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An alternative budget plan has ruffled some feathers

February 20, 2012 J

[img_assist|nid=20328|title=|desc=|link=none|align=left|width=300|height=300]Well… would you look at this? Seems when a group of Legislators see the need for responsible spending to come out of Little Rock that feathers get ruffled.

Why does the idea of responsibly cutting spending upset some of the elected officials up in Little Rock? Could it be that going against the status quo, refusing to rubber stamp another budget, or simple adherence to partisan politics over what’s best for the taxpayers of Arkansas has been unheard of until now?

We’ll be keeping an eye on this as it unfolds to bring you the latest. Until then, please check out the following post from the Tolbert Report. The most telling reason for the proposed budget cuts? “This entire debate is centered around the premise of doing more with less, because our Medicaid crisis is no longer looming, it is here.”

Last week, the minority party had the audacity to do the unthinkable. Forgoing the time honored tradition of preparing the budget behind closed doors by Democrats with a token Republican in the room for show, this new breed of pesky Republicans submitted their own budget. The nerve! Don’t they understand this whole fiscal session is only for show, not actual debate?

It was not drastically different, cutting only around $21 million, but the proposal still broke the ire of the usually even-tempered Democratic Joint Budget Chair Kathy Webb.

Some additional details are emerging on the Republicans specifics. The Tolbert Report has obtained the following memo which floated around Republican leadership this weekend:

1) Clarification: We have proposed a 3% cut to the line-item titled “Miscellaneous Agencies.” This line-item is essentially a mini-RSA. It is a bundled group of 54 agencies whose total funding level is around $57 million. We did not require a cut to the State Crime Lab. Only the Governor can determine where a cut in this line-item can be applied. We simply fund 3% less, and he finds the cut. If the State Crime Lab is cut, it will be because the Governor chose to do so. We do, however, have multiple cuts identified inside the “Miscellaneous Agencies” line-item for the Governor’s consideration. For instance, our Legislative dues to NCSL and CSG are paid for from this fund. This totals over $250,000.00. Also identified are 3 duplicative positions that are working for agencies that have been eliminated. This results in salary savings of over $150,00.00. Also of note for this line-item: in FY2011, total turnback equaled $724,298.00. This turn-back, coupled with the savings listed above, comes close to paying for our proposed cut, without a single agency actually having to cut a thing.

2) Our proposed cuts only represent General Revenue funding. For many agencies, this is only one area from which they receive money. For instance, ADEQ receives substantial grants and cash funds from fees and fines. What this means: even though we have proposed a 3% cut for ADEQ, this number represents only .12% of their total operating budget. Hardly a “disasterous effect”, to quote our colleague who believes only her RSA should be considered.

3) For many of the agencies where we have proposed cuts, any reductions would simply roll agencies back to FY2011 spending levels, and can often be paid for with turn-back dollars (exactly what was done with the Forestry Commission). For instance, a 3% cut to the Department of Higher Ed. would result in a total funding level of approximately $3 million. This is still over $200,000.00 more than the Department received in FY2011, and could most likely be paid for out of turn-back dollars, which totaled $516,269.00 in last fiscal year.

4) Finally, it is important to note a few more things:

a) The Joint Budget hearings are in many ways the “pre-season” of the Legislative process. We listen to agencies discuss their needs, we read over appropriation bills, and through the process we determine what funding levels are needed for each agency. To say that the “game” should be over by Day 3 of the session is beyond insulting to the people that elected us to represent them. Funding levels have yet to be determined. That is why there is a meeting on Monday night at the Governor’s Mansion with House and Senate leadership to discuss what should be included in the RSA bill. This is a debate about funding levels. It is not smart for us to put the “train on the track” until we are comfortable with where it is going.

b) We have been working. I have attached a letter from Rep. Westerman to the Department of Education dated January 20, in which he outlines how the Department has been continuing to raid the “Property Tax Relief Trust Fund” for operational expenses in school districts. According to the response from DFA, this had been going on for approximately 10 years unnoticed. My summary of the response from DFA: “You’re right. We’ll stop.” While this may not be General Revenue, it highlights our overall point: accountability matters.

c) To say that we cannot use one-time money for Medicaid is completely ignoring the past, the present and the future. We used hundreds of millions of dollars in stimulus funds to prop-up our Medicaid system over the past three years. We are now completing draining the “Medicaid Trust Fund,” with approximately $100 million spent this year and the remaining $300 million spent next year. This entire debate is centered around the premise of doing more with less, because our Medicaid crisis is no longer looming, it is here.

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