Beebe’s $4.72 billion budget faces competing resolutions
Arkansas Democrat Gazette
LITTLE ROCK — Gov. Mike Beebe urged lawmakers Monday to do what he said voters intended when they created fiscal sessions: Approve a state budget and go home.
But which budget to approve became an issue when Republican legislators filed resolutions that, if adopted, would allow them to introduce their own versions of the budget, instead of relying on Beebe’s $4.72 billion general-revenue budget recommendation for fiscal 2013.
Monday was the opening day of the 2012 fiscal session, only the second held by the state. Beebe addressed a joint meeting of the House and Senate, saying the first fiscal session, held in 2010, was short and sweet.
“I urge and applaud to take that same route,” he said.
In 2008, voters adopted Amendment 86 authorizing fiscal sessions in even numbered years. Previously, the Legislature met in odd numbered years in “regular” sessions, during which it enacted the state budget for two fiscal years. Now, during a regular session, a budget for only one year is enacted.
A fiscal session is limited to 30 days with one possible extension of no more than 15 days. As of Monday, 294 bills had been introduced.
Beebe did not refer specifically to the resolutions for other budget proposals.
“It is my job to propose and it is your job to dispose. That doesn’t mean you are free from proposing yourself,” Beebe said in his speech to lawmakers. “Sometimes I applaud your initiative and sometimes I wonder where you came up with the idea to begin with.”
Beebe spokesman Matt De-Cample said after the speech that the governor is open to looking at other proposals.
House Republican leader Rep. John Burris of Harrison filed House Concurrent Resolution 1008. Sens. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, and Johnny Key, R-Mountain Home, filed Senate Concurrent Resolution 3.
During a fiscal session, a lawmaker who wants to introduce a nonappropropriation bill is required to get a two thirds vote in the 100-member House and 35-member Senate in order to introduce such a bill.
“I think the governor’s budget is good. Is it perfect? No. So, the question is what room is there for change and how do we have the most input? That’s through potentially having our own competing budget,” Burris said.
The resolutions are not specific about how they would differ from the budget Beebe has proposed to the Budget Committee. Such resolutions typically lack specifics.
Beebe’s budget included a $163 million spending increase, which includes $114 million more for the state’s Medicaid program and $56.6 million more for kindergarten through 12th grade education.
Burris said his budget will propose less spending, but he wouldn’t say where the cuts would happen. He said he would have details by the end of the week.
House Budget Chairman Rep. Kathy Webb, D-Little Rock, said while Burris and other Republicans are welcome to create their own budget proposal, she expects the Legislature will approve a budget based on the governor’s plan.
“Frankly, I’ve looked for cuts and I just don’t see the cuts. I don’t have the specifics on what Rep. Burris is going to propose to cut, but I don’t see the cuts in the budgets,” Webb said. “I just don’t see the money without cutting out the programs that we need, services that we need. I’m very supportive of what the governor has laid out so far, maybe a few minor tweaks but that’s about it.”
House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr., D-Arkansas City, said while addressing the House that lawmakers shouldn’t try to start from scratch on the budget.
“When the framers of Amendment 86 put it together, they didn’t intend for us to come down and reinvent the budget wheel, but rather to come down here and keep the train on the tracks and keep it moving along,” Moore said. “We don’t want to deal with gridlock, we don’t want to deal with distraction that take us away from the business of the people.”
Burris stressed that he is not trying to cause a problem. He said he just wants more discussion.
“It’s not an attempt to road block or cause problems. It’s actually the exact opposite. This is a way to get to the table and get together early and have some room for improvements,” Burris said. “It’s very good for us to have competing ideas and competing budgets out there. His budget is very good, it is a conservative budget. This is the way that we have debate, competing ideas.”
At a news conference after the House recessed for the day, Moore said he’s willing to look at Burris’ proposal alongside the budget that will be proposed by the Budget Committee.
“I’m looking forward to looking at his proposal and seeing where he thinks he can find some fat that we need to trim out in the budget,” Moore said.
Moore said Burris mentioned money in agency budgets but did not specifically say where excess money was being spent.
Moore said what money could be considered fat is subjective depending on what program is affected.
“If you are not supportive of some of the programs that are in there you think there is some money to be found,” Moore said. “I think the budget is very reflective of our commitments and responsibility to the people of the state.”
He said the governor’s budget reflects the priorities determined by the majority of lawmakers and the governor.
“I think we are on the right track to continue that,” Moore said.
Burris said recent actions by the governor to restore 15 firefighting positions with the state Forestry Commission shows that there is excess money available.
Beebe announced Feb. 8 that $550,000 from the state Department of Agriculture’s budget could be shifted from unused funds the department usually returns to the state at the end of each fiscal year. The money will allow the commission, which is part of the Agriculture Department, to rehire firefighters whose positions had been eliminated in layoffs last month.
“I think that very much underscored our argument. Up to that point we were told there was no money, it had to be tax increases and then magical pots of half a million dollars appear,” Burris said.
But Moore said the $550,000 reallocation for the Forestry Commission should not give lawmakers the impression that there are other pockets of money that should be spent. He said that agencies are normally given a cushion of more money than they are forecasted to spend in case of an emergency.
“Forecasting is not an exact science,” he said. “You don’t try to be precise, you try to give yourself a little cushion.”
Burris said finding money in the budget is a way for the Legislature to start identifying how it will pay for a projected Medicaid shortfall that the state Department of Human Services has estimated as between $200 million and $250 million in fiscal 2014, which begins on July 1, 2013.
“There is a fiscal train wreck coming with Medicaid. We have got to start looking at ways that we can operate efficiently or start talking about tax increases, and I’m not ready to do that. So it is time to start asking these agencies to operate with less,” Burris said.
Joint Budget Chairman Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, said the governor’s request for a $114 million general revenue increase for the Medicaid program will be “a big discussion point” for lawmakers about the governor’s proposed $4.7 million budget.
“The governor brought me some information today on how they arrived at that number and I haven’t had a chance to really study it yet,” he said. “It is a large amount of [the Revenue Stabilization Act] and to the degree that you deal with that in some other way through some savings in Medicaid, whatever, then you would free up dollars to do some other things that folks may propose.”
Also on Medicaid, Rep.Bruce Westerman, R-Hot Springs, and eight other Republicans filed HCR 1010 to authorize the introduction of a bill to “improve program integrity for Medicaid and the ARKids First Program by implementing waste, fraud and abuse prevention, detection and recovery programs.”
Moore said he supports HCR 1006 and HCR 1009 both sponsored by Rep. Larry Cowling, D-Foreman, that would repeal a sales-tax exemption that the Legislature enacted in 2011 for truckers. The exemption was OK’d in exchange for the Arkansas Trucking Association’s support for a 5-cents per-gallon diesel tax increase proposed ballot issue. The association withdrew its support for the diesel tax increase.
Despite snowy weather in the morning, 33 of 35 senators and 97 of 100 House members showed up for the session’s first day.
The Budget Committee on Monday recommended a bill that will provide no pay raises to the state’s elected officials. House Bill 1005 by the committee is the General Appropriation Bill, which appropriates funds for the core operations of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.
State government as a whole is much bigger than the core operations this bill would fund – the total budget exceeds $24 billion a year, this bill would appropriate $36.8 million for personal services and operating expenses, $1.825 million to the House for expenses between sessions, and $650,000 to the Senate for expenses between sessions.
But the bill has significance also because the Arkansas Constitution says in Article V, Section 40, that the General Appropriation Bill must be enacted ahead of any other fiscal 2013 appropriation bill.
HB1005 would maintain the salaries of the state’s constitutional offices at existing levels: governor, $86,890; lieutenant governor, $41,896; attorney general, $72,408; secretary of state, and treasurer, auditor and land commissioner, $54,305.
The salaries for the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore would remain at $17,771, while the salaries for the other 133 lawmakers would be $15,869.
The salaries of the state’s chief justice and six other justices would remain at $156,864 and $145,204, respectively, under the bill. The pay of the Court of Appeals’ chief judge and the other appeals judges would stay at $142,969 and $140,732, respectively.
The pay of 121 circuit judges would continue at $136,257 and the salaries for 38 district judges would be $121,816. The bill covers the salaries of 13 district judges, effective Jan. 1, 2013, in addition to 25 existing district judges, in accordance with legislation enacted in 2011, according to the Bureau of Legislative Research.
Salaries for 25 prosecuting attorneys would remain $119,552 and those for three others would stay at $100,037.