Southwest Arkansas legislators were confident going into the special session of the Arkansas General Assembly which concluded Friday night that they could give Arkansas public school teachers help in addressing steep insurance premium spikes, but a plan by Governor Mike Beebe to shift tax millage money from eight school districts to stem further increases split the Lege.
Southwest Arkansas legislators were confident going into the special session of the Arkansas General Assembly which concluded Friday night that they could give Arkansas public school teachers help in addressing steep insurance premium spikes, but a plan by Governor Mike Beebe to shift tax millage money from eight school districts to stem further increases split the Lege. “I am optimistic that we will be able to pass legislation that will reduce the proposed public school employees' insurance premiums increase from the proposed nearly 50 percent increase to a 10 percent increase and establish a task force to recommend long-term recommendations for public school employee insurance programs,” State Representative Brent Talley, D-McCaskill, said Friday. Both of those plans sailed through the House and Senate on Friday, with identical plans in separate bills calling for $43 million in state surplus funds to be shifted to the teacher insurance program. Final votes on those bills passed out of both houses on Saturday. State Senator Larry Teague, D-Nashville, said that once the posturing over aspects of Beebe's plan to shift excess funding over the state-mandated 25 mills for maintenance and operations from eight school districts whose millages generate more revenue than the minimum funding set by the state was over, substantive work began. Those funds are known as Uniform Rate of Tax monies. “I will vote 'no' on taking the URT money,” Teague said. But, Teague said the substance of the need is in the long-term fix necessary within the teacher insurance and retirement programs. “Teachers need some help on their insurance, as do most of my constituents,” he said. “I am frustrated because we are not fixing the problem in a long-term way, as in adjusting benefits and increasing participation and, perhaps, finding a better funding method.” But, State Senator Jimmy Hickey, R-Texarkana, said in a brief statement Friday that he favored the URT plan. “I am in favor of the legislation to ease some of the burden placed on our educators,” Hickey said. “My intentions are also to vote in favor of the URT.” The Mineral Springs School District, which includes Saratoga in Hempstead County, was among the eight affected school districts, stemming from the property value impact of the John W. Turk, Jr., Power Plant on 2,000 acres of land which lies partially within the district. “I did not support changing URT,” Talley said. “I have worked hard with the Saratoga/Mineral Springs District to get them out of fiscal distress.” Both Talley and Teague represent constituents who would have been affected by the URT plan. But, the URT proposal never got out of committee in the House effectively killing it for the special session, according to the Associated Press. The AP reported that the Senate sponsor of the URT plan pulled his bill down after it failed in the House Education Committee.