Thursday, January 21, 2010

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – State legislators will not receive any raises in salary next fiscal year, under spending recommendations approved by the Joint Budget Committee.

The committee wrapped up budget hearings in preparation for the fiscal session that begins February 8. One of its final decisions was to recommend holding salaries of all elected officials at their current levels. Senators and members of the House of Representatives are paid $15,869 a year. The Speaker of the House and the President Pro Tem of the Senate are paid $17,771 a year.

The six constitutional officers who are elected every four years in a statewide vote will not get a raise next year under the budget plan. The governor makes $86,890 a year and the lieutenant governor makes $41,896. The secretary of state, the state auditor, the state treasurer and the state land commissioner each are paid $54,305 a year.

State government has reduced its planned spending by $206 million in the current fiscal year, and the governor's proposed budget for next year calls for about 32,000 state employees to go without a raise.

There are about 25,000 additional employees at state colleges and universities, and they have more spending autonomy under the constitution. If they have sufficient funds, they could grant raises. However, higher education institutions have had their budgets reduced this year, so staff raises are problematic for next year.

The Joint Budget Committee recommendations will be officially voted on during the fiscal session.

Legislators and state officials are concerned about the Medicaid budget because it is growing at 8 to 10 percent a year, and significant spending reductions have a greater impact than holding down state employee salaries. They reduce services.

The governor and the legislature had hoped to expand ARKids First next year to make an additional 20,000 children eligible for Medicaid services. However, that probably will not be possible because the slowdown in the economy has caused state revenue collections to stagnate, forcing the budget cuts.

Medicaid officials are trying to cope with growing demand. When unemployment goes up, more people become eligible for the state-subsidized medical services available from the Medicaid program. More than 775,000 people will receive Medicaid services this year.

An interesting fact emerged during budget hearings, when the State Police were presenting their spending requests. The number of Arkansans with concealed firearms permits increased last year from 56,000 to 80,000. The State Police administers the permit process.

Charter Schools

The state Board of Education removed its conditions for approval of a new charter school in Pulaski County, over the objections of Little Rock School District officials. Little Rock school officials are concerned that too many charter schools will cause the district to lose good students and state funding. That would leave the district with the students who perform the lowest and are the hardest to educate, they say.

The majority of charter schools in Arkansas are in Pulaski County, where the three school districts are under federal court orders to desegregate.

No comments: