Thu, Nov 10, 2022 4:04 PM
By Merrilee Gasser, The Center Square
The proposed budget from Arkansas’ outgoing governor comes with a surplus of $564 million over the next two years and a $550 million increase in spending for education.
The education spending would be broken up into a $200 million increase for fiscal year 2024 and a $350 million increase for fiscal year 2025, Gov. Asa Hutchinson told the Arkansas Legislative Council on Thursday.
“This allows the next administration and the general assembly maximum flexibility in terms of raising teacher salaries and raising the outcomes for education in the state. The increase would be the largest increase in education spending in well over a decade. And I believe that it is necessary for us to be competitive, it is necessary in light of our financial condition, and it is important in light of what is needed in terms of student growth and progress,” said Hutchinson.
He also proposed a $13.3 million increase for Children and Family Services that would include increasing the stipend for foster parents for the first time since 2009.
The state police would receive an increase of $1.5 million for the next two years for increased operational expenses.
Hutchinson proposed increasing funding for the Department of Corrections by $5.4 million in fiscal year 2024 and $7.3 million for 2025 for growing medical costs and more beds. A $5.5 million increase for Community Correction for each of the next two years would cover additional drug courts and intensive supervision for high-risk parolees.
The Division of Youth Services would also see an increase to provide for treatment of youth with violent histories and pay for a 20-bed residential facility for high-risk youth offenders.
“This is an important part of the budget because we have some challenges with youth offenders,” the governor said. “This allocates more resources for them and that’s a tremendous responsibility for the state, both in terms of public safety but also in terms of doing the right thing with youth that come from troubled backgrounds that are struggling in life.”
Even with the increased spending the state will have surpluses of $255 million for fiscal year 2024 and $309 million in 2025, Hutchinson said. The state is expecting a $600 million surplus for the current fiscal year.
“We have done a lot together over the last eight years," Hutchinson said. "We have lowered taxes, created more efficient state government with a 14% reduction in the number of state employees. We have invested in education, funded highways, and set aside over $2.5 billion dollars in reserve accounts. Today I can say with confidence that the state has never been in better financial condition."
This was Hutchinson's last appearance before the Legislative Council. He was term limited and could not run again. Sarah Huckabee Sanders won the gubernatorial election on Tuesday.
“We have coordinated what I expect to be an excellent transition from one administration to the next,” Hutchinson said after meeting with Sanders on Wednesday.