Arkansas Legislature Acts Quickly To Create COVID-19 Fund; Fiscal Session Looms

Arkansas is taking some quick stop-gap measures to shore up the state budget in the face of shortfalls due to COVID-19. The state was projected to see a $353 million budget deficit by the end of this fiscal year (June) due to an extension of income tax deadlines and as a result of economic activity grinding to a standstill across much of the state and the world. The Arkansas Legislature came together swiftly to create a $173 million COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund. However, that still leaves state services facing the prospect of cutbacks, required by the state’s balanced budget amendment.

The passing of this legislation into law was needed and an important, unified first step to resolve some of the issues presented by this ongoing crisis. But more support is needed to secure the future and well-being of Arkansas workers and their families in this time. The Legislature will convene for its regularly scheduled Fiscal Session on April 8. Critical budgets must be safeguarded & families and workers must receive support.

Talk Business & Politics reports…

HB 1001 and SB 2 passed both chambers on Friday unanimously. The vote was 100-0 in the House and 35-0 in the Senate. The legislation creates the fund and outlines a procedure for a six-member legislative panel to be able to convene for quick decisions on transferring funds and spending money for the pandemic emergency. Gov. Hutchinson signed the legislation into law in the capitol rotunda shortly before 1 a.m. State leaders have surplus and discretionary funds from the following sources at their disposal.

  • General Revenue Allotment Reserve Fund – $173.61 million
  • Restricted Reserve Fund- $42.27 million
  • Long Term Reserve – $152.58 million
  • Quick Action Closing Fund – $90.99 million

The six member panel created to authorize disbursements of the fund (and to fill growing holes in the state budget) include:

  • Speaker of the House Matthew Shepherd, R-El Dorado
  • Senate President Jim Hendren, R-Gravette
  • House Majority Leader Rep. Marcus Richmond, R-Harvey
  • House Minority Leader Rep. Fred Love, D-Little Rock
  • Senate Majority Leader Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs
  • Senate Minority Leader Sen. Keith Ingram, D-West Memphis

While legislation sailed easily through both chambers in a three-day special session that concluded at 1 a.m. on Saturday, the public health crisis and social distancing guidance made it quite an unusual site. The 100-member Arkansas House of Representatives went to the extraordinary step of meeting at a college basketball arena so they could safely distance themselves, convening at UA Little Rock’s Jack Stephens Center. The  35-member Arkansas Senate still met in its chambers in the state Capitol, but due to health guidelines that propose safe distances between individuals, Senators were spaced out in their seating on the chamber floor and some sat in their offices or the public gallery overlooking the Senate chamber.