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Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders proposes state budget with 1.76% increase

Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva listens as Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (right) unveils her education initiative, called Arkansas LEARNS, last year at the state Capitol.
John Sykes
Arkansas Advocate
Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva listens as Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (right) unveils her education initiative, called Arkansas LEARNS, last year at the state Capitol.

Arkansas Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday proposed a 1.76% increase to next year’s state budget, a significantly smaller percentage jump than what has been proposed in recent years.

Sanders in a letter to state lawmakers said the $6.3 billion general revenue budget proposal puts “an end to government’s spiraling growth.”

The proposed fiscal 2025 budget keeps funding levels largely flat across most state agencies, with the largest increase to education, including a $65 million bump to the state’s private school voucher program.

Sanders said she asked her cabinet secretaries to submit agency budgets that did not include funding increases.

“Upon taking this office, I made a promise to the people of Arkansas,” Sanders wrote to the Joint Budget Committee. “I told them I would limit the growth of government and improve efficiency at state agencies while still investing in the areas of greatest need. Achieving all those goals in one budget is a complicated balancing act. After months of hard work, though, I am confident we have made meaningful progress on each one.”

State budget officials presented the budget to the joint committee to open the Legislatures pre-fiscal session budget hearings. The state House and Senate will convene for a fiscal session April 10 to approve state government appropriations and spending levels for fiscal 2025, which begins July 1.

Past governors often appeared before the Joint Budget Committee to present their budget proposal to lawmakers, but Department of Finance and Administration Secretary Jim Hudson said Sanders was preparing for her economic development trip to Asia.

Sanders’ Wednesday morning schedule included a 7:30 a.m. appearance at a school in southwest Little Rock and a 9:30 a.m. press conference to unveil an executive order related to maternal health.

Recent state budgets, on average, have roughly tracked inflation, increasing by 3% each year. The state’s fiscal 2024 budget totaled $6.2 billion — a 2.95% increase over the fiscal 2023 budget.

Hudson told lawmakers that Sanders felt that level of growth was unsustainable.

The largest chunks of the state budget go toward public education (more than $2.5 billion) and human services (more than $1.8 billion).

In addition to funding to support the expansion of Arkansas’ Educational Freedom Account program, the Arkansas Department of Education also saw its proposed budget increase by more than $34 million to cover other initiatives in the LEARNS Act, Sanders’ signature piece of education legislation that overhauled large portions of the state’s public education system.

A bulk of that increase will fund the increase in Arkansas’ minimum teacher salary to $50,000 a year.

The budget also suggests increased funding for Arkansas State Police, including $3.8 million to start a second trooper school.

“Government has no higher calling than its duty to protect its citizens,” Sanders said.

The governor’s budget also includes an increase of $4.17 million, or 17%, for the Department of Human Services Administration.

The proposed budget would result in a $377.7 million surplus if state economic officials’ revenue forecasts hold.

They have projected $6.44 billion in available general revenue in fiscal 2025 — an increase of $245 million, or 3.8%, over the current year’s projections.

Deputy Editor of Arkansas Advocate, which is part of States Newsroom, a national nonprofit news organization, supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. The Advocate retains full editorial independence.