Arkansas lawmakers give initial OK to $5.6B budget plan
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas lawmakers gave initial approval Thursday to a proposed $5.6 billion budget for the coming year that calls for increasing funding for Medicaid and setting aside surplus funds for future tax cuts.
The House and Senate approved identical versions of the proposed Revenue Stabilization Act, which calls for increasing spending by nearly $173 million, or about 3 percent, for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Both chambers are expected to give final approval to the budget on Friday.
The measure mirrors the budget presented by Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson in January, with the bulk of the spending increase going toward Medicaid. It also calls for setting aside about $64 million in projected the surplus money for state highway needs and for a reserve fund Hutchinson has said could go toward tax cuts he’s called for next year.
“It demonstrates that we’re balancing our budget, we’re paying our bills and we’re doing it in a way that is as conservative as possible and still serving our people,” Republican Rep. Bob Ballinger said before the vote.
But the measure faced criticism from a GOP lawmaker who said the proposal wasn’t conservative enough in spending and wasn’t addressing needs such as highway needs.
“This is not a conservative budget at all. We are not fixing the problems our state faces at all,” Republican Rep. Josh Miller told lawmakers before voting against the measure.
The budget measure is the last major item on lawmakers’ agenda as they wrap up this year’s session. A day earlier, the House gave final approval to a measure reauthorizing the state’s Medicaid expansion another year. The Legislature, however, is expected to meet for a special session next week on a handful of issues including regulation of pharmacy benefit managers.
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