LITTLE ROCK — In an unusual move, the House on Monday rejected a sponsor’s amendment to his own bill meant to clarify portions of legislation to cap annual growth in state spending.
By a 49-42 vote, Rep. Bruce Westerman’s amendment to House Bill 1041 failed. Rarely does either chamber of the Legislature deny a sponsor’s request to amend his or her own bill.
The vote does not kill the bill. Westerman said he would attempt to add the amendment in the House Revenue and Taxation Committee, and if the committee approves the bill as amended it would then go back to the House floor.
Westerman, R-Hot Springs, proposes to require that total general-revenue expenditures increase from one fiscal year to the next by no more than 3 percent or the average percentage of increase in the gross domestic product over the preceding three fiscal years, whichever is smaller.
In the event of an emergency, the bill would allow the governor to ask lawmakers to approve an expenditure exceeding the cap.
Westerman, the House majority leader, introduced an amendment Monday to clarify that the cap would apply to net general revenues, or the revenues available after the state pays out tax refunds and other obligations. It also would clarify that net general revenues transferred to the state’s General Improvement Fund are not included in the cap, and would clarify the procedure for an emergency expenditure request.
Westerman offered the changes to address objections to the bill raised by Gov. Mike Beebe and the state’s chief fiscal officer, although the governor and Richard Weiss, state Department of Finance and Administration director, have said no amount of tweaking would make what they consider bad legislation better.
Beebe said last week the bill would unnecessarily circumvent the Revenue Stabilization Act, the law reauthorized by the Legislature for decades to prioritize state spending — a system the governor said has been lauded nationwide as "the best and most responsible budgetary system in the country."
He and Weiss also say Westerman’s bill would shift the Legislature’s responsibility for spending cuts to the state finance office and could force cuts to some programs, claims that Westerman denies.
No one spoke against the bill on the House floor.
Republicans hold 51 of the House’s 100 seats. The vote was mostly along party lines, although Republican Rep. Karen Hopper of Mountain Home voted against the amendment and Democratic Reps. John Catlett of Rover, John T. Vines of Hot Springs and John Edwards of Little Rock voted for it. Some members were not present, others chose not to vote.
Westerman said he was confident the bill would ultimately win House approval.
"We still haven’t had our day in court, if you will, on presenting the bill in the whole House," he said.