Beebe: Ads ‘trash’ Arkansas

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe says a conservative group is “absolutely” misleading Arkansans about the state of the state in a television ad he contends unfairly casts the Natural State in the worst possible light.

“When they trash Arkansas, they’re trashing you,” Beebe told a gathering of hundreds of business leaders Monday night, clearly irritated at a television ad sponsored by Americans for Prosperity.

The 30-second ad that is running statewide does not target any candidate or political party, but claims that “government debt, higher taxes and the everyday cost of of living are slowly eroding opportunities for all Arkansans” and says “economic freedom” is imperative to the state.

It states that Arkansas has “easily the highest tax burden in its region; indeed, in the entire South,” and that Arkansas has lost 25,000 jobs in the private sector.

The ad emphasizes a need for change in the state’s political direction at a time when Republicans are pushing to displace Democrats as Arkansas’ majority party in the Legislature for the first time since Reconstruction.

After viewing the TV ad before attending the Arkansas Governor’s Quality Award event at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock, Beebe took to the stage to decry the spot. He spent several minutes talking about the accomplishments of his administration and how the ad did not reflect them.

“It trashes the state. It talks about how bad we’re doing as a state when that’s just not true,” the governor said in an interview after the event with Arkansas News Bureau business columnist Roby Brock. “We’re doing so well educationally. We’re doing well with creating jobs. Even though we’ve lost thousands, we’ve created thousands — it doesn’t bother to say anything about that.

“It doesn’t bother to mention the fact that we’ve cut more taxes than anybody in history, but we’ve done it in a responsible manner.”

When asked again if the ad was inaccurate, Beebe said, “Yeah, I think it’s very misleading. Yeah, absolutely.”

Since Beebe took office in 2007, he has pushed successfully for incremental reductions of the state sales tax on groceries from 6 percent to 1.5 percent and a reduction of the state sales tax on manufacturers’ utilities from 3.125 percent to 2.625 percent.

The Legislature also has passed an annual back-to-school sales tax holiday and cut taxes on used cars, among other cuts. Both were championed by Republicans.

Beebe has pushed successfully for a 56 cents-per-pack increase in the state excise tax on tobacco products to fund a state trauma network and other health programs, and an increase in the severance tax on natural gas from three-tenths of a cent per thousand cubic feet to 5 percent of the market value of the gas.

Teresa Oelke, executive director of Americans For Prosperity’s Arkansas chapter, said the Americans For Prosperity ad does not “trash” the state.

“We’ve been consistently presenting these facts. This ad is about where we want to go as a state, not where we’re at,” Oelke said.