An update on the 2024 fiscal session

By Josh Curtis
AAC Governmental Affairs Director

The 86th General Assembly passed House Joint Resolution (HJR) 1004 in 2007 with only three votes to spare in the senate. This resolution sent the question of whether the state should have a fiscal session every other year to the people of Arkansas. HJR1004 may have only passed in the senate by three votes, but the voters overwhelmingly passed the constitutional amendment by 372,235 votes. I was in college at this time, but the people involved in government were shocked by the results of the election.

The voters spoke and said they wanted the legislature to meet every year. Amendment 86 amended Article 5 of the Arkansas Constitution, which created the legislature. Specifically in Section 5 it added, “the General Assembly shall meet in fiscal session on the second Monday in February of each even-numbered year to consider only appropriation bills.” However, it allowed a way for the legislature to address non-budgetary items by including this language in section 5, “A bill other than an appropriation bill may be considered in a fiscal session if two-thirds of the members of each house of the general assembly approved consideration of the bill.”

The legislature just wrapped up the eighth fiscal session ever. The counties had one of the best, if not the absolute best, one yet. The Association of Arkansas Counties (AAC) has been advocating for the state to pay for their deputy prosecuting attorneys for quite some time. There have been a couple of articles in this publication outlining the issue, and the County Judges Association of Arkansas (CJAA) made it their top priority this session. Judges and sheriffs went to all corners of the state, hosting regional meetings to educate legislators about this issue and to ask for their support. The state retains about $5.4 million from county turnback each year to pay for deputy prosecuting attorneys. This was done through special language in an appropriation bill in 1999, and it has remained in the do-not-codify section ever since. Luckily, we have a friend in state Rep. Fran Cavenaugh, who agreed the state should pay for its deputy prosecuting attorneys. She sponsored an amendment to House Bill (HB) 1023 removing the special language so the counties would receive this portion of the turnback. After negotiations, legislators said counties would have to pay only 25 percent of the $5.4 million this next fiscal year. Act 140 will increase counties’ monthly turnback checks beginning July 1. Plenty of legislators helped us pass the bill, but a special thanks goes Budget Committee Chairs Rep. Lane Jean and Sen. Jonathan Dismang.

For the first time in the history of fiscal sessions, the legislature passed non-budgetary bills. To do this, the legislature needed to adopt a resolution by two-thirds of a vote to hear these bills. Nine resolutions were filed in each chamber — eight out of nine dealt with crypto mining issues. Of those eight, only two were passed by both chambers and allowed to be introduced and ultimately signed into law. My colleague, Lindsey French, explains in her column how Act 173 by Sen. Josh Bryant and Rep. Rick McClure and Act 174 by Sen. Missy Irvin and Rep. Jeremiah Moore will affect crypto mining operations. These two acts provide more flexibility and control for counties addressing this new type of industry.

The other resolution that passed looks to reform the state employee compensation plan. Senate Bill (SB) 77 was sponsored by Sen. Breanne Davis and Rep. Jim Wooten. Just like counties, the state has struggled to keep up with market demands for employee compensation. Act 172 allows for all state employees to receive up to a 3 percent raise, which has an estimated cost to general revenue of $19 million. This new pay plan also increases the ranges by 10 percent for all non-exempt employee classifications and includes special compensation awards and recruitment benefits of up to a $5,000 bonus or incentive leave of up to 40 hours. The Personnel Committee has been working on this for some time to address retention and recruitment.

All the appropriation bills are funded through the Revenue Stabilization Act (RSA) by outlining state spending for the 2024-2025 Fiscal Year. The RSA includes a 1.76 percent increase in state spending. A couple of other major increases include an additional $65.7 million for the Education Freedom Accounts. The public-school fund will increase by $38.2 million, and funding allocated for Arkansas State Police will increase by $3.9 million — this includes 50 new corporal positions. The state Capitol Police also will be able to hire an additional 20 officers. The fiscal session was a success for all counties in Arkansas.

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