- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 2, 2016

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas will have more money available for its budget in the coming fiscal year, state finance officials predicted Tuesday as they forecast a $106.8 million increase in revenue.

The state Department of Finance and Administration predicted the state will have $5.3 billion in net available revenue in the fiscal year that begins July. That represents a 2 percent increase over the $5.2 billion net available revenue the state is expected to have this fiscal year.

The department predicted the state will fully fund its current budget and end with a $35.9 million surplus for the year. The state already has an unobligated surplus of $47.6 million.

“Arkansas seems to be doing well, but the national and the world economies are somewhat volatile these days,” department director Larry Walther told reporters. “So we’re trying to internalize that into our forecast and be conservative with our approach for ‘17.”

The forecast comes as Gov. Asa Hutchinson and lawmakers are preparing for the April legislative session, which will focus primarily on the state’s budget. Hutchinson is expected to release his balanced budget proposal next month.

“The forecast released today will allow us to meet the needs of the state in terms of education, health care, prisons and other essential services,” Hutchinson said in a statement. “The forecast is an example of our faith in the strength of the state’s economy, our positive outlook for the coming years, and our commitment to conservative, balanced budgets as a hallmark of good government.”

Hutchinson has said he’s preparing two budget proposals - one with the state’s hybrid Medicaid expansion and one without. The Republican has proposed keeping the expansion, but adding new limits on its coverage and benefits.

He is expected to call a special session later this year to take up the expansion’s future. Hutchinson has warned that not keeping the expanded coverage would mean a tighter budget.

The department also reported January revenue totaled $551.9 million, which was $30.6 million above the same month last year and $31 million above forecast. Officials said tax collections came in higher than expected and the state paid out less in tax refunds than forecast last month.

The state’s net available revenue for the fiscal year so far totals $3.1 billion, which is $97.8 million above forecast.


Follow Andrew DeMillo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/ademillo

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