Arkansas Fiscal Session To Start Amid COVID19 Pandemic
After agreeing last month to millions in 2020 budget cuts, Arkansas legislators are now turning their focus to the state’s 2021 budget in the fiscal session that starts April 6. Find out how to follow along in this upcoming session.
This is the sixth-ever fiscal session, a product of Amendment 86 that voters approved in 2008. Amendment 86 requires lawmakers to meet every other year to consider appropriation bills so legislators can’t skip the session because of COVID-19.
The fiscal session is limited by the constitutional amendment to 30 days plus one 15-day extension. However, legislators told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette they want to get in and get out quickly, meeting for 10 days to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.
Three lawmakers have already tested positive for the new virus despite precautions taken during last month’s special session that saw state representatives meet at the UA Little Rock’s basketball stadium.
Though this fiscal session is expected to be the shortest one yet, senior leaders have filed bills to allow the session to go for 45 days in case they need to reconvene for more business before May 22.
If you’re not at the Capitol on a routine basis, you may be unfamiliar with some legislative terms and processes.
With the passage of Amendment 86, Arkansas lawmakers now set the state’s budget for one year. The state’s fiscal year is July 1-June 30, meaning the state’s 2021 budget starts July 1, 2020. The bills legislators will be considering in the next week take effect in less than three months.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson proposed a $5.83 billion budget and $54 million in surplus funds before the coronavirus stalled the entire country’s economy. State officials have now reduced the 2021 general revenue forecast by $205.9 million to $5.68 billion.
Legislators have already started filing appropriation bills to fund state agencies. Money can be budgeted but it can’t be spent without an appropriation bill that authorizes the spending.
Arkansas’ Revenue Stabilization Act includes several categories of spending priorities. The state uses a formula to prioritize distribution of revenues so the state does not deficit spend. (Read more about the history of the Revenue Stabilization Act and the constitutional amendments that prohibited deficit spending in Arkansas)
The categories are A, B and C.
- Category A is funded first and includes essential agency programs, such as education, health and human services, and corrections.
- Category B is funded only after enough revenue flows in to the state to pay for Category A. Category B includes new programs or expansion of existing programs.
- Category C is funded last. This category is typically a wish list from agencies, such as new programs or projects that aren’t vital to the function of an organization. This category is usually cut first when there are budget reductions.
How to Follow the Fiscal Session Online
The Arkansas General Assembly website was recently updated so it will look different than in past sessions. The website is https://www.arkleg.state.ar.us/.
There you will find bills that have been filed, the legislative calendar and links to committees.
Gov. Hutchinson is expected to open the session tomorrow with a State of the State Address. The Joint Budget Committee, a subgroup of legislators, will review and consider appropriation bills this week with an expectation that they will be sent to lawmakers by Friday, according to an Arkansas Democrat-Gazette article about the session.
You can watch legislative meetings online at https://www.myarkansaspbs.org/arcan or find tweets about legislative issues when searching for the hashtag #arleg.
The Arkansas Senate is expected to meet in their chambers with members spread out throughout the gallery as well. House of Representatives will meet at UA Little Rock's Jack Stephens Center.