July 04, 2007 Edition

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Thompson addresses local chamber

State Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould (center) visits with State Rep. J.R. Rogers of Walnut Ridge and Betty Johnson of Black Rock after the June 22 Chamber of Commerce quarterly meeting in Hoxie.
Gretchen Hunt

State Sen. Robert Thompson of Paragould, who represents Lawrence County in the state legislature, addressed members of the Chamber of Commerce during the group's quarterly meeting on June 22 at the Hoxie Service Center.

Thompson provided an overview of the recent legislative session, including discussing how the state's surplus funds were designated.

"In 2005, there was no money, so the budget was tightened," Thompson said. "We did better than expected so we had a surplus."

He said at the end of July of 2006, the state had a budget surplus of $916,000,000. A major part of the legislative session was deciding how to use that surplus.

According to Thompson, the remaining issue with the Lakeview School case was school facilities.

"The legislature had not spent the money needed to fix the physical plants of schools throughout the state," he said. A total of $456,000,000 of the surplus was designated for that purpose.

"The Supreme Court has now said what has been done is sufficient," he said. "So, we don't have that litigation hanging over our heads now."

An additional $50,000,000 was placed in a quick action closing fund that will be used in economic development to attract businesses to the state.

The House and Senate also received part of the surplus to be used as discretionary funds to be given in local communities for fire departments, county fair boards and such.

An additional $40,000,000 was designated for pre-K programs in the state to fund preschool education for four year olds.

"A student who attends a pre-K program is more likely to do well in elementary, more likely to graduate and more likely to go on to further his or her education," Thompson said. "They are also more likely to own their own home and not go on welfare."

Another major recipient of funding was the alternative fuels program through the Department of Agriculture, a program Thompson has campaigned for.

A $20,000,000 grant program has been established for development of alternative fuels. Applicants can be producers, processors or retailers of alternative fuels.

"I really expect good things from that $20 million," he said.

Thompson said he was pleased that the surplus is being used.

"State government is not a bank," he said. "We're not supposed to sit on it and let it accumulate."

He said in addition to designating a large portion of the surplus, tax cuts were approved, as well.

The reduction of the state sales tax on groceries to three percent will result in about $120,000,000 a year less income to the state. He said the legislature also approved an increase in the real estate homestead credit from $300 to $350.

Thompson said one big issue that was not addressed during the session is highway improvements.

"We're going to have to do a lot on highway funding," he said. "We need a plan, and during the next legislative session, we're going to have to look at that."

Thompson said the $70,000,000 designated for highways does not go very far.

"We're going to have to come up with some more money," he said.

He said some suggested sources of funding have been toll roads, which are not popular, or a sales tax, which the state is trying to get away from. Thompson encourages anyone who has ideas to share them with him or State Rep. J.R. Rogers.

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