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Sanders proposes 1.76% budget increase

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(The Center Square) – Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ proposed budget comes with a 1.76% spending increase as state revenues are projected to decrease by over 10% this year, lawmakers heard Wednesday.

The 1.76% budget increase is less than the average 3% year-over-year increase Arkansas has seen in recent years, the governor said in a letter to the legislature.

“Upon taking this office, I made a promise to the people of Arkansas,” Sanders said. “I told them I would limit the growth of government and improve efficiency at state agencies while still investing in the areas of greatest need. Achieving all those goals in one budget is a complicated balancing act. After months of hard work, though, I am confident we have made meaningful progress on each one.”

The largest increase in the governor’s proposed budget is an additional $100 million for education to support the LEARNS Act.

“This budget funds last year’s commitment to put an additional $100 million to raise starting teacher pay to $50,000 – taking us from 48th in the country to the top five – expand education freedom to thousands of new families, and invest in literacy coaches statewide. In the same vein, it includes an additional $2 million for the University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff’s land grant matching program, bringing the state’s total contribution to the program to $5.8 million,” the governor said.

Sanders’ budget also increases funding for the Arkansas State Police with $3.8 million for an additional ASP trooper school.

Other changes include an additional $4.2 million, most of which is the result of a transfer from the Department of Workforce Services, and $730,000 for county fairs, Department of Finance and Administration Administrator Robert Brech told members on the joint budget committee.

The DFA has projected net available revenues to decrease by $742.8 million in fiscal year 2024, which is a 10.3% decrease from last year. It would bring revenues to $6,442.6 million, down from $7185.4 million in fiscal year 2023.

“Last fall I was talking to you guys about being too rosy on the forecast,” said Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forrest. “I felt like they were unrealistic and then here recently you cut back the forecast. What changed from just four, five months ago when I was asking and you thought everything was fine?”

DFA Secretary Jim Hudson said the decrease in the forecast is primarily due to tax cuts.

“What we shared last fall was that we would be revising the forecast consistent with what’s required in statute,” said Hudson. “The revised forecast makes adjustments for the tax cuts that were passed last fall.”

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