7 Major Issues Facing Arkansas Legislature

by Andrew DeMillo, The Associated Press  on Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013 2:06 pm  

Two court rulings are likely to take up most of the Legislature's attention on education issues. (Photo by Shuttstock)

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas lawmakers have no shortage of challenges to overcome when they convene for this year's legislative session. From decisions over whether to expand Medicaid to proposals to further restrict abortions, there's a long list of issues on the agenda for the 89th General Assembly.

A look at some of the biggest items on the agenda:

BUDGET

Gov. Mike Beebe has proposed a $4.9 billion budget for the coming year that increases overall state spending by $180 million. The state Department of Human Services, which manages the state's Medicaid program, would receive the largest share of the budget increase, $98 million in additional funding.

Beebe's proposed increasing public school funding by $49 million and increasing funding for institutions of higher education by $10 million. The budget proposal also calls for 2 percent cost-of-living increase for most state employees, a pay raise that would cost the state $12 million next year, and setting aside $10 million for a rainy day fund the state could tap in case of financial problems.

MEDICAID

The state's Medicaid program faces a $138 million shortfall, despite proposals to increase funding. Beebe has proposed setting aside $140 million of the state's projected $300 million surplus to help Medicaid with a projected shortfall. The Department of Human Services has proposed several cuts to services, including eliminating the lowest level of nursing home care paid for by the program, to make up for the shortfall.

Beebe has said he wants to avoid the nursing home cuts, while the incoming leaders of the House and Senate say they believe the cuts can be avoided by using more from the state's surplus. Beebe is also urging the Legislature to support expanding Medicaid's eligibility under the federal health care law.

Republicans generally oppose the expansion, but some have floated a compromise that would allow it in exchange for changes to program they believe will save the state money.

TAX CUTS

Beebe has proposed cutting the state's grocery tax from 1.5 percent to 0.125 percent, but only if the state's desegregation payments to three Little Rock school districts or several bond obligations decrease by $35 million over six months.

Republicans say they believe there's room for debate on other tax cuts, despite the Medicaid shortfall. The competing ideas include reductions in the state income tax and the taxes manufacturers pay on utilities.

 

 

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