2023 Budget Presentation
Governor Hutchinson began his presentation by addressing the omicron variant crisis, stating it is currently “threatening the education of our children, the supply of critical goods, and our healthcare system.” He thanked legislators for their ongoing support in providing resources during the pandemic and informed the committee that yesterday he asked the Arkansas CARES Act Steering Committee to support $50 million in new funding to assist hospitals with staffing needed to add 265 COVID beds. He asked for support from the lawmakers on this proposal.
In addition, Governor Hutchinson said the state has received over 200,000 rapid tests, with an additional 393,000 arriving last night. These tests will be sent out to communities free of charge to help supplement the current supply of PCR and rapid tests available through local stores.
Governor Hutchinson emphasized the importance of keeping schools open for our students, indicating emergency steps may need to be taken, and stating that he considers “teachers and staff critical workers.”
The governor described the presentation as an “unusual budget” because the state has both general revenues and new federal dollars under the American Rescue Plan and infrastructure funds available for investment. The 2023 budget, he explained, provides the opportunity for long-term investment. The goals of his administration were summarized with the acronym “W.I.N.S. for 2022.”
“This year,” said Governor Hutchinson, “we can help our employers by increasing the training of our workforce.” He explained that this goal provides greater opportunities for Arkansans to support their families and improve their lives.
The budget expands infrastructure, from broadband in rural areas to investing in major irrigation projects in eastern Arkansas. Governor Hutchinson said he looks forward to working with lawmakers “to invest ARPA and infrastructure dollars in critical water projects across the state as well as other needs.”
New Economy Jobs
Support for creating new economy jobs from advance manufacturing to high-paying technology jobs is essential. A good example of this support, said Governor Hutchison, is the bill passed during the special session to incentivize the extensive expansion of the steel industry in eastern Arkansas. This measure, according to the governor, put Arkansas “in the driver’s seat to win [the] competition” with other states.
Strengthen Arkansas families
The final priority of the budget is to strengthen Arkansas families through the following measures:
- $500,000 increase in funding for adult education,
- $11 million to strengthen the child welfare workforce,
- $37.6 million to reduce the waitlist for those with disabilities awaiting services,
- Funding child abduction response teams through the Criminal Justice Institute,
- Funding for two new drug courts in Northeast Arkansas, and
- Funding for Child Advocacy Centers.
“Children are our priority,” stated Governor Hutchinson, “and the budget strengthens Arkansas families.”
The 2023 budget reflects a 3.3% growth over 2022 spending, which the governor indicated is higher than he prefers, but he stated, “the needs of the state and our healthy financial position support this increase.”
The state has a $175 million built-in surplus, which provides cushion needed during this time of economic flux, according to Governor Hutchinson. In addition to the surplus, the governor reminded the committee of the $1.2 billion in the catastrophic reserve fund.
The governor assured the committee that the budget aligns with the previous year’s budget, providing for the following:
- $69.6 million increase in public school funding,
- $3.3 million to the Succeed Scholarship,
- $28.5 million increase for education facilities, and
- $621,000 to further expand veterans’ services.
Adjustments to the budget were based on the priority of the general assembly and the needs of the state. Those adjustments include:
- $250,000 to a state meat inspection program,
- $1.5 million increase for charter school facilities funding carried over from 2022,
- $841,000 in new funding for the University of Arkansas at Monticello College of Forestry,
- $5.3 million allocated for the growth of funding to Arkansas Tech University, Southern Arkansas University, and University of Arkansas at Ft. Smith to remedy historical funding disparities, and
- $2.3 million of general revenue funding for the Crime Victims Reparations Board.
Public-School Employee Health Insurance Fund
Acknowledging concern for the Public-School Employee Health Insurance Fund, Governor Hutchinson thanked President Pro Tempore Senator Jimmy Hickey and Representative Jeff Wardlaw for their work on the initiative. The budget includes $57.4 million in existing funds of support, and there is $50 million remaining in the restricted reserve fund for this purpose. The governor concluded by assuring the committee, there is a “sufficient allocation of funds to make sure this health plan is protected.”
Arkansas State Police Funding
Finally, Governor Hutchinson spoke about the need to “support our men and women who are on the front line protecting our communities and enforcing the law.” The budget provides a $7.6 million increase to the Department of Safety to raise the starting salary of entry level troopers and also benefit those with seniority. The governor explained this step is crucial as recruitment numbers are down and the state is low in the region for police starting salaries. This increase will elevate starting salaries to second in the region, and the governor expressed hope it will set an example for local law enforcement to ensure competitive salaries as well.