• Arkansas Commemorates Memorial Day

    Since the founding of our country, over 1 million men and women in the armed forces have sacrificed their lives in time of war.

    This Memorial Day, we encourage Arkansans to remember that this weekend is about much more than the unofficial beginning of summer. It is a day to remember.

    Arkansans have a proud history of serving their country. Today our state is home to more than 260,000 veterans.

    During WWI, over 71,000 soldiers who served were from Arkansas. Out of those soldiers, 2,183 lost their lives.

    Close to 10% of our state’s population served in WWII. Of the 194,000 Arkansas soldiers serving in various branches of the military, 3,519 were killed as a result of combat.

    We are reminded every day at the Capitol of the lives lost in Vietnam. A memorial on the grounds lists the names of the 600 soldiers killed in combat.

    Since September 11th, 142 men and women from Arkansas have lost their lives serving our country.

    The numbers of our fallen heroes are not just statistics. They are real people, with real families, who lived in real communities.

    We can best honor their sacrifice by remembering their families, who have lost so much.

    The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has posted a link to all ceremonies at all veteran’s cemeteries across the country. You can find the one nearest you by visiting www.cem.va.gov.

    And if you cannot make it to a ceremony, there is a way all of us can pay a small tribute. In an effort to help remind Americans of the true meaning of Memorial Day, Congress passed the “National Moment of Remembrance” resolution in December 2000. It asks that at 3pm all Americans pause whatever they are doing for a moment of silence and remembrance.

    We owe it to the heroes that died and the loved ones left behind to make sure that their sacrifices are remembered and that their service to this nation always be honored.

  • Arkansas Unemployment Rate Reaches Record Low

    Unemployment in our state is now at a record low. Since we began tracking employment in 1976, we have never seen the unemployment rate below 4.1%. That is until last month.

    The unemployment rate for April in Arkansas was 3.9% while the national rate was 5%. This means 1,309,268 are in the workforce. That is 5,000 more than the month before.

    The Department of Workforce Services says jobs were added in several fields including transportation, hospitality, and construction.

    When Arkansans are working their families and our state see the benefit. It increases an individual’s purchasing power which then leads to the creation of more jobs.

    The news comes while we are working to improve our state’s infrastructure and our efficiency in this special session. We are expected to adjourn this session on Monday.

    The House approved a bill to provide a match to federal highway funds for the next 5 years which will result in $1 billion to improve our roads. The legislation accomplishes the first year’s match by transferring $40 million from the Governor’s Rainy Day Fund, using $1.5 million from investment returns from the state treasurer, diverting $4 million from the diesel tax currently being directed to general revenue, and devoting the entire ½ cent sales tax which voters approved in 2012 to highways. Currently 3% of that tax goes to central services which funds our constitutional offices.

    For the following years, the state will direct 25% of all surplus funds to highways. We will continue to direct investment earnings from the state treasury to the highway department. The bill also includes provisions to provide us with more information on projects funded by the Highway Commission.

    The House also advanced legislation implementing an expiration date for task forces that either rarely meet or have not met in some time. The efficiency bill also transfers the Arkansas History Commission from Parks and Tourism to the Department of Arkansas Heritage. In addition, this bill streamlines the paperwork process for Children and Family Services workers who oversee foster care cases.

    Other legislation presented this session include eliminating a state trust fund for workman’s compensation claims while lowering the taxes for policies paid by businesses.

    Currently, this fund assumes the cost of worker’s compensation claims after businesses pay the first $204,000. It is predicted this fund could go bankrupt in 6 to 8 years. This bill would require businesses or their insurance policies to assume all of the claims after June 2019 while lowering their premium tax.

    And we approved a measure to put a pause on schools or districts from being declared in academic distress for the 2016-2017 school year. This allows schools time to adjust while a new accountability system is being implemented.

    By the end of the first week, the House voted in favor of 12 bills. You can review all of the bills and watch testimony in committees and on the House floor at www.arkansashouse.org

  • Fourth Fiscal Session Ends With Balanced Budget

    The House has wrapped up the state’s 4th Fiscal Session by passing a balanced budget with increases in funding to some of the most urgent needs.

    We began this session with discussion and debate on funding Arkansas Works. After that appropriation passed, it was clear the budget for the next year would not require any cuts to state agencies or increase taxes for Arkansans.

    The $5.3 billion balanced budget we passed includes a 2.75% spending increase from last year.

    The increases include:

    • $23.7 million for education
    • $88 million for traditional Medicaid and 6 months of funding for Arkansas Works
    • $3.5 million for behavioral health programs
    • $20 million for foster care programs within DHS
    • $2 million for higher education grants
    • $1.5 million for economic development
    • $4 million for the Department of Correction
    • $5.2 million for merit pay adjustment for state employees.

     

    We also approved a fund transfer of $50 million from the state’s surplus to the rainy day fund. And another $13.8 million will be diverted to the rainy day fund during the next fiscal year.

    The rainy day fund is intended to be used for emergencies and any needs the Governor may see that cannot wait until the next session.

    We plan to use $1 million from this fund to restore cuts that were made last year to library funding statewide. Another $1 million will restore funding to senior centers.

    The Governor has also indicated he wants to use a portion of these funds for highways.

    He announced on Friday that he will call the legislature back in for a special session to address highway funding on May 19. There are both short term and long term needs when it comes to our infrastructure. It will be up to us to decide if the long term needs should be addressed in this session or wait until the next Regular Session.

    You can review the budget we recently passed on our website at www.arkansashouse.org. In the meantime, we will continue to update you on our approach to improve Arkansas’s highways.