• Joint Budget Committee Hears Appropriation Proposals

    This week, the Joint Budget Committee set aside days for legislators to present proposed changes to appropriations before a final budget is drafted. If adopted, these amendments will be before the full House next week.

    Meanwhile, the House continues to pass dozens of appropriations for various agencies as we wind down this fiscal session.

    An appropriation gives the agency the authority to spend the money when it becomes available.
    It is effective for a one year period beginning in July.
    The appropriation specifies which agency receives the money, where the money will come from, and what the money will be used for.

    Other bills before us include supplemental appropriations which usually add money to an authority from an accumulated surplus. And we also vote on re-appropriations which allow an agency to spend a balance left over from the previous year.

    What is important to remember as we continue this budget process is that just because an agency is given a certain amount for an appropriation does not mean that amount is funded. The funding amount is determined by the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA) which will be before us next week.
    We expect to see increases in education and funding for Children and Family Services to provide for the increasing number of foster care families in our state.

    We also know we will be passing another budget without any tax increases or cuts to essential services.
    Unlike previous years, adjourning from the Fiscal Session does not give us an extended break. We know very soon we will be asked to reconvene and direct our attention to highway funding. Already, many of us are studying various proposals and what needs are in our districts.

    The Governor’s Working Group on Highway Funding Report states that $110 million is needed in the next three years to address the Highway and Transportation Department’s most critical needs.
    We will continue to update you on this issue as it develops.

    You can watch all House proceedings at www.arkansashouse.org

  • 2016 Fiscal Session Inches Closer to Final Budget

    The General Assembly is inching closer to finalizing a balanced budget for the next fiscal year. The pace of this Fiscal Session picked up significantly after the passage of SB121. Speaker Gillam later described the debate about this bill as an extremely professional one with a good civil discourse. With 76 votes, the House sent the appropriation bill to fund medical services for the Department of Human Services to the Governor’s desk.

    The amended version of SB121 included a sunset clause to end funding for Arkansas Works at the end of this year. Just a few hours after our vote the Governor announced he vetoed the line item for the sunset clause.

    The House passed a number of other appropriation bills this week including those for colleges and universities. It is expected to take two to three weeks to review and pass all the needed appropriations before we are presented with the Revenue Stabilization Act.

    Under the Revenue Stabilization Law, priorities are set out for the distribution of the General Revenue collections. As the tax dollars are collected, they are distributed first to the funds and in the proportions set out in the A category, then the B category and then the C, if there is one. Each legislative session starts new and sets the amounts, the categories and the priorities.
    By law members have three days to review the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act before being asked to vote. When it is distributed, we will post a copy on our website for the public to review.
    And on a final note, we were presented with even more good news about the future of Arkansas’s economy this week. Our unemployment rate continues to decline. The March unemployment rate was at 4.0%. That is down from 5.5% during the same month last year.

    Knowing that more Arkansans are working helps to complete this next year’s budget with a positive outlook.

    We will continue to update you. And remember, you can watch all House proceedings at www.arkansashouse.org.

  • 2016 Fiscal Session Updates | Week One

    This week we have two important updates from the Capitol.

    The first is the action taking during our first week of the Fiscal Session. The second update we want to share with you is a new report providing valuable information for parents about every school district in the state.

    We convened on Wednesday in the House to begin the budget process for the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year.

    The outcome of the budget will largely depend on the passage of SB121.

    SB121 is the appropriation bill for services and operating expenses for the Department of Human Services Division of Medical Services.

    It includes appropriations for long-term care facilities, AR Kids First, and hospital and medical services. This is also the appropriation to fund the services provided by Arkansas Works, the healthcare insurance program for low-income Arkansans.

    This appropriation failed in a vote on the Senate floor. It has now been sent back to the Joint Budget Committee. That committee meets at 9am on Tuesday. The full House will meet again at 1:30 that afternoon.

    While, we wait to see how this process will unfold next week we want to also bring your attention to a report released this week grading the performance of our schools.

    Each year, the Arkansas Department of Education publishes a Performance Report of the state’s schools. This online report provides information about each school, district and the state, including test performance, teacher qualification, retention, discipline and much more. It is designed to help open the lines of communication between schools, parents and the local community.

    The A-F grading scale is a widely accepted way to identify how well a student is performing in school, especially on tests and assignments. Beginning in 2015, a school’s performance was evaluated using this same A-F grading scale. The Arkansas Legislature passed Act 696 in 2013 requiring the state to implement an A-F grading scale for schools. It is important to remember when reviewing the grades for the schools that is does not measure how well an individual student or teacher is doing. And during the 2014-15 school year, students took more rigorous tests aligned with more rigorous standards.

    Reports are available online at www.arkansashouse.org.

    And don’t forget you can always go to the website to find updated information regarding the session and live streaming of proceedings.