From the Arkansas Statehouse...

Big Willie Wednesday.

In General Business on 18 February 2009 at 7:05 pm

The big question ahead of Bill Clinton’s visit to the legislature this morning was: What is he going to talk about? The general thought leading up to his arrival was that there would be a good deal of reminiscing about his days in Arkansas.

Clinton did his share of that, as he thanked many who had served during his administration. He took particular note of Sen. Bobby Glover, who Clinton said gave him his first $100 contribution for his 1976 Attorney General campaign. He also noted the increased diversity in the legislature and the state as a whole. “This is a more interesting country, and the state is a more interesting state, than it was 30 years ago,” he said.

But it wouldn’t be a Clinton speech without policy prescriptions, and he provided plenty. He applauded President Obama’s stimulus plan and expressed a belief that the economic downturn will continue somewhere from six to twenty-four months.

He encouraged Arkansas legislators in their work and commended them on lowering the grocery tax. But he reminded them that they had it fairly easy compared to lawmakers in states with multi-billion-dollar deficits. Of the lottery creation process he practically told legislators to buck up:  “The details are mind-numbing, but this is normal!”

The most interesting part of Clinton’s speech, however, was a policy suggestion specific to Arkansas: If the federal bank bailouts succeed, he said, then state government should work with banks to obtain loans for retrofitting buildings. Combined with a government match for bank contributions, the program could be used to install efficient lighting in homes and buildings across the state. Savings in utility bills would pay the cost, Clinton said.

In fact, some legislators have been discussing a program that will help homeowners do something similar to what Clinton proposed today, though it is unclear if banks would be involved.  Rep. Kathy Webb said she would present a package of environment and energy bills next week that could include the program.

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