Two years ago, the Student Government of the University of Central Arkansas had a problem. Their student body was outgrowing its campus Health, Physical Education and Recreation Center, known at many colleges as HPER Centers. The weight room was overcrowded, some key recreational facilities were located elsewhere on campus, and the building generally needed updating.
The Student Government Association came up with a plan. After an expansion proposal was agreed upon, student leaders took their proposal to the UCA Board of Trustees, which led to a student vote. The students voted to increase the fees they were already paying for maintenance and access to the HPER center and used the extra funds to expand and revitalize the center.
This past week, I took part in a groundbreaking for the $15 million expansion and renovation project. It will add a swimming pool and racquetball courts, double the size of the weight room, and make outdoor-recreation equipment available for students. It's expected to open in the fall of 2014.
While of course this is good news for UCA, I also want to note how this expansion occurred. Students saw a need and desire for improved services. They came up with a specific plan for what they wanted. And then, they found a way to pay for it. While this may seem like basic common sense, it is a way of thinking that is, all too often, becoming less common in government and politics.
Government projects require money, and while people enjoy new roads, stronger law enforcement and helpful services, none of these things occurs unless we collect money to pay for them. Our current political climate is one of stringent anti-tax rhetoric. Yet, the desire to create new spending has not been curbed to match that rhetoric.
Everyone likes tax cuts, and we've been fortunate in Arkansas to be able to afford them. Since taking office, I've worked with lawmakers to achieve $1.6 billion in tax savings for our citizens and businesses. But we must be careful with our aspirations, as there are always needs that our State must also address. Where we've seen success in addressing those needs is when voters have a direct say in the decision making and are confident in how the money will be spent. This is the kind of reasoning that led to the temporary sales tax now in effect to help expand and improve our highways. Even in this frugal political climate, voters still gave their approval to a project that was for the good of everyone.
It is easy to make promises to create new services or cut taxes or shrink government; it is more difficult to follow through, especially when you're trying to do them all. Hopefully more politicians at all levels will strike a more pragmatic tenor, because we can make our achievements as simple as the HPER expansion at UCA. If you see a need, find a way to address it, and then a way to pay for it.