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State Capitol in review

Gov. Mike Beebe presented a balanced budget proposal for next year that projects more than $5 billion in general revenue spending. The proposed budget calls for an increase in spending next year of $105.8 million. Public schools would receive an additional $65.4 million over the amount of education funding this year. That would bring the Arkansas Public School Fund to $2.11 billion.

About $10 million in additional funding would go to the state correction department, which operates state prisons. About $7 million of that amount would be spent to reimburse county jails for costs incurred holding state inmates. Although the inmates are under the jurisdiction of the state, they are housed in county lockups because of a lack of space in state prison units. The $3.1 million in increased funding for the Correction Department would bring the department’s annual operating budget to $316.1 million, and would also allow the department to open new prison units with capacity for about 300 inmates.

The governor’s budget would increase the state’s portion of funding for the state Human Services Department by $26 million. That would increase the department’s total expenditures of state revenue to $1.25 billion. It also will spend about $4.2 billion in federal funds. Under the governor’s proposed budget the Division of Children and Family Services annual spending would go up by $12.3 million.

Scholarships would be increased by about $3 million to boost programs for dependents of law officers and personnel in the armed forces. The budget would allocate $10 million for public schools to expand their Internet bandwidth capacity, and $473,000 for construction of a nursing home in central Arkansas for veterans.

In a continuing effort to hold down premiums that public school teachers pay for health coverage, the proposed budget would contribute an additional $10 million next year to the teachers’ health insurance plan.

The fiscal session will begin Feb. 10. Lawmakers will focus entirely on spending bills, although non-budget bills can be introduced if both the Senate and House adopt a resolution to do so. Adoption of those resolutions requires approval by an extraordinary majority of two-thirds of each chamber. That amounts to 67 members of the House and 24 members of the Senate.

Passage of spending bills requires a three-fourths majority, which amounts to 75 votes in the 100-member House and 27 votes in the 35-member Senate.

The spending bills approved during the fiscal session will authorize state government spending for Fiscal Year 2015, which begins on July 1, 2014, and ends on June 30, 2015.

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

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