Arkansas governor: Time to raise state ag funds

He’ll seek legislators’ OK on $1.8M for UA division

Gov. Asa Hutchinson is shown in this file photo.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson will ask the Legislature, when it convenes in April, to boost the University of Arkansas' Division of Agriculture general revenue budget by $1.8 million next fiscal year, Hutchinson said Wednesday at the Arkansas Farm Bureau's annual convention.

The increase would apply to the budget for fiscal 2021, which starts July 1, 2020. The Republican governor announced his plan to several hundred people attending the farm bureau's 85th annual meeting in Little Rock.

In its regular legislative session earlier this year, the Legislature passed and Hutchinson signed a state general revenue budget that increased the division's funding by $1.13 million, to $63.93 million, in fiscal 2020, which started July 1, according to the state's Revenue Stabilization Act.

They also enacted a measure setting aside up to $1.86 million in rainy-day funds for the Division of Agriculture in fiscal 2020.

Hutchinson told the convention that "in our Division of Agriculture, you supported more funding there, so I put $1.2 million into the budget to up their annual appropriation spending level and you came to me and said we really like to have that at $3 million, so I used $1.8 million of discretionary funds to get to the $3 million that you wanted."

"I am pleased to announce today that we don't want to make that simply one-time money," he said.

Afterward, he said he proposed increasing the general revenue budget for the Division of Agriculture in fiscal 2020 as part of an across-the-board 1.8% increase in the general revenue budgets for higher education entities not subject to a state funding formula, "but the Legislature ... pushed for $3 million, and so I agreed to give it one-time funding [of $1.8 million] through discretionary funds" in this year's session.

"Then, as I looked at it, they have to hire staff [and] these are long-term investments, so we needed to make it permanent and part of the base [budget]," he said in explaining the proposed increase. "We have been historically giving them one-time funding."

The Division of Agriculture received $3 million in one-time state funds in 2015 and then $2.7 million in one-time state funds in 2017.

Afterward, Farm Bureau President Randy Veach said in a written statement that "we were pleased to hear the governor commit to expanding the permanent funding for the UA Division of Agriculture" because adequate funding has long been a priority issue for the Arkansas Farm Bureau.

"This commitment will provide needed support for our state's largest industry, agriculture," Veach said.

Hutchinson also said "I understand risk and I understand what you go through, and this year has not been the easiest for Arkansas farmers.

"It probably depends on your circumstances, but we had to deal with the trade issues, [and] we've also had to deal with record flooding in Arkansas."

It's been a tough year for Arkansas farmers, he said.

As for trade, "I'm not going to get into a predictive analysis as to what is going to happen because nobody will believe me anyway.

"But I understand that the timing of future trade agreements is uncertain, but I have worked to put Arkansas in the position of first in line for rice, poultry and beef exports when the markets open," he said to applause.

Hutchinson said he believes there will be future trade agreements.

"Because of the state work that we've done, because of the communication to the Farm Bureau, but also myself as governor ... that will allow Arkansas to be quicker in line, faster in line to make sure we can take advantage of those export opportunities," he said.

Afterward, Hutchinson pointed to his trips to Japan and China and his meeting with the agricultural community there that makes purchases. "They can't make purchases until the trade war is somewhat stabilized."

Metro on 12/05/2019