Arkansas governor proposes $6B budget for coming year

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Tuesday proposed a $6 billion budget for the coming fiscal year that includes increases for public schools. services for the developmentally disabled and higher starting salaries for state troopers.

The Republican governor, who leaves office next year year due to term limits, detailed a proposal calling for a 3.3% increase, or $194.6 million, in spending.

“This is higher than I prefer, but the needs of our state and our healthy financial position support this increase,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said under the proposal the state is expected to build a $174 million surplus during the fiscal year, adding to the nearly $1 billion surplus the state announced last year. Hutchinson said the surplus “gives us a cushion that is needed in this time of economic fluctuations.”

Hutchinson’s proposal calls for a 3%, or $69.6 million, increase in funding for the state’s public school fund. The governor said he’s also requesting $37.6 million to reduce the waitlist for services for the developmentally disabled and $7.6 million to raise entry salaries for state troopers.

The governor laid out the plan weeks after he and the Republican Legislature approved the largest tax cut plan in state history, which will eventually cost the state nearly $500 million a year.

The waiting list for programs for the developmentally disabled had been cited by critics of the tax cut plan of an example of a state program that needed money. There are about 3,200 people on the wait list currently, according to the state Department of Human Services.

Legislative leaders said there were few surprises in Hutchinson’s budget plan, but expected there may be some questions about the overall increase in spending.

“I’m sure there will be some discussion about that and will want to take a closer look at that,” House Speaker Matthew Shepherd said. “But my initial thought was I didn’t see anything that right off the bat I thought would give me or a large part of the membership a big problem.”

The top Democrat in the House said she was encouraged by the additional funding for the developmentally disabled, but said she’s still concerned other programs aren’t seeing enough as the state cuts taxes.

“I still believe we have a lot of needs that haven’t been met yet,” House Minority Leader Tippi McCullough said.

Other increased proposed include $28.5 million in additional funding for public school facilities and $66 million in additional funding for the Department of Human Services, which administers the Medicaid program.

Lawmakers are to convene Feb. 14 for a legislative session focused primarily on the state budget.