This year is one of those where we are set to review more than just one budget proposal. Arkansas law requires the governor to submit a balanced budget proposal to the General Assembly before every session. Our laws also allow for the Governor-elect to review the budget and make his or her recommendations as well.
Gov. Mike Beebe presented two budgets in pre-session budget hearings this week. Incoming Gov. Asa Hutchinson also can submit his recommendations to the committee anytime between now and the first day of session, Jan. 12.
Gov. Beebe submitted one proposal with existing tax cuts and another proposal assuming the legislature delays more than $20 million in tax cuts for another two years.
The Department of Finance and Administration is forecasting net available revenue to reach $5.2 billion for fiscal year 2016. This is a 3.2 percent increase from the current year.
The agency is forecasting an even greater increase for the following year expecting revenue to reach over $5.4 billion for fiscal year 2017.
We are reviewing the current proposals and wait for any recommendations from the governor-elect. However, it is already clear that education and funding for our prisons will be some of our budget priorities.
The education committee met 25 times between June and the end of October. In those meetings, members spoke with school administrators, teachers, and employees of the Department of Education. The adequacy study is a key element in the continued constitutionality of the state’s system of funding public education.
This year, the committee recommended the funding level be set at $6,584 per student for the next fiscal year. This is an increase of $63 per student from current funding levels. The committee recommended the levels be increased to $6,646 for Fiscal Year 2017.
The majority of the increase is needed to provide for an increase in teacher salaries.
Backup in our county jails due to prison overcrowding is another concern as we study the budget. The proposal before us calls for $9.5 million increase in ongoing general revenue.
Decisions regarding the private option and Medicaid funding will play a large role in budget discussions moving forward.
Although the next General Assembly has several budget obligations before them, the good news is that our state’s economy is expected to grow.
Experts also predict we will continue to see low inflation over the next two years.
For more information including the general revenue forecast visit our website www.arkansashouse.org.