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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: The 2012 Fiscal Session


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This month, the Arkansas General Assembly is coming back to the Capitol for only the second fiscal legislative session our state has ever seen. In the 2008 election, Arkansans voted to enact fiscal sessions, limiting them to the sole purpose of adopting the state budget for the next fiscal year. The first such session in 2010 held to that tenet, and I hope and expect that this month's session will go forward in a similar fashion.

The budget I've proposed for the next fiscal year, beginning in July, remains mostly at the same levels as the current year. Two areas where I've recommended small funding increases are in K-12 education and human services. The education funds will help us provide adequate opportunities for students in accordance with court-mandated requirements. They will also help continue our ongoing push for excellence in education, a push that has brought Arkansas up to number five nationally, according to Education Week magazine.

The other notably increased budget will be for the Department of Human Services, specifically Medicaid-related services. This financial support will be used to help keep up with the increasing costs of providing health care to our most vulnerable citizens: the elderly, the disabled, and our children in need.

In addition to the budget for the next fiscal year, I have also submitted supplemental budget requests for the rest of this current fiscal year. These monies will help maintain services and agencies that have seen unanticipated costs and needs arise.

The highest-profile problem in a state agency has been at the Arkansas Forestry Commission, where the impact of the recession on the timber industry and financial problems within the agency resulted in the layoff of 34 state employees. Without further assistance, more layoffs and furloughs will be necessary. We're hoping to avoid this prospect through a supplemental appropriation to maintain operations and pay back grant money owed to the federal government. While we have found ongoing money within the Agriculture Department to restore 15 of the lost firefighter jobs, that effort will be moot without the supplemental.

Other supplemental requests are submitted to bolster state services at the Department of Correction, Department of Community Correction, the State Hospital, and for the disaster fund, which we utilize after natural catastrophes.

Setting our annual budget is a primary function of state government, and one that we approach with seriousness and attention to detail. There will be debate and disagreement, as there always is in representative government. The important thing is that we efficiently get the work done that the people sent us here to do, and do it within the narrowly drawn parameters of a fiscal session.

In an election year, there is always the specter of political posturing beyond constructive debate. But even in a more politically contentious atmosphere, let us remember the importance of working together for the greater good. Our biggest victory will be setting a budget that responsibly uses our taxpayer dollars to provide the services our citizens need and deserve.

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