by Max Brantley
Gov. Mike Beebe has announced that the state Agriculture Department has $550,000 to spare to put 15 firefighters back to work in the state Forestry Commission.
After conferring with House and Senate leadership and Department of Finance and Administration officials, Governor Mike Beebe will direct the Arkansas Agriculture Department to reallocate $550,000 annually in ongoing funds from its budget to the Arkansas Forestry Commission. The move allows the restoration of 15 firefighter positions throughout the state beginning February 21. Based on need recommendations previously established by the Forestry Commission and the Legislature, firefighting positions will be restored in Bradley, Columbia, Conway, Drew, Fulton, Grant, Hempstead, Ouachita, Saline, Sevier and Union Counties.
Speaker Robert Moore and Representative Bobby Pierce first brought the idea to Governor Beebe after examining the Agriculture Department's turn-back funds in recent years. The $550,000 reallocation will restore the firefighter positions while ensuring that the Agriculture Department will maintain sufficient funds for other obligations.
Not to be cynical, but isn't there always a hidey hole? Is it possible Agri was over-budgeted? Given the number of places the state is springing small leaks (plundering of drug court money for other uses is on the agenda for a meeting Friday at the legislature) perhaps it is too cynical. Nonetheless, I've asked how this squares with Beebe's resistance to using one-time money for ongoing expenses, such as firefighter salaries.
EXPLANATION: This NOT one-time money. Agriculture, of which Forestry is a part, also budgets a little overage against shortfalls, but is an agency that must return surpluses at the end of the budget cycle. The annual amount has been sufficient to fund 15 firefighters, without about $200,000 or so leftover. So the jobs will be funded on an ongoing basis (presuming experience doesn't change). A committee had recommended rehiring 20 firefighters earlier without providing money for any. Three-fourths of them will go back to work. In all, 34 Forestry employees were laid off and two retired.