By law, Fiscal Sessions can only last 30 days (45 days with a ¾ vote to extend), so members work weeks in advance drafting appropriation measures in order to ensure our sessions are brief.
That preparation begins in budget hearings. On Tuesday, January 9, the Joint Budget Committee began holding a series of meetings designed to begin the process of outlining a budget for the next fiscal year. These budget hearings are always open to the public and are held in the MAC building just west of the Capitol in committee room A. The Fiscal Session begins February 12.
Budget hearings began with the Department of Finance and Administration presenting its annual forecast and recommendations for a balanced budget by the Governor.
Over the course of the pre-budget hearings, the committee hears budget requests for Higher Education Institutions, Department of Education, the Department of Human Services, Department of Health, Department of Correction and the Department of Community Correction, commonly referred to the “Big 6”. The University of Arkansas at Monticello is schedule to present its budget on January 11.
In the following weeks, members will review budgets for all state boards, commissions, and agencies. Many different things impact budget requests. For instance, you may have read recently that the Department of Human Services is now projecting that it will spend roughly half a billion dollars less (of taxpayer money) on Medicaid in state fiscal year 2019 than anticipated in the biennial budget, because of a reduction in Medicaid enrollment, and its budget request will be adjusted accordingly.
Six months into this fiscal year, general revenue is now $74.5 million or 2.8% above this time last year. The most recent general revenue report showed revenue for December 2017 was 11.5% more than December 2016. This report and revenue forecast from economists will help us guide our decision making process in the months ahead.
Although legislation during the Regular Sessions typically attract more attention, it is important to remember the impact our budget making process has on our day-to-day lives. The decisions we will be making show the priorities we make as a state. Appropriations fund everything from classrooms to health care.
Members are able to begin filing appropriation bills and identical resolutions on January 8. As a reminder, the legislature cannot take up any non-appropriation bills during the Fiscal Session unless 2/3 of the body votes in favor of a resolution.
You can find a list of daily meetings as well as a link to keep up with the most recently filed bills on our website at www.arkansashouse.org. You can also sign up for daily reminders of committee meetings on Twitter@ArkansasHouse.
Speaking of daily reminders, did you make a New Year Resolution? While I'm always trying to eat more healthy foods and exercise more, this year I made a specific resolution that was inspired by the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio. I haven't seen the movie yet, but Monticello Intermediate School purchased the book for all its kids and staff and I was able to borrow a copy. (I especially enjoyed going to MIS and discussing the book with students during their lunch hour one day.)
Near the end of Wonder, the Middle School Director gives an end-of-the-school year address to students in which he quotes a book by J.M. Barrie called The Little White Bird. Peter Pan fans will recognize this author and the book that introduced the Peter Pan character to the world. "Shall we make a new rule of life... always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?"
My New Year Resolution this year is to try to be a little kinder than is necessary. I promise that doesn't mean I will compromise on any issue of interest to the people of southeast Arkansas! But it does mean that, as I carry on each day, that I am going to try to make a conscious effort to be more kind. Kindness matters. Please feel free to share this resolution with me.
If your New Year Resolution involved something to do with becoming an entrepreneur, there is a great resource available for you online. If you have an idea for a business, you can get a customized to-do list for starting your business in Arkansas by answering a few quick questions at www.DreamItDoItArkansas.com. The site gives specific advice and you can get a personalized packet to use from the state by making the request online.
I wrote last week about the impact of the flu throughout Arkansas. Remember that during the flu season, the Arkansas Department of Health produces a Weekly Influenza Report for clinicians, which everyone can access at https://www.FluReport.ADH.Arkansas.gov.
On the healthy.arkansas.gov website, you can also find a great amount of information about various conditions and diseases. For family reasons, I have been very interested in the information on the site about diabetes and pre-diabetes. Resources and links about every aspect of this disease, as well as cancer, blood diseases, contagious diseases, and so much more are available on this site.
It remains my great honor and privilege to serve as your State Representative. Please let me know if I can ever be of assistance. I'd love to come speak to your group, too. I can be reached by phone at (870) 460-0773 (please leave a message if I miss you), on Facebook Facebook.com/BurchforAR, and by email at email@example.com. My website is www. leanneburch.com. I look forward to hearing from you.