LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas' finance office said Thursday that the state will see a slight increase in its revenues next year, figures that indicate the state won't see much change in its budget beyond an increase in school funding that Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to propose in January.
The Department of Finance and Administration said in its forecast for the fiscal year that begins July 1 that Arkansas will bring in $4.7 billion, which is $161 million more than it is expected to bring in this fiscal year.
Gov. Mike Beebe is expected to release his balanced budget proposal for the coming year on Jan. 17, but Thursday's figures offer a glimpse of what to expect in next year's budget talks.
Even though revenues are expected to rise, Thursday's forecast fell $121.3 million short of the department's prediction last year the coming fiscal year. Richard Weiss, the department's director, said the change represents concerns about the economic recovery. The revision also factored in $35 million in tax cuts that lawmakers approved earlier this year.
"There are lots of clouds out there and there's a lot of headwind out there that we're very concerned about," Weiss said.
Beebe said Wednesday that he expects to recommend an increase in funding for public schools, but most other agencies' budgets will remain relatively flat. The Legislature convenes for the fiscal session on Feb. 13.
Weiss provided few details about the budget proposal, but said that there was little room for growth outside of needs for schools, prisons and the state Medicaid program.
"When you get outside of those areas, it's pretty much going to be flat or less," Weiss told reporters.
Beebe has said he doesn't expect to propose another cut in the state sales tax on groceries. Proposing a tax cut during the fiscal session, which is intended to focus on budget matters, would require a two-thirds vote in both chambers to be considered. Next year's fiscal session will be the second under a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2008 requiring the Legislature meet annually rather than every other year.
Arkansas' current $4.6 billion budget increased funding for schools and prisons and kept state workers' salaries flat after Beebe agreed to drop a cost-of-living raise in order to pay for additional tax cuts.
Arkansas revenues for the year to date are $9.9 million above forecast, according to figures released last month. The state ended its previous fiscal year June 30 with a $94 million surplus.
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