Posted by Eleanor Wheeler on March 17th 2014
The Arkansas Legislature has published funding allocations for fiscal year 2014-2015 according to the Revenue Stabilization Laws. The total budget is just over $5 billion, an overall increase of about 2.2 percent or $108 million from the current 2013-2014 fiscal year budget (which ends June 30 of this year). Funding for higher education institutions was the only major part of the budget that had a decrease in the newly adopted budget. Higher Education lost about 1.4 percent (or $10 million), all of it coming from four-year colleges. The largest increase went to the Public School fund, which got a 3.8 percent bump in allocations, amounting to a $77 million increase.
When you think about how big the budget is, it's almost astounding to think that a $2 million bump in pre-K funding and about $5 million for afterschool programs were turned down. These are two areas where making investments in our children's education is vital and the state must make those investments going forward.
This session's most debated topic was over the adoption of the Private Option, a plan that uses federal money to fund private health insurance. After five attempts in the House, the three quarters super majority vote needed to authorize this spending was finally reached. The final budget includes an estimated $89 million in savings due to the adoption of the Private Option health insurance exchange.
The Governor's original proposed budget amounted to about $5 billion, about $3 million less than the budget that was eventually adopted by the legislature. The final allocation budget was more generous to education related funds, giving the Public Schools fund $12 million more than the governor suggested. Proposed cuts to institutions of higher education were reduced by about $8 million. Although cuts were less than originally proposed (and two-year colleges and technical institutes actually had a slight increase), four-year institutions were still hit hard, losing about $11 million, or two percent of their previous budget. The category for Other Funds was increased by $2 million more than the Governor suggested. The Other Funds account is made up of services like crime information systems, municipal and county aid, state police and others. The State General Government account was $1.3 million less than suggested and the budget for the two remaining major funds (General Education and Human Services) did not diverge from the Governor's proposal. It is worth noting that the Department of Children and Family Services and the Department of Youth Services - agencies that provide critical services to vulnerable children - were basically flat funded and once again failed to receive much needed increases after several years of continued neglect in the state budget.
Here's a closer look at the drop in higher education funding.
This year, like most, resulted in surplus general revenues. Some of this money is kept in the rainy day fund, and the rest is allocated to mostly one-time projects in the General Improvement Fund. This session, the legislature voted on how big of a slice to give to the General Improvement Fund (GIF), and how that slice should be used. This year, a total of $21.92 million was allocated to the General Improvement Fund. The breakdown of that spending is below:
Surplus Spending, Total = $21.92 million
- Charter Facilities Loans (SB145) $5 million
- Broadband Match (SB146) $5 million
- Prison Employee Compensation (HB1158) $5 million
- County Jail Reimbursement (HB1157) $3.7 million
- County Jail Reimbursement (Community) (HB1156) $500,000
- Breast Care (HB1130) $2 million
- Prison Beds (HB1155) $720,000