Arkansas lawmakers concluded the biennial fiscal session in less than two weeks, passing a $5.89 billion budget with significant cuts to most state agencies. The Senate also selected a new leader for the chamber.
With social distancing requiring legislators to conduct business in the Senate chamber and gallery as well as the Jack Stephens Center at the University of Arkansas Little Rock, it was anything but business as usual.
The General Assembly pieced together the 2021 fiscal budget, which starts July 1, 2020. Gov. Asa Hutchinson had recommended a roughly $5.89 billion state budget in early March, but when the COVID-19 pandemic reached the state, he revised that number by $205 million.
Legislators made up the difference by slashing most state agency spending, although it prioritized most of the budget for education, corrections, health and human services. They also budgeted for $60 million to be placed in a restricted reserve fund for future emergencies.
While the Revenue Stabilization Act, which prioritizes spending into categories, passed easily, legislators created a new level of funding this session. In addition to A1, A2, B and C funding, they also created a D funding category. If state revenues recover stronger than hoped for, the D category could provide another $212 million for public schools, prisons, and health-related programs.
Traditionally, at the end of the fiscal session, State Senators select a leader for the next regular session, which will start in January 2021. Sen. Jimmy Hickey (R-Texarkana) was elected to lead the State Senate in the next General Assembly. He defeated Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs), who was also vying for the Senate President Pro Tempore leadership post.
Current Senate President Jim Hendren (R-Gravette) is considering a run for governor in 2022. He is Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s nephew.