Senate President Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, said lawmakers must find ways to properly compensate state employees in order to keep key personnel in critical positions, such as foster care case workers.
In a wide-ranging interview on Sunday’s Talk Business & Politics, Dismang also touched on the issues of pre-K, medical marijuana, Arkansas Works, tax cuts and eliminating fiscal sessions.
On state employee pay, Dismang said the whole structure should be reviewed with an emphasis placed on paying market rates and “allowing people to elevate inside their position without having to transfer out.” He’s hoping for continuity in agencies such as the Department of Human Services.
“One of the biggest things that I think we’re going to be able to do is that revamping of the state pay plan. A big component of that are these DHS workers and the fact that we’re not paying a salary or wage right now that recruits the type of people we need in those positions. That leads to high turnover,” Dismang said.
State leaders have identified a shortage of case workers as one major reason for the current foster care crisis that has led to a rise in children in need.
The State Senate leader also said that more opportunities to experiment in health care policy could evolve from a Trump administration. Gov. Asa Hutchinson has received a federal waiver to implement his Arkansas Works Medicaid expansion program. Dismang said a new federal administration may allow for additional opportunities to make changes.
“We’re going to be able to push forward some of the more dynamic changes in the health care system. I think you’ll see us revisit the Health Savings Accounts and those types of coverages for folks. Under the Obama administration, you couldn’t do things to make that feasible,” he said.
“But I think we’re poised here in the state because of the fact that we used a premium price assistance model with insurance to really be a leader and have a lot of input on that national stage,” Dismang added.
The top Senate chief expressed confidence that the $50 million budget cut proposed by Gov. Hutchinson could be achieved although he said it is unclear if it will come in income tax reform or targeted relief for certain taxpayers such as veterans. However, he left the door open for a smaller cut if the state’s revenue picture deteriorates.
“Right now, unless there are additional spending cuts or a significant change in forecast, the cut level should remain around that $50 million mark,” Dismang said.
Watch his full interview below, including comments on a variety of additional topics.