After several days of back-and-forth discussions, state lawmakers appear poised to complete their fiscal session work in short order.
On Wednesday (Feb. 22), the Arkansas House and Senate passed resolutions that will allow for a filing of the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA), the bill that outlines state spending for the next fiscal year.
The resolution allowing an RSA bill to be filed required supermajority votes in both chambers — which it received — but the actual RSA bill only needs 51 votes in the House and 18 in the Senate.
Still, each chamber must concur the other chamber’s resolution and the prospects for a budget impasse remain; however, party leaders in both chambers say they would be surprised if the resolutions stall.
Democrats, who support Beebe’s $4.72 billion budget, control 54 votes in the House and 20 in the Senate, although the Governor says he has Republican votes for his spending plan.
Republicans, led by House Minority Leader Rep. John Burris (R-Harrison) offered a counter-proposal to Beebe’s plan that called for spending cuts of $21 million from general revenues. Beebe and Burris have several conversations about changes, but on Wednesday Beebe said he could only agree to about $678,000 in additional cuts.
“I’ve gone as far as I know how to go and have a clear conscience about being responsible on the essential services,” Beebe told reporters.
Burris said he felt additional cuts were possible, but doubted he could get the Governor to agree to more.
“There’s really no agreement on anything substantive,” Burris said.
With the resolutions initially passed, attention will turn to the RSA bill — which prioritizes state spending by agencies — and individual appropriations bills, which could also lead to some individual skirmishes.
Candidate filing opens on Thursday, Feb. 23, and lawmakers have set a target date of March 2 to conclude their fiscal session business.
The challenge to the Governor’s budget and the additional cuts that were pushed by the GOP will no doubt be heard from again in political campaigns this fall.
Democrats are likely to tout the cuts as hurtful to essential state services, while Republicans are expected to use the failed proposal as a rallying cry to elect more GOP members to the legislature in support of smaller state government.