In what may be the shortest fiscal session on record, both the state Senate and the House of Representatives heard an impassioned plea by Gov. Asa Hutchinson this past week to help trim state's budget.
By law, Arkansas must have a balanced budget with no deficit spending, even when dealing with an on-going major health crisis that has seemingly no end to the expense the state may incur on the covid-19 virus outbreak.
Hutchinson in one of his shortest speeches to the combined state House and Senate told the lawmakers: "I have submitted my balanced budget, but I need your help to trim it as a result of the revised forecast, which cut our anticipated net state revenue by $205 million for next year."
The governor, often criticized in many circles for being cool and aloof at times, showed a compassionate, often times emotional bent to his comments, as the day-after-day press/public briefings on covid-19 to Arkansans are indeed taking a toll on him and his office staff.
Every day for the last now almost three weeks, Hutchinson and different cabinet members, have been available to the press and the public, updating the state on the spread of the virus. Dr. Nathan Smith, the state's chief medical officer, is always at Hutchinson's side and rarely do the two disagree on the plans worked out by the covid-19 Task Force to slow this pandemic in Arkansas.
To provide up-to-date statistics of how many Arkansans have the virus, how many have died and how much the state is currently spending to combat this pandemic simply cannot be written in a column that appears just once every seven days in your hometown newspaper.
The fast-moving actions needed by state government to combat this virus are not lost on Hutchinson.
And he is not a go-it-alone type of governor. He asked the Legislature last week for help making these budget decisions, and the Legislature immediately went to work bolstering the outline the governor and his economic staff submitted.
Talking dollars, tax-rates, funding and balancing budgets during such a critical time in our state when hundreds, if not more than 100,000 Arkansans are out of work; businesses are shuttered and only essential services are being rendered by city, county and state services seems cold and distant.
But these talks about the future of Arkansas' economic well-being must be discussed.
And a balanced budget must come forth from the Legislature, the governor and the state's employees responsible for economic security of our state and be agreed upon by a majority of those in the Legislature.
State funding is divided, usually, in three categories; Class A, funding that is used for normal operations of all state services, public schools; Class B funding is for items than can be funded after Class A has been funded; and Class C funding is available when all other funding requests have been fulfilled.
This year budget allocations seem to be headed toward five separate classes of funding, a Class A, 1A, B, C and D.
There is room in the Class A funding, the must be funding, for a $60.3 million restricted reserve account -- to be spent as rapidly as the governor and appropriate officers designated by the Legislature approve. This will stem the resurgence of such a health crisis in the future.
There will be cuts to reduce travel, freeze state employment numbers and other cost-saving measures.
Hutchinson also pledged the state's commitment to funding public education, public safety and Medicaid.
"Let me assure every Arkansan that we will do all that is necessary to protect life and to come out of this pandemic with our face looking into the bright days of our future," Hutchinson said in his address to the Legislature.
The often confusing and mundane financing of state government must be dealt with quickly and efficiently for our state's future.
-- Maylon Rice is a former journalist who worked for several northwest Arkansas publications. He can be reached via email at [email protected] The opinions expressed are those of the author.
Editorial on 04/15/2020