Thursday, April 14, 2011

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review

LITTLE ROCK – The 2011 regular session of the legislature finished its business on April 13. That was 94 calendar days after it began.

Technically the legislature is in recess until April 27, when lawmakers will return to the Capitol to adjourn sine die. Then the 2011 session will be officially over and the legislature cannot reconvene unless the governor calls a special session.

If there is no special session the legislature will next convene in February of 2012 for a fiscal session. The agenda for the fiscal session will have mostly budget bills to fund the operations of state agencies. During last year's fiscal session the legislature considered only two bills that were not appropriations.

During the 2011 regular session the legislature enacted 1,241 new laws. The first bill to become law this year was for the expenses of the Arkansas Senate. The final bill enacted creates new boundaries for the four Congressional districts in Arkansas.

Several hundred of the new acts are appropriations that authorize spending by public schools, colleges, universities, state agencies, regulatory boards and commissions. There are various types of appropriations - some authorize a single expenditure for a capital project, some provide a one-time grant and some pay for ongoing expenses.

About 225 appropriations authorize spending for state agency expenses, such as salaries, utility bills and supplies.

The largest single account over which the legislature has full authority is the General Revenue Fund of almost $4.6 billion a year. It will pay for public education and state agency budgets for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Public education from kindergarten through grade 12 will get an additional $56 million next year, bringing the total of state aid to local schools to about $1.94 billion.

State prisons, parole and probation, halfway houses, drug courts and work release will get an increase too. The Correction Department will get $6.4 million in additional funding. Its operating budget will be $297 million. The Department of Community Correction will get $4 million more and its budget will be $70 million.

The Correction departments will get state dollars for buildings, drug abuse treatment, training and education of inmates. In addition to tax revenue they generate income from prison farms and prison industries.

State funding of human services and higher education will be slightly higher, but any funding increases will be virtually flat after accounting for greater expenses that will be incurred next year.

State employees will not get a cost-of-living raise next year. Appropriating tax dollars, "the power of the purse strings," is the responsibility of the legislature under the Constitution. Legislative committees will meet on a regular basis in the interim until next year's fiscal session, and the specific duty of many of those committees is to monitor executive branch agencies to make sure that they spend tax dollars as directed by their appropriations.

Now that the session is over, these committees and subcommittees will continue to keep an eye on state government spending: Legislative Council, Joint Performance Review (JPR), Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review (PEER), Legislative Audit, Rules and Regulations, Personnel and Review.

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