’t federal stimulus funds provide that match?

President Obama told the governor Monday that they could be used for school and college buildings, though maybe not for entirely new facilities. No gymnasiums, tracks and stadiums, please. This new president is proving to be a wise and practical man.

The school spending, which will enable the state to modernize and re-equip schools to be energy efficient, will give children a better break and at the same time create work and jobs. Who could be against that?

Well, quite a few, including several Republican governors, our own congressman from northwest Arkansas, John Boozman, and — most shocking of all — our former governor and favorite-son presidential aspirant, Mike Huckabee.

Huckabee, who is counting on the country collapsing and the stimulus program failing, has joined Rush Limbaugh and his fellow Fox News commentator Sean Hannity in condemning the president’s effort to generate a burst of economic activity to halt the slide into depression. He opposes the federal handouts to the states, in the form of new infusions of money for the health care of the poor and for education.

This is the same Mike Huckabee who pushed for a huge expansion of government assistance for health insurance for children and adults while he was governor. No state beseeched Washington for more federal aid than Arkansas under Mike Huckabee. He got waivers from Washington to qualify for 75 percent federal assistance for children of families up to twice the federal poverty line and to qualify whole families for federal health aid under a Medicaid plan for businesses with low-wage employees. He boasted that these little socialist projects were his greatest achievements as governor. He also engaged in some clever maneuvering to qualify Arkansas for an extra helping of U. S. taxpayer aid for nursing homes.

The only difference is that he won’t be able to claim credit for these latest achievements, so they are not worth doing and are taking us down the road to a socialist state. Another difference is that no one is listening to him now.