Posted 2/12/2013 03:57 pm
Updated 3 months ago
LITTLE ROCK -- Insisting that Arkansas needs to save more of its money, Republicans pushed a plan through a House committee Tuesday that would cap how much state government could grow each year, despite the governor's claims that it would "wreak havoc" on the state's budget.
The proposal would limit growth in most of the state's annual expenditures to either 3 percent or the three-year average increase in the state's gross domestic product, whichever is less. Under current law, government spending is limited by the amount of money it collects in revenue.
Republican Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman said the goal is to prevent government spending from growing faster than state's economy.
"We're in a model right now where we don't spend more than we take in, but we end up spending everything that we take in," he said. "We need funds for rainy days. We need funds for emergencies. We need funds so we can give it back to the taxpayers."
Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe criticized the bill as "awful," but would not say whether he'd veto the measure if it reached his desk. Beebe credited Arkansas' current budget system as a reason why the state avoided the massive cuts that other states faced during the economic downturn.
"I think it has the potential to wreak havoc with the best budget system in the country, and I don't think you throw away 60-something years' worth of the best budget system," Beebe told reporters Tuesday.
The legislation also is unconstitutional since it would delegate some budgetary decision from the Legislature to the executive branch, said Richard Weiss, the state's finance and administration director.
"I'm supposed to, as chief fiscal officer of the state, just reduce the budget however how I want to do it, to meet an arbitrary 3-percent limit or something less depending on which of the many calculations of GDP are out there," he told the committee. "Which ones am I supposed to cut or how am I supposed to cut them?"
The bill allows the governor to exceed the limits on spending only with the approval of lawmakers on the Legislative Council or Joint Budget Committee.
Weiss said the proposed limits on spending would jeopardize critical government services such as prisons, state police and Medicaid.
The legislation was approved by the House Committee on Revenue and Taxation and now moves to the full House, where it has 46 Republican co-sponsors in the 100-member chamber. Republicans enjoy a one-seat majority in the House and also hold a majority in the Senate.
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