BY STATE SENATOR LARRY TEAGUE –
LITTLE ROCK – During legislative budget hearings in preparation for the 2014 fiscal session, the governor presented a balanced budget proposal for next year that projects more than $5 billion in general revenue spending.
The proposed budget calls for an increase in spending next year of $105.8 million. Public schools would receive an additional $65.4 million over the amount of education funding this year. That would bring the Arkansas Public School Fund to $2.11 billion.
About $10 million in additional funding would go to the state Correction Department, which operates state prisons. About $7 million of that amount would be spent to reimburse county jails for costs incurred holding state inmates. Although the inmates are under the jurisdiction of the state, they are housed in county lockups because of a lack of space in state prison units.
The $3.1 million in increased funding for the Correction Department would bring the department’s annual operating budget to $316.1 million, and would also allow the department to open new prison units with capacity for about 300 inmates.
The governor’s budget would increase the state’s portion of funding for the state Human Services Department by $26 million. That would increase the department’s total expenditures of state revenue to $1.25 billion. It also will spend about $4.2 billion in federal funds.
The other major beneficiary of the increase in funding for Human Services would be its Division of Children and Family Services. Under the governor’s proposed budget the division’s annual spending would go up by $12.3 million, to a total of $61.8 million.
Scholarships would be increased by about $3 million to boost programs for dependents of law officers and personnel in the armed forces. The budget would allocate $10 million for public schools to expand their Internet bandwidth capacity, and $473,000 for construction of a nursing home in central Arkansas for veterans.
In a continuing effort to hold down premiums that public school teachers pay for health coverage, the proposed budget would contribute an additional $10 million next year to the teachers’ health insurance plan.
The fiscal session will convene on February 10. Lawmakers will focus entirely on spending bills, although non-budget bills can be introduced if both the Senate and House adopt a resolution to do so. Adoption of those resolutions requires approval by an extraordinary majority of two-thirds of each chamber. That amounts to 67 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate.
Passage of spending bills requires a three-fourths majority, which amounts to 75 votes in the 100-member House and 27 votes in the 35-member Senate.
The spending bills approved during the fiscal session will authorize state government spending for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014 and ends on June 30, 2015.
In the budget hearings held in preparation for a fiscal session, the focus is on what are labeled the Big Six agencies, due to their being the largest departments in state government and the recipients of the greatest amounts of state tax revenue. They are the Corrections, Community Punishment, Health and Human Services Departments, as well as institutions of higher education and the public schools that teach kindergarten through twelfth grade.