LITTLE ROCK — The Joint Budget Committee on Friday endorsed identical House and Senate bills detailing the proposed $4.9 billion budget for the coming fiscal year.
Both chambers are expected to vote on Senate Bill 22 and House Bill 2233 on Monday, and the legislative session could end Tuesday, said Rep. Duncan Baird, R-Lowell, co-chairman of the budget committee.
The budget outline is nearly identical to the balanced budget proposed by Gov. Mike Beebe — it includes a 2 percent cost-of-living increase for state employees, modest spending increases for public schools and human services, mainly Medicaid, and holds the line on other state spending.
It also reflects the wishes of the Legislature’s new Republican majority, Baird noted, with $10 million in tax cuts in the upcoming fiscal year, $85 million in fiscal 2015 and about $140 million in fiscal 2016.
Also Friday, House Speaker Davy Carter, R-Cabot, and Sen. Pro Tem Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville, issued a proclamation saying that the session, originally scheduled to end Friday, would be extended until Tuesday to finish work on the General Improvement Fund and Revenue Stabilization Act.
On Friday afternoon, lawmakers learned that the governor will have control over about $100 million of the state’s surplus, or general improvement funds, while the House and Senate will each control about $35 million, which will be available to spend on capital projects in members’ districts.
Identical House and Senate amendments, each 40 pages long, showed that $107 million of the one-time surplus funds will be used to shore up the state’s Medicaid program for the upcoming fiscal year. State colleges and universities will share more than $30 million for various capital improvement projects, repairs and maintenance.
"That’s one of the top priorities right off the top," Baird said.
About $8 million will be used to help prop up the teacher health insurance benefits program, while $7 million will be used for land acquisition, construction and furnishing of a new veterans home in the state. Also, $10 million will go to the governor’s rainy day fund and $1 million will go the planning, construction and development of the National U.S. Marshal Museum in Fort Smith.
The Senate and the House on Friday afternoon approved motions to add the amendments to the GIF bills, SB 364 and HB 2232.
The Senate and House will considered the bills Monday.
Also on Friday, the House voted to approve Senate Joint Resolution 16 by Sen. Bill Sample, R-Hot Springs. If approved by voters, the measure would amend the state constitution to require that a group collecting signatures for a ballot initiative submit a number of valid signatures equal to 75 percent of the total number of signatures required in order to qualify for extra time to correct deficiencies.
The resolution passed 65-17. It passed previously in the Senate and is now cleared for the November 2014 ballot.
The House also concurred in a Senate amendment to House Joint Resolution 1009 by Rep. Warwick Sabin, D-Little Rock, clearing it for the 2014 ballot.
If approved by voters, the measure would amend the state constitution to ban corporate and union gifts to political campaigns, ban most gifts to public officials and allow legislators to serve up to 16 years. It also would increase the minimum period between when a legislator leaves office and is allow to become a lobbyist from one year to two years and would create a citizens’ commission to set the salaries of legislators, constitutional officers and judges.
The House voted 81-5 to approve SB 365 by Sen. Larry Teague, D-Nashville, which would give a 2 percent cost-of-living adjustment to prosecuting attorneys and judges — the same COLA being given to state employees. Two attempts to pass the bill on Thursday had both failed.
SB 959 by Sen. Bryan King, R-Green Forest, which would require that the state Board of Apportionment prepare a written report explaining the reasons for all the changes it makes when it redraws legislative districts every 10 years, failed in the House in a 41-21 vote. It needed 51 votes to pass.