By Governor Beebe
As we do each February, my fellow governors and I met this past week in Washington, D.C., to discuss common issues we face in our states. There is more optimism about state economies than there was at this time last year. However, there are vital issues looming that can have a further impact for both state budgets and our citizens. Governors from across the entire political spectrum often find a collective voice on these issues, and this year was no exception.
The topic that saw the strongest agreement involved proposed cuts to the federal military budget. There is considerable sentiment across the nation to reduce federal spending, and any such cuts will have real consequences in all states. However, virtually all of my fellow governors and I feel that cuts recently proposed by the Department of Defense disproportionately target the Air National Guard. In Arkansas, such cuts would affect our fleet at the 188th Fighter Wing in Fort Smith by replacing the A-10 jets with smaller, unmanned aircraft.
Our National Guard units serve important missions for both the states and our nation. When governors sat down in the same room, we spoke in one voice that we did not want to see the Air Guard saddled with a disproportionate burden of any military cuts. As a result of the meeting, we sent a letter to Defense Secretary Panetta voicing our concerns, a letter I signed along with 48 other governors.
Another concern that governors share is the continuous rise in fuel prices. While economic conditions are starting to improve nationwide, fuel costs can seriously hinder a recovery. There is little that the United States can do to change the actions of OPEC. What we can do, and must continue to do, is work to reduce America's dependence on foreign oil.
I've spoken at length about the economic opportunities in Arkansas for cellulosic fuels, our increasing role in the wind industry, and the potential that nanotechnology research holds for solar energy. While we work to cultivate alternative energies here at home, we need national policies that add stability to that work. Recent federal programs that support the wind-energy industry have to come up for renewal every year, which makes some investors hesitant and leaves money on the sidelines.
And of course, all states are worried about the costs of health care, particularly paying for Medicaid programs. Unlike most states, Arkansas has not had to cut services, and we are working diligently to transform how we pay for health care and to slow the increase in those costs. Even so, the growth in demand for services could leave our Medicaid budget hundreds of millions of dollars short by July of next year. The work we've already started here to combat that growth remains unique, and other states are watching to see how we progress.
Meetings of the National Governors Association give us a view of our sister states, but my work remains focused here at home. With the legislative session wrapping up, we will concentrate on improving life in Arkansas, bringing new jobs to our communities, and preparing for the challenges we face in the future.