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Lege approves budget for state

By submitted, 03/12/22 7:37 AM

LITTLE ROCK – The legislature completed the 2022 fiscal session in 23 days, approving a budget for state government that calls for spending about $6 billion in general revenue next year.

A highlight of the fiscal session was approval of crime prevention measures, such as funding $5,000 salary supplements for local law enforcement officers. Certified parole and probation officers will get the stipend too.

State troopers will get stipends of $2,000. The legislature also raised starting salaries for state troopers, so Arkansas can better compete with neighboring states. It will go up from $42,357 to $54,000. The pay raise will boost Arkansas from seventh in the region to second.

Salaries of troopers first class will increase from $53,035 to $65,000. For corporals it will go up from $63,612 to $71,237 and for sergeants from $74,319 to $84,439. Lieutenants’ annual salaries will increase from $84,229 to $94,076. Captains’ salaries will go up from $94,277 to $105,166 and majors from $107,541 to $116,772.

County jails will receive higher reimbursements for housing state inmates when there isn’t enough space in state prison units. Now the state pays counties $32 a day per inmate. That will increase to $40 a day.

Also, legislators approved an appropriation for a 498-bed expansion of the North Central Unit at Calico Rock. The goal is to build additional prison space for serious offenders. Some county sheriffs have said they now have to hold more violent offenders in their jails, endangering staff and other prisoners who are in jail for minor offenses.

The legislature funded five additional forensic analysts at the state Crime Lab, so that sexual assault evidence kits can be completely tested within 60 days.

The legislature approved a Senate bill that provides $10 million for body cameras, bullet proof vests and other equipment that protects officers and improves the public’s confidence in their integrity.

Every year the legislature passes a Revenue Stabilization Act, which is the Arkansas balanced budget law. It prioritizes spending requests by placing them in categories A or B.

If the economy slows and tax revenue falls below estimates, state agencies reduce spending accordingly, starting with spending requests in the B category.

The public school fund in the current fiscal year is about $2.257 billion. The legislature increased it to about $2.327 billion for next fiscal year, which begins July 1. About $101 million of the public school fund is in category B.

State spending by the Department of Human Services will increase from about $1.78 billion to about $1.82 billion, with about $106 million in category B.

Much of the state revenue spent by DHS is matched by the federal government at roughly a 3-to-1 rate, so the department’s actual budget will exceed $8 billion.

DHS administers Medicaid, long-term care, treatment of drug and alcohol abuse, adoption, foster care, food stamps and welfare.

Legislators approved using about $37 million from the DHS budget to whittle down the waiting list of about 3,200 people who need care and treatment for intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Four-year universities supported by the state are to receive $624 million next year. Of that total, $52 million is in category B. Two-year colleges will get $119 million, of which about $10 million is in category B.