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Legislative digest - Aug. 6, 2014

Last week, we welcomed legislators from 15 southern states. The 68th annual Southern Legislative Conference held in Little Rock was a huge success. Not only were we able to share ideas and innovative legislation, but Little Rock saw an over $1 million economic impact to the region by hosting our guests.

This year’s conference topics included DNA collection, the rising cost of health care in state prisons, and Medicaid expansion just to name a few.

One of the conferences held every year is the Comparative Data Report. The genesis of some of these reports date back to more than 30 years. They track a multitude of revenue sources, performance measures, and appropriation levels in our states. They remain an invaluable tool for both legislators and legislative staff in reaching policy decisions.

One of the reports revealed that southern state residents drive more and have more vehicles per person than the national average. The average U.S. motorist drives just over 14,000 miles a year. In Southern states, we drive an average of 15,500 miles a year. This information helps our transportation committee know the needs for infrastructure in our state.

When it comes to our correctional facilities, Arkansas has seen a 20 percent increase in our adult inmate population in the last 10 years. We had the fourth highest increase among the 15 states in the southern region.

We also learned in the last 10 years, states in the Southern Legislative Conference have increased spending for correctional facilities by 30 percent in the last decade.

When it comes to education, Southern states continue to rank below the national average on national assessment scores. However, Arkansas is leading in the South when it comes to student-teacher ratio and the number of guidance counselors we have assigned to students. We believe our efforts to ensure each student has more one on one time with their teacher and counselor will result in continued improvement.

Reports comparing revenue sources always help guide us in making yearly decisions regarding the budget. This year, we learned that income tax revenue was down on average for southern states. Although Arkansas still ended the fiscal year with a surplus, our state was one of five southern states to see a decline. We attribute that to the extensive tax cut package passed by the 89th General Assembly.

We have uploaded all of the reports on our website. Visit www.arkansashouse.org to see how our state compares.

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