The main news has been the early winter storm that has caused many power outages, accidents, school closings and travel problems. Gov. Mike Beebe declared the state in a winter weather emergency Dec. 5 and told all but essential state workers to stay home. He also released $100,000 in his emergency funds to help with the storm relief.
Budget officials revised their economic forecast for the current fiscal year and now predict that the state government will collect 1.7 percent less in tax revenue than it did last year. The state will still generate sufficient revenue so that all state agencies can meet their budgets. It does reduce the amount of anticipated surplus that is predicted to be available at the end of the fiscal year, which is June 30.
For the first five months of the fiscal year, state tax collections came in ahead of schedule and were on a pace to exceed forecasts by more than $29 million. However, budget officials expect collections to come in at a much slower pace for the remainder of the year, which is why they lowered their official forecast.
Unlike the federal government in Washington, D.C., Arkansas state government operates under a balanced budget and does not run up deficits. This prevents the accumulation of a state debt, and it also means that when the economy slows down and tax revenue falls off, state agencies must reduce their spending proportionately.
Our balanced budget law is called the Revenue Stabilization Act. It prioritizes state agency spending by category, with Category A the top priority and Category C the lowest. If budget cuts are required by an economic slowdown, spending requests in Category C are the first to be cut.
Last fiscal year, net general revenue available for state government operations was more than $5 billion. Now, under the revised forecast, net general revenue for the current fiscal year is expected to be about $4.9 billion. State government is projected to collect about $83 million less this year than last year.
Last year the state experienced a surge in revenue because an unusually large number of Arkansas taxpayers paid their income taxes early to avoid anticipated federal tax increases. One result of that surge was that the state ended last year with a surplus of almost $300 million. Another result is that this year, the state will pay refunds to many of those taxpayers, which lowers net available revenue.
Much of the surplus goes to capital projects and “one time’ expenditures, such as buildings and equipment. In every state, legislators are generally reluctant to spend what is known as “one time money” on operations and continuing expenses. Surpluses are usually considered as “one time money.” Arkansas has had a surplus the past several years because the legislature adopts very conservative budgets that rein in spending by state agencies. Earlier this year the legislature enacted tax cuts that next year will save taxpayers an estimated $85 million.
The main sources of the state general revenue fund are the state sales tax, individual income tax and corporate income tax. Those collections are continuous and are used to pay for continuous expenses, such as year-to-year operations of government.
State budget officials predict that in Fiscal Year 2015 revenue will increase by 2 percent, partly because of growth in salaries and business activity. They predict that per capita income in Arkansas will surpass $38,400 in Fiscal Year 2015.
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