On Feb. 10, we will be convening for the Fiscal Session of 2014. This will be only the third time in the state’s history that we have met solely for the purpose of the budget and appropriations.
Back in 2007, the 86th General Assembly put forth a constitutional amendment that reduced the period for appropriation bills from two years to one.
Sponsors of the resolution at the time argued that it was becoming increasingly difficult to budget two years out with a rapidly changing economy and needs from state agencies.
In the following election year, 69 percent of Arkansans agreed and Amendment 86 was adopted. Now on odd number years we meet for what we refer to as the regular session where any type of bill can be filed. The even number years are when we convene for fiscal sessions.
If any member wishes to file a bill other an appropriation bill during a fiscal session, then two-thirds of both chambers must first vote on a resolution to allow such a bill to be filed.
Amendment 86 is also very clear about keeping these sessions brief. Fiscal sessions can only be 30 days long. They can be extended one time for 15 days only if three-fourths of both chambers agree.
Before we begin the process, the Department of Finance and Administration will present a revenue forecast. The most recent forecast released showed expected revenues for the next fiscal year to increase by $96.9 million. That is a 2 percent growth from the previous year.
With that additional money will be many things to consider. Those include increases to education, cost of living increases to our state employees, and the governor has indicated he will be requesting an additional $12 million to address prison overcrowding.
During the pre-session budget hearings we will also be hearing from what we refer to as the Big 6. Those are the six largest state agencies including Department of Correction, Department of Community Correction, Department of Health, Department of Human Services, Department of Education and Department of Higher Education.
The presentation from the Department of Human Services will update on us on the latest in Medicaid enrollment and enrollment in the private option. This should give us a better picture of what impact this recent legislation will have on our state in coming months.
We have posted all of the agendas for the budget hearings on our website.
And when the fiscal session begins, you will be able to watch House floor proceedings live at www.arkansashouse.org.