by Max Brantley
The Arkansas Citizens First Congress and the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families have released a statement backing Gov. Mike Beebe's opposition to budget cuts beyond what he's already offered in the current legislative session. Further cuts affect critical services, they say.
My interjection: This has become wholly a political game instigated by the Republican Party to land a satchel-mouth bass to hang over the party fireplace. Beebe gave them a crappie (make that a sunfish) instead, which some would argue is more than they deserve on the strength of Rep. John Burris' non-specific and arbitrary call for a flat cut against a roster of agencies mostly distinguished by the ill will held against them by Republican House members. Senate Republicans have been more responsible. They'd like to get a commitment to guarantee future reserves for Medicaid needs. Beebe responds, correctly, that the surplus money isn't going anywhere. He says, however, that fiscal handcuffs on that money wouldn't be prudent in case of future emergency.
Here's the thing: In 2013, that surplus can't be spent on pork barrel, as some fear, without three-fourths approval of the General Assembly. So, any accumulating surplus will be available for Medicaid and other vital needs unless a bipartisan super majority puts personal interests ahead of statewide needs.
Let's wrap up this pointless fiscal session and go home.
Proposed cuts in an already tight Arkansas budget threaten our ability to continue making progress on the big challenges facing our state. Last week, after months of budget discussions and hearings, the House minority leader proposed an alternative to Governor Mike Beebe’s budget that would cut $21 million from the Governor’s proposed balanced budget. A compromise may now be in the works that trims the overall budget by a much smaller amount, but those changes could still impact critical services.
The proposal from Rep. John Burris (R — Harrison) makes substantial cuts in several state agency budgets including over $460,000 from the Department of Education. Organizations like the Citizens First Congress, the Arkansas Public Policy Panel, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and the Opportunity to Learn Campaign have fought hard to make improvements in our state’s education system. These cuts could threaten that progress. We were recently ranked 5th in the nation for education policy and performance; we do not want to start going backward now.
The Governor proposed a balanced budget as required by the Arkansas Constitution. He has since offered to make small cuts in an effort to compromise. We believe further cuts to the budget are unnecessary and arbitrary. A key part of Arkansas's successes over the past decade — thanks to the leadership of Gov. Beebe and his predecessor, Mike Huckabee — has been avoiding major cuts to services despite two recessions.
The 3% cut proposed by Rep. Burris would have a direct impact on the services so many Arkansans need every day. From the Department of Health t to the Office of Emergency Services to the Department of Environmental Quality, agencies that we all use and depend on daily stand to take cuts. To see all the agencies that would be impacted by the cuts, go here.
Rep.Burris has yet to provide a detailed plan for how he thinks these agencies can absorb the cuts without cutting employees or services. Unlike the Governor’s proposed budget, which uses ongoing funding to pay for Medicaid, his proposal would rely on one-time funds and would increase the Medicaid shortfall in future years.
Please call your legislators. Let them know that you believe legislators should support Governor Beebe’s balanced budget proposal. The cuts proposed by Rep. Burris would cost the state jobs, cut vital services and undermine the progress that we have worked so hard together to make in recent years.
Arkansas Citizens First Congress
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families