Beebe: Rolling back tax cuts one way to deal with teacher insurance crisis

LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe said Wednesday that rolling back tax cuts is one possible way to address skyrocketing teachers’ health insurance premiums, and he suggested that Lt. Gov. Mark Darr’s ethics troubles might merit his resignation.

In a live-streamed Internet interview with Talk Business publisher Roby Brock, Beebe said options for giving teachers relief from “catastrophic increases” in insurance premiums include reducing or halting tax cuts approved in this year’s legislative session, pulling money from other funds, increasing state control of how school districts allocate money for insurance and reviewing the system for possible changes.

“How did we get here? The system has more claims paid out than money coming in. … It’s a business. It’s an actuarial function,” Beebe said.

One short-term solution would be to draw from a fund of about $200 million that supports the National School Lunch Act program, Beebe said. The NSLA money supports programs and direct services to benefit low-income students in public schools.

“That’s just one of the options. Now, a lot of superintendents don’t want to do that,” the governor said.

He cautioned that any short-term solution must be tied to a long-term solution.

Beebe also was asked about Lt. Gov. Mark Darr, who is being investigated by the state Ethics Commission regarding possible violations of ethics laws regarding campaign finances.

A complaint filed by a liberal blogger alleges that Darr spent thousands of dollars of campaign cash on personal items such as hotel rooms, fuel and Razorback season tickets after his 2010 election. Darr has said he believed at that time that he could spend campaign cash on personal items as a way of repaying loans he made to his campaign.

When asked Wednesday if Darr should follow the example of former state Sen. Paul Bookout, who recently resigned after the Ethics Commission found he had made personal purchases with campaign contributions, Beebe said that what is “good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Darr recently dropped out of the Republican 4th District congressional race and has not said whether he will seek re-election next year.