Ross unveils plan to improve education, increase jobs

Education and job creation go hand in hand, but it all starts with education, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Mike Ross said Thursday when he unveiled his detailed 46-page Jobs First economic development plan at Chaffee Crossing in Fort Smith.

Ross said his plan will improve education, cut taxes, reduce government regulations and improve the economy for everyone.

“By prioritizing education and workforce training, tax cuts, government efficiency and economic development, my job creation plan outlines my positive vision for the future of this great state,” Ross said.

On education, Ross previously announced a plan to make pre-kindergarten education available to all 4-year-olds by 2025 and on Thursday proposed the creation of the Innovative Laboratory Fund aimed at kindergarten through 12th grade.

Under the plan, $5 million in surplus funds would be set aside to provide small grants to educators to implement “innovative, yet proven strategies, projects and programs that are aimed at reducing the education achievement gap in our schools.”

Ross said he would also fully fund the Arkansas School Recognition and Rewards Program, which rewards schools based on a combined performance and improvement rating, and Governor’s Distinguished Scholarship. He would also reform the ASRR so that it recognizes performance and improvement separately.

Ross said he would also encourage public/private partnerships to renew the focus on career and technical education and workforce training for people who don’t go to college but still have a proven ability for a good-paying job.

In addition to his previously proposed income-tax cut, which would be phased in over time, Ross proposes phased-out elimination of the manufacturing sales and use tax on partial replacement and repair of manufacturing machinery and equipment for existing business, to encourage expansion and modernization.

Based on his own experience as a small business owner, Ross said he also recognizes the need for cutting red tape and government regulation to encourage private-sector job growth.

“While government can help, it doesn’t have all the answers, and it can’t solve all our problems. Government should help where it can, and it should get out of the way where it can’t,” Ross said.

Ross proposes creating a central business licensing system to streamline the process, publishing all agency, board and commission rules and regulation in centralized online location and establishing of a task force to review all rules and regulations in place for more than three years and make recommendations for repeal and/or revision.

Ross also reiterated his intention to create a cabinet for economic development, which would be chaired by John Burkhalter, Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor; his promise to fully fund the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund; and his plan to provide grants to communities and other organizations to encourage and support entrepreneurship and/or innovation.

Burkhalter, who spoke briefly before introducing Ross, said he stands ready to help lead the effort laid out in the Jobs First plan, which he described as “bold, comprehensive and visionary.”

Republican gubernatorial nominee Asa Hutchinson said Ross has zero credibility on job creation and reducing the burden of government and wasteful spending in an email from his campaign.

According to the Hutchinson campaign, unemployment grew by 50 percent during Ross’ time in Congress representing the 4th District and 40,000 new rules were published during the same time period. It also pointed to his votes for the “cash for clunkers” and stimulus programs.

Hutchinson, himself a former congressman, served as administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and undersecretary for Border and Transportation Security at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in the Bush administration.

“When it comes to job creation, there are fundamental differences between myself and my Democratic opponent, Mike Ross. Job creation is so vitally important that, as governor, I will lead our economic development and not delegate it to another office. Mike Ross wants his running mate, John Burkhalter, to lead his effort,” Hutchinson said in a news release. “I have said from the beginning that my top priority is job creation and economic growth. I will be the jobs governor; Mike Ross is not sure what his priority will be. Last month he claimed that he would be the education governor and that was his top priority. This month he says ‘jobs first.’ What will his top priority be next month?”

A copy of Ross’ Jobs First plan can be viewed at his website,

Hutchinson’s plan, The Asa Plan, can be seen at