By Governor Asas Hutchinson
Governor Hutchinson’s weekly radio address can be found in MP3 format and downloaded HERE.
After three months of rigorous debate, the 91st General Assembly is winding down. As I reflect on the things we have accomplished, I am pleased with the results of this session. We have achieved important goals like providing tax relief for low-income Arkansans and military retirees. We’ve made higher education more accountable for the success of our students and have provided for the education of young Arkansans who want to enter high demand fields. And today we passed the Revenue Stabilization Act to finalize the state’s budget.
This budget includes over $54 million in proposed annual savings for Medicaid. This will result in nearly $126 million in federal savings annually for a combined total of $900 million in state and federal savings over the next 5 years.
This plan also includes $6.1 million in annual general revenue savings from a reduction in the amount of employees on the state payroll. In addition, most of our agency budgets will be held flat during the next two years. This means most general revenue funded agencies will remain at or below their current funding level through 2019. In a world of constantly increasing budgets and bloated government, this is a remarkable achievement.
While it is necessary that we maintain a balanced budget, it is also important that we address some additional areas in need of our attention. For that reason, this budget includes an additional $3 million to ensure that Arkansans have access to quality Pre-K programs and restores funding for state libraries.
The state’s foster care program will also receive an additional $26 million in general revenue to ensure they are equipped to handle their increasing caseload and can properly serve the most vulnerable children in our state.
Additionally, I included $2.5 million to fund teacher training for my computer science initiative. According to Wired Magazine, Arkansas is leading the nation in computer science. Providing our computer science teachers with quality training will ensure that we continue to do so in future.
Another priority reflected in the budget is the establishment of regional Crisis Stabilization Centers, a $5 million project recommended by the Criminal Justice Task Force. These facilities, in conjunction with crisis intervention training, will give local law enforcement officers and first responders the resources they need to effectively deal with the mentally ill, without drawing on the resources of local jails.
This plan takes the responsible approach to budgeting. In fact, the 2.9 percent growth reflected in this budget is lower than the five, ten and twenty year averages for all periods through 2016. I am pleased that we were able to strike the proper balance between maintaining a conservative approach to spending and ensuring that we adequately fund the needs of our state.