Gov. Asa Hutchinson has proposed increasing state spending by more than $172 million in fiscal 2019 as part of a $5.62 billion budget plan that calls for more money going toward the Department of Human Services, higher education and public safety.
The revised budget presented to lawmakers Tuesday is an increase over 2018 spending but $100 million less than the governor had originally proposed spending in the next fiscal year, which begins July 1.
Along with his new budget proposal, Hutchinson sent a letter Tuesday📄 to the presidents of the state’s four-year colleges asking them to freeze tuition next year for in-state students as part of a nearly $10 million increase in higher education funding. He similarly asked two-year colleges to keep any tuition increases at or below the rise in the Consumer Price Index.
Most of the governor's proposed budget increases go to the Department of Human Services. He requested $142 million in increased spending there.
The budget request includes a $63.9 million surplus out of $5.69 billion in total expected revenues. Hutchinson touted the plan as “conservative in spending.”
In addition to higher education, funds are dedicated in the budget to combatting prison violence, paying county jails for housing state prisoners and hiring more child services workers, Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson said state government was able to save money from its original budget plan through reductions in the state Medicaid rolls, and by ending general revenue transfers to the Education Adequacy Fund.
“The goal is to create a surplus that will be a cushion for future economic changes, and they will come some day,” Hutchinson said. “But it will also be the foundation, and sets the stage, for future tax cuts.”
After hearing the governor’s proposal, lawmakers began a series of budget hearings Tuesday in preparation for this year’s fiscal session, which begins on Feb. 12.
Read Wednesday's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette for full details.