- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 4, 2020

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson on Wednesday proposed a $5.8 billion budget that increases spending by 1.5% for the coming year and told lawmakers he wants to set aside more of the state’s surplus in case of an economic downturn.

Hutchinson did not specify how much of the $170 million surplus he wants to set aside as long-term savings. Arkansas currently has about $152 million in its long-term reserve fund. Hutchinson addressed lawmakers as they began hearings ahead of next month’s legislative session focused primarily on the budget.

“We live in uncertain times and we govern in uncertain times,” Hutchinson told members of the Joint Budget Committee.

The bulk of the nearly $89 million in additional spending Hutchinson is proposing for the coming year would go toward the state’s Medicaid program. The governor also proposed increasing the reimbursement counties receive for housing state inmates from $30 a day to $32, and proposed an additional $2.6 million for the Department of Community Correction to add 175 beds at facilities in Texarkana and West Memphis.

Hutchinson told reporters he doesn’t expect a funding fight over Medicaid expansion, despite a federal appeals court recent ruling against work requirements to qualify for the program. It would take a three-fourths vote in the House and Senate to reauthorize the program.

“The members I’ve talked to want to see a continued effort in reforms and emphasis on responsibility in our expanded Medicaid program,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson said while he’d like a significant part of the surplus to go toward the long term reserve, there are other needs that include workforce training and expanding rural broadband.

Sen. Larry Teague, who co-chairs the Joint Budget Committee, said he wants to make sure other critical needs are being funded as the state builds up money for the reserve fund.

“In my mind, we ought to have a billion dollars of reserve and I’m all for getting there,” Teague, a Democrat, said. “But, on the other hand, there’s state needs that need money too.”


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