- Associated Press - Sunday, December 6, 2015

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Gov. Asa Hutchinson has distributed nearly $31 million from the state’s “rainy-day” fund for 16 state programs and projects in his first 11 months in office, with the Department of Correction receiving the most money for more prison beds.

The Correction Department received $17 million of the total $30.8 million dispensed by the governor, mainly to address prison overcrowding.

The funds will pay for 200 more inmate beds at the Ester Unit in Pine Bluff and housing of hundreds of prisoners in Texas, among other department needs, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported (http://bit.ly/1QoGMhS ).

The University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture, the departments of insurance, higher education and human services and the state police also received money, among others.

Hutchinson, a Republican, said he uses the reserve fund for emergencies and special needs and priorities not included in the state’s‘ $5.1 billion general revenue budget.

Hutchinson’s predecessor, Democrat Mike Beebe, also said he used the reserve funds on emergencies and prisons. Beebe released nearly $55 million from the fund in his final two years in office.

Most states have rainy-day funds, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Sen. Bruce Maloch, D-Magnolia, the co-chairman of the Legislative Council subcommittee that reviews gubernatorial rainy-day spending, said Hutchinson’s requests have been “legitimate and prudent.”

Some of Hutchinson’s other requests are for emergencies, such as his request for $1.3 million for 10 counties in the Fayetteville Shale to help repair roads damaged by trucks involved in natural-gas drilling.

“That is a perfect example of one of those unanticipated emergency needs that came up after the session because there was a law passed during the session that changed the way the (natural-gas) severance tax was distributed, and it put about 10 counties in extreme shortfall,” Hutchinson said.

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Information from: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, http://www.arkansasonline.com

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