News & Events

Politics at play as Legislature considers $5 billion budget

Today, the legislature will convene in a fiscal session to approve the state’s budget. But, before we look ahead to the fourth fiscal session in our state’s history, let’s look at how we got here.

The state’s first fiscal session was held in 2010, after Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing the legislature to convene during even-numbered years to address budget matters. Regular sessions are held every odd-numbered year and tend to be more lengthy, but the political maneuvering remains the same during these shorter fiscal sessions.

Fiscal sessions last 30 days, but can be extended 15 days by a 3/4 vote in both the House and the Senate. A fiscal session can last no longer than 45 days. Fiscal sessions are subject to budget matters only; however, there is a parliamentary procedure that allows the legislature to consider non-budget bills. A super majority is required in each chamber to allow the legislature to hear items other than budget bills.

Now that we have outlined the history and the guidelines of a fiscal session, let’s address the politics that will undoubtedly play a larger than necessary role in approving our state’s $5 billion budget.

Governor Hutchinson has proposed a $142.7 million increase in the state’s general-revenue budget for the fiscal year, which begins July 1. The proposed increase would bring the state’s total budget to $5.33 billion  The largest percent of the increased funding would go to the Department of Higher Education, Department of Correction and the Department of Human Services.

Late last week, the 90th General Assembly convened for a special session to address the future of the Department of Human Services and the private option, now known as Arkansas Works. The House and Senate showed wide support for Governor Hutchinson’s Arkansas Works legislation. The Arkansas Works bill passed in the Senate by a vote of 25-10 and 70-30 in the House. Although the governor’s new and improved private option received more than 2/3 of the vote, the fiscal session, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow, requires a 3/4 majority to pass an appropriation bill.

While many believe the House will be able to shore up the 75 votes needed to pass the Division of Medical Services’ appropriation bill, which includes the newly passed Arkansas Works, the 10 senators who voted against the policy appear to be holding strong. Governor Hutchinson needs at least two senators to change their vote within the next few weeks.

While no session is without drama and political backroom deals, this might be the most intriguing fiscal session yet.

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