Arkansas House Minority Leader John Burris laid out further details on his proposed budget cuts to a group of reporters today at his state capitol office. He is currently waiting to hear back from 11 agency heads and the governor’s office on how they can best implement the 3% cut proposed by Republicans. So far, Burris does not seem impressed with their responses.
Burris said that his approach is similar to the approach used by Gov. Beebe in 2010 when revenue shortfalls caused him to cut $106 million or 2.4% across the board. By relying on agency heads, Beebe was able to make the cut without any layoffs to state employees.
He emphasized that the cuts were focused on agencies which historically had turnback funds, meaning funds that went unspent and were returned to the state as unallocated funds at the end of the fiscal year. These funds are then used as budget supplements or for general improvement funds (GIF.) Lowering the budget for these agencies would create less of a cushion for their operations, which could force them to operate more efficiently.
Burris also pointed out that the 3% cut from state revenue is actually a much smaller percentage of their overall operating budgets. For example, the Republican proposal cuts state funding of the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality from over $4.2 million to a little under $4.1 million; however, its overall operating budget is almost $105 million when you add in fees, fines, and federal funding. This produces a cut of about 0.12% instead of 3%. Burris says this reduction is far from the “draconian” cuts being claimed.
“Some of the stuff I was reading over the weekend was almost laughable,” said Burris. “Saying that Arkansas would no longer be able to recruit good jobs because AEDC suffered a $100,000 cut, I mean things like that are ridiculous to me and it indicates that they are not taking this proposal very seriously. And they are going to politicize on a level I was hopeful it would not reach.”
“There are ways of saving money. If agency directors are not going to do their jobs, then we will do it for them, but that is what they are paid to do,” said Burris.
He went on to explain that if we cannot save $21 million right now, then we will experience even bigger problems in 10 months when Arkansas will have to come up with an additional $270 million for Medicaid and a minimum of another $50 million for educational adequacy funding.
Although Burris said that so far he is optimistic from his conversations with the governor, he has not had a single serious response from an agency director.
“It’s laughable (the agency director’s) response… absolutely laughable,” said Burris. “And again I wish they would take the process more seriously because in ten months we are going to be sitting here talking about hundreds of millions of dollars in shortfalls and obligations.”