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State Capitol in review - Jan. 29, 2014

The fiscal session will begin Feb. 10. In addition to approving budgets for state government operations next year, the legislature will allocate unspent surplus funds that have built up in the state treasury over the previous year.

Traditionally, surplus funds are spent on “one item” projects, while recurring expenses such as salaries and maintenance are paid for with tax revenues that are collected every year. At the end of the current fiscal year, on June 30, the state will have an expected surplus of $128 million. The governor has proposed spending about $43.6 million of it.

His proposals for spending the surplus include putting $10 million into a short-term loan program for charter schools that need financing to upgrade facilities. The Walton Family Foundation has pledged a matching contribution of $10 million that charter schools could use to obtain long-term financing.

A significant amount of the surplus would go to county jails and state prisons under the governor’s spending plan. About $10 million would go to the Department of Correction, which operates state prison units, to pay overtime and extended hours worked by staff. Another $720,000 would be used to immediately open a state prison unit in Malvern. Another $7.4 million would reimburse county jails for the expenses they incurred holding state inmates when there was a lack of available space in state prisons.

About $5 million of the surplus would replenish the governor’s quick action closing fund. The Board of Correction also intends to ask the legislature for about $5.1 million to do a new prison study. This would fund an engineering and architectural planning phase to build a new unit. It is estimated a new prison would cost about $85 million and house about 1,000 inmates. It takes several years to build a new unit and has to be considered with the overflowing prison population.

The legislature has power over all state government spending requests, whether they are one-time projects paid for with surplus funding or ongoing expenses paid for with revenue from sources. The constitution allows for the introduction of non-budget bills during a fiscal session, but it requires approval from an extraordinary majority of both the Senate and the House. The session will last 30 days, but the legislature may extend it to 45 days if 75 percent of the members vote to do so, but it cannot go more than 45 days.

Beginning Feb. 3, the Central Arkansas Library System will offer instant streaming of thousands of movies, television shows, music albums and audiobooks to patrons at no cost through Hoopla Digital. Hoopla provides libraries with a content delivery model that allows patrons to instantly borrow materials. It can be accessed through smartphones, tablets and computers.

To access the system on a mobile device, visit www.cals.org or download the free Hoopla Digital app from Google Play. Patrons may borrow up to five titles each month. Checkout items are three days for video, seven days for music and 21 days for audiobooks. Once a title is borrowed, the content can be streamed immediately or downloaded to use at a later time.

If you would like to contact me, email me at bruce.holland@senate.ar.gov or call the office at 650-1884 or write me me at P.O. Box 2387, Greenwood, AR 72936.

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