Fis­cal dis­cus­sions cen­ter on ‘Big Six’

The Times (Northeast Benton County) - - OPINION - CE­CILE BLED­SOE Arkansas Se­na­tor

LIT­TLE ROCK — Vir­tu­ally all of the dis­cus­sion dur­ing the 2018 fis­cal ses­sion of the leg­is­la­ture will be about the bud­gets in the cat­e­gories com­monly re­ferred to as the “Big Six.”

Fis­cal ses­sions be­gin on Feb. 12 — the sec­ond Mon­day of Fe­bru­ary in even­num­bered years.

The “Big Six” cat­e­gories are in­sti­tu­tions of higher educa­tion, pub­lic schools, the De­part­ment of Hu­man Ser­vices, the De­part­ment of Health, the De­part­ment of Cor­rec­tion and the De­part­ment of Com­mu­nity Cor­rec­tion.

Their bud­gets ac­count for about 94 per­cent of gen­eral rev­enue spend­ing, which is the state’s main dis­cre­tionary ac­count. Al­most all state gen­eral rev­enue comes from sales taxes and in­come taxes and amounts to more than $5.6 bil­lion a year.

State govern­ment spends a lot more each year be­cause it ad­min­is­ters nu­mer­ous pro­grams funded by the fed­eral govern­ment. Last year fed­eral match­ing funds ac­counted for al­most $10 bil­lion in Arkansas.

Also, state govern­ment has sev­eral spe­cial rev­enue ac­counts, which come from ded­i­cated taxes. The largest spe­cial rev­enue ac­count comes from mo­tor fu­els taxes and fees on large trucks, which pay for high­way con­struc­tion and main­te­nance. High­way rev­enue makes up about 67 per­cent of all the state’s spe­cial rev­enue ac­counts.

Other spe­cial rev­enues in­clude fees and ded­i­cated taxes that fund spe­cific pro­grams in the In­surance De­part­ment, Parks and Tourism, the De­part­ment of En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity and the State Po­lice.

State of­fi­cials and leg­is­la­tors also take into ac­count cash rev­enue when they pre­pare and adopt bud­gets.

The sin­gle largest source of state cash rev­enue is tuition and fees paid by stu­dents at state-sup­ported col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties. Those cash rev­enues ac­count for more than 95 per­cent of all cash rev­enue and amount to more than $5.8 bil­lion.

State parks also col­lect fees that are con­sid­ered cash funds, as do reg­u­la­tory boards and com­mis­sions.

When all sources of state rev­enue were added up last year, in­clud­ing gen­eral rev­enue, fed­eral match­ing funds, cash rev­enue and spe­cial rev­enue, they to­taled al­most $30 bil­lion. The 35 se­na­tors and 100 rep­re­sen­ta­tives will dis­trib­ute that money dur­ing the 2018 fis­cal ses­sion, which will prob­a­bly last 30 days.

Fis­cal ses­sions can be ex­tended by a 75 per­cent vote of both the Se­nate and House cham­bers, but un­der the con­sti­tu­tion it can be ex­tended only once, by no more than 15 days. There­fore, the long­est a fis­cal ses­sion can last is 45 days.

Only ap­pro­pri­a­tion bills may be in­tro­duced. They au­tho­rize spend­ing by state agen­cies. There is a mech­a­nism for fil­ing other types of bills, how­ever, it is dif­fi­cult to do and re­quires an ex­tra­or­di­nary ma­jor­ity in both cham­bers to even in­tro­duce a non-ap­pro­pri­a­tion bill.

The ma­jor topic of con­tro­versy dur­ing this year’s fis­cal ses­sion is ex­pected to be a fa­mil­iar one — re­newed fund­ing of the Med­i­caid pro­gram. Pas­sage of the ap­pro­pri­a­tion for Med­i­caid re­quires a 75 per­cent ma­jor­ity in both cham­bers. That means it needs sup­port from 75 House mem­bers and 27 se­na­tors.

•••

Ed­i­tor’s note: Arkansas Se­na­tor Ce­cile Bled­soe rep­re­sents the third dis­trict. From Rogers, Sen. Bled­soe is chair of the Pub­lic Health, Wel­fare and La­bor Com­mit­tee.

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