Growing surplus presents quandary for Arkansas leaders

(The Center Square) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson says the Department of Finance Administration expects a $1 billion surplus by June 30, leaving questions over what to do with the money.

The governor said that the estimated surplus represents a much larger amount than an earlier expectation that the state would have a surplus of around $600 million. He listed three ways he'd like to see the money used, but none will happen without legislative approval.

Hutchinson said he didn't feel there was "a particular mood for a special session" and said it would be contingent upon receiving a consensus among the legislature about how to spend the money.

If there were to be a special session, the governor said it would likely happen in mid-to-late summer.

"Whenever you look at options for this money I will certainly work with the legislature, listen to them, we'll all make a joint decision as to the steps that need to be taken," Hutchinson said Friday. "But one of the options would be to utilize our surplus or a portion of it to accelerate broadband deployment here in the state."

A report released by the Broadband Development Group (BDG) showed 110,000 households lack coverage and are eligible for broadband expansion using federal money available. The report estimated it would cost about $500 million to expand broadband to those 110,000 households.

However, Hutchinson said they could "accelerate" broadband access to these homes using the surplus of state money.

BDG also recommended in its report "future proofing" Arkansas with fiber optics technology, so the state does not fall behind in broadband access in the future.

Hutchinson said other areas he'd like to see considered for the surplus funds were school facility programs or potential tax relief for Arkansas taxpayers.

"There's no decision point today," Hutchinson said Friday. "This is a conversation we'll be having with the legislature. There could be other options, obviously, and needs of the state and so we'll be making a decision with them as time goes on."

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