Legislators grill AR Forestry Cmsn over firings, budget woes

LITTLE ROCK, AR – Legislators on Wednesday questioned the director of the Arkansas Forestry Commission over whether the legislature should appropriate $2.7 million after budget problems led to the firing of 36 employees.

State forester John Shannon told legislators “that borrowing is over” at the agency after it spent nearly $4 million more than it had on hand to make payroll.

The resulting over spending is resulting in the dismissal of three dozen employees, many of them firefighters on the front line of wildfires, and the scaling back of spending.

Shannon told the joint committee on Agriculture, Forestry & Economic Development that the agency has a plan to move forward.

The $2.7 million supplemental proposal originated from governor Mike Beebe’s office.  It’s designed to keep the agency stable through the end of June and repay federal grant money the agency used to pay salaries.

Representative Kim Hammer (R-Benton) questioned Wednesday whether appropriating more funds for the state agency is the right way to go.

“One thing I’ve got a problem with is we can’t raise taxes every time an agency has not managed it’s resources well and make the most effective operations of it,” Hammer says.  “And throwing more taxes at it or anything else is not going to solve the problem.”

After the meeting Shannon acknowledged the AFC has a lot of work to do repairing its image.

“Well, we need to regain their confidence because we’ve lost their confidence,” Shannon says.  “And that means staying within our budget like everyone else does.”

The final amount of the supplemental appropriation will be released January 17 when Beebe releases his budget for fiscal 2013.

Legislators will be asked to approve the appropriation when the fiscal session begins February 13.

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