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Governor Beebe's Weekly Column and Radio Address: A Strong Fiscal New Year


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In the calendar of budgeting, July marks the start of our new year. Once again, Arkansas begins this fiscal year without a projected budget shortfall. More of our sister states have joined us, which is good news for the national economy. Two years ago, we were one of four states on good footing; last year it was eight; now that number has risen to 19.

The strength of Arkansas's economy received yet another confirmation recently, this time from Moody's Investor Services, one of the Big Three credit-rating agencies worldwide. Recently, Moody's gave its second-highest rating on a $44 million bond series issued by the State of Arkansas. The rating indicates to investors that the bonds are of high quality and that they carry very low credit risk.

In its analysis, Moody's cited several good aspects of our State and its economic climate. Among Moody's supporting points were our debt load and unemployment rate, both of which are lower than many other states.

Moody's also pointed out Arkansas's track record of healthy year-end fund balances, which we even recorded during the recession and the lackluster economic recovery. The State ended this last fiscal year with a $145 million budget surplus. Combined with the previous year's surplus and interest that continues to accrue, our total surplus heading into next January's legislative session will be near $200 million.

Already, discussion has begun about what we might do with the surplus. As this discourse continues, we must be mindful of the way we accomplished this enviable financial position in the first place. There are also upcoming obligations to consider in order to avoid the more dire budgetary situations other states face. We already know that we will have to address a projected shortfall in Medicaid funding that could range from $250 million to $400 million. We know that while we have seen a return of growth to our state, the global economy, which affects us all, remains on shaky ground.

And we know that the constant guideline, which has kept us on steady financial ground, is the conservative management of our taxpayer dollars. In fact, the Arkansas Revenue Stabilization Act, which prohibits the State from deficit spending, factored into our high Moody's rating.

This recent credit rating and analysis give us cause to be confident not only in our economy, but also in the wisdom of the cautious tactics we took to foster it. Our measured approach to budgetary management has steered Arkansas through the worst of the recession and now has us on a positive course. By holding to this course, we can continue building an economic climate that encourages investment, confidence and good credit for Arkansas.

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