When I speak around the state about Arkansas's accomplishments, the reaction I get all too often is one of surprise. As residents of a historically poor and rural state, Arkansans are used to landing toward the bottom of most national lists. In recent years, however, we've been gaining momentum. And the key to keeping that momentum going is to believe in ourselves, embrace our successes and use them as motivation for the challenges that lie ahead.
For example, some people have a hard time believing that we're now ranked fifth in the country for public education. That we've gone from always having only one or two states below us to seeing that only four states rank ahead of us in the pursuit of educational excellence. So I walk any potential skeptics through the rankings from Education Week, talk about the categories where we've surged to the front of the pack and those categories where we still must improve. At the end, the results show that our decade of investment in our students is showing good results.
Our achievements as a state create their full impact only if we believe that our state is becoming a better place. It is harder to sell Arkansas to people around the country and attract investment if we don't first believe it ourselves. This is why I brag about our ability to avoid budget shortfalls during the recession when only three other states could make that same claim. We celebrate the business openings and expansions that have generated thousands of new jobs, even while other businesses have closed or outsourced jobs in a tough worldwide economic climate. We have made unprecedented advances in our ranking for per-capita income. While we face challenges, we've also given ourselves advantages that will help us compete nationally and make us proud of our work as Arkansans.
Unfortunately, not everyone wants Arkansas to look good in the eyes of others. A political action group calling themselves Americans for Prosperity has created a misleading ad attacking Arkansas and is paying to run that ad on Arkansas television stations. It portrays Arkansas as a state moving backward and driving people away. Despite bipartisan tax cuts of more than $1.2 billion dollars over the past six years, this ad instead makes a false claim of "higher taxes" in Arkansas.
There is also a vague reference to "government debt" in the commercial. With our balanced-budget requirement, there is little debt we can have as a state, and those rare instances usually require a vote of the people. One such example is the Garvee highway bonds that were overwhelmingly renewed by voters last year to improve our interstate highways. Projects of this magnitude cannot be funded without obtaining bonds.
Why would any group spend money trying to trash Arkansas's image? I can't answer that. The funding for Americans for Prosperity remains a secret and originates mostly from out-of-state, and its organizers don't answer questions about their benefactors.
Hopefully, this is only a minor distraction to most Arkansans, and our view of ourselves and the state we love will only continue to improve. Seeing how far we've come allows us to believe that our potential is even greater. It will help us lift those among us who continue to struggle, and will position us as leaders in our nation's future.