After 100 days in session, we have reached the end of regular business for the 89th General Assembly of the Arkansas Legislature. We have a balanced budget in place for the next fiscal year, which begins this July. There were many contentious issues this session, but the most heavily debated issue resulted in a bipartisan solution that has the rest of America watching Arkansas.
When I gave my State of the State address in January, I made a comprehensive case for Medicaid expansion. The U.S. Supreme Court had left it for each state to decide whether to accept federal funds to cover millions of uninsured Americans. In Arkansas, this meant potentially 250,000 Arkansans would have better access to health care. However, the politics of the Affordable Care Act made some legislators uneasy about expanding the existing Medicaid program. Instead of walking away from this opportunity, we worked together and built our own solution for Arkansans.
Under Arkansas's Private Option, those 250,000 Arkansans will still have access to federally-funded health insurance. Now, instead of using current Medicaid services, they will receive coverage from private companies competitively bidding through our new insurance exchange. While still administered by the Medicaid program, our plan will give working Arkansans more choices and a greater range of available services. After three years, Arkansas will decide whether to continue the Private Option as the State begins paying its small share of those policies.
The Private Option was built as a result of a strong bipartisan effort in the Legislature. There was a similar effort in approving the Big River Steel plant, which will now bring more than 500 well-paying jobs and a billion dollars of investment to Northeast Arkansas. This first Arkansas economic-development effort, classified by law as a "super project", required thorough legislative review, which was executed before the General Assembly gave their statutory approval.
There was also partisan disagreement during the session. I vetoed bills that I thought would not survive constitutional scrutiny, threatened the legal rights of women or placed unnecessary burdens on our voters and election system. The final word on some of these issues will be decided by our third branch of government, the courts.
The new budget includes tax cuts, paid for mostly with the savings we expect to see from the Private Option. I've shared my concerns about the risks some of these cuts in revenue will carry in future years, but those risks will have to be re-assessed by a different governor and legislature two years from now. My formula to complete cuts to the sales tax on groceries also passed; it will bring additional relief to Arkansas families in future years as funds become available.
This was the final of my four regular sessions as governor. Each has brought different opportunities and challenges, but I'm proud of all we've accomplished for our people. Educational funding and achievement, a statewide trauma system, criminal-justice reform, record tax cuts and the Arkansas Private Option all came to fruition due to hard work and pragmatic cooperation. These are the successes that will continue garnering Arkansas the kind of national attention we want, and further improve our standing in America's 21-century economy.