Democratic gubernatorial candidate, and former congressman, Mike Ross said he plans to build on the foundation Gov. Mike Beebe has laid by focusing on areas such as education and job creation, if he is elected governor.
Ross, addressing the crowd at the Conway Noon Lions Club on Tuesday, said for Arkansas to create and attract high-tech jobs, the available workforce must be educated, trained and skilled.
If elected, the former congressman and state senator said the areas of early childhood education and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) education need to be some of the areas addressed first, citing 12 million unemployed Americans, but three million job openings in STEM education-related areas.
Ross also encouraged finding a balance between college availability, and increasing interest in vocational education areas.
“College needs to be affordable and accessible, but we also need to remind our young folks that there are other opportunities if college isn’t for them, like career technical education,” Ross said. “College is important, but we’ve lost placing emphasis on career tech, for those that aren’t college bound.”
On the job market front, the gubernatorial candidate mentioned the pursuit of small and medium-sized factories, in addition to the larger factories, when looking for new jobs and corporations coming to Arkansas in future years.
“If you think about it, would you rather have one industry in a town that employs 550 people, or five industries that employ 100 each, knowing that if one leaves, it won’t collapse your entire economy,” he said. “I think we have to have a multi-faceted approach to economic development and I want to be aggressive on economic development.”
Ross mentioned his interest in beginning a governor’s cabinet for economic development, if elected.
“It won’t cost taxpayers a dime,” he said. “They’re going to meet in a room that already exists, they’re going to sit at a table that already exists. We’ve got six state agencies that deal with economic development, but they’re not talking to one another, they’re not meeting with one another or collaborating.”
Ross stated his interest in pursuing compressed natural gas stations and vehicles, and his shared thoughts on the possibility of eliminating the state income tax, while answering questions from the audience.
Ross said any attempt at tax reform, including eliminating the state income tax should be done in a fiscally-responsible way.
Republican gubernatorial candidate, and former congressman, Asa Hutchinson stated in July he would like to reduce the income tax in phases in a way similar to Beebe, in terms of the reduction of the state’s sales tax on groceries.
Ross argued that the grocery tax is still being lowered, as the economy grows and offsets it, and also indicated that the grocery tax is responsible for only four percent of the state’s general revenue, in comparison to the state income tax, which is responsible for 52 percent of the general revenue, according to Ross.
With the income tax being responsible for so much of the state’s general revenue, Ross said it would result in either a shift of the tax burden or cuts to other state-funded services.
“As the economy grows, if there is room for tax reform, I support it, but I’m not going to campaign on abolishing the income tax just because some poll says that’s how I can be elected governor,” Ross said.
“I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep.”
When meeting with reporters before addressing the Lions Club, Ross said he has been “humbled by the outpouring of support we’ve received from every corner of this state,” since declaring his candidacy for governor in April.
Ross’ camp reported in July it had raised almost $2 million in its first quarter, a record opening quarter, according to Ross’ campaign staff.
Since Ross entered the race, fellow Democrat, and former lieutenant governor, Bill Halter has withdrawn, leaving the former congressman as the lone Democratic candidate.
Hutchinson leads the gubernatorial race on the Republican side, although he faces two primary opponents in Arkansas businessman Curtis Coleman and state Rep. Debra Hobbs.
The Arkansas gubernatorial election will be held Nov. 4, 2014, with primaries on May 20, 2014.
(Staff writer Lee Hogan can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1246. Follow Lee Hogan on Twitter at https://twitter.com/LCD_LeeHogan. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)