- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 14, 2003

LITTLE ROCK, Ark., Jan. 14 (UPI) — Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee Tuesday proposed sweeping reforms in education and state government to address court-ordered changes in the state's school system and budget challenges.

After being sworn in for a second term, Huckabee told the 84th General Assembly in his state-of-the-state address that Arkansas is facing "extraordinary challenges" on several fronts.

"If we're going to ask our citizens to accept the restructing of our school system so that it will be more efficient, then we need to first put our own house in order by reorganizing and reinventing the executive branch of government," the Republican said.

Huckabee said the streamlining of the executive branch would reduce duplication, save money and make the state's government more uniform and understandable for its citizens.

"This restructuring will result not only in dollars savings but frustration savings," he told the legislators.

Education was also a major element of the governor's message after the Arkansas Supreme Court ruled late last year that the state's schools were inadequate. It was the third time in the past 30 years that the courts had ordered the state to improve its schools.

In his address, Huckabee read statements from seven past Arkansas governors, including Bill Clinton 20 years ago, vowing to improve the system, pay teachers more, and expand educational opportunities for the state's children.

Huckabee said the state must "fulfill the constitutional mandate for an adequate, efficient, suitable, equitable education for every single boy and girl in this state."

Last fall, the governor proposed a five-eighths of a cent increase in the sales tax to maintain current spending levels, but he noted in his address that many in the Legislature had termed it "dead on arrival." He said he still supports the idea.

"But I do understand that without you joining me and finding new revenue, we simply will not meet the court-ordered mandates in education or Medicaid," he said.

Arkansas is looking at a $223 million shortfall as the general assembly prepares to tackle the budget for fiscal 2004.

Colorado is facing a shortfall of about $850 million in the current fiscal year and Gov. Bill Owens called for a return to economic prosperity Tuesday after he was sworn-in for a second term at Denver. His state-of-state address will come later.

In his 15-minute inaugural address, the Republican called for a renewed commitment to "an optimism as big as our mountains" and "an energy to embrace new ideas" as we face the new century.

"Progress for Colorado lies in the promise and spirit of our people," said Owens. "This golden Capitol dome should always remind us that the gold in Colorado's treasury belongs to the people whom we proudly serve."

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