LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — At least 61 state workers could lose their jobs and services ranging from park hours to criminal investigations would be threatened under a Republican plan to cut $21 million from Arkansas’ budget, Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe’s office said Tuesday.
Beebe detailed the impact that agency heads said the proposed cuts would have on their programs, as action remained stalled in the state Legislature over the governor’s $4.7 billion budget proposal. Republicans are a minority in the Legislature, but hold enough votes to block Beebe’s budget proposal.
Beebe said he’s opposed to most of the planned spending cuts but that he’ll continue talking with House Minority Leader John Burris about the GOP plan.
"Most of it’s a non-starter, in terms of sheer numbers," Beebe told reporters at the state Capitol.
Burris, R-Harrison, who unveiled the proposed cuts last week, said he’ll review the responses from Beebe’s office but said he still believes the cuts can be made without threatening state services or layoffs.
The largest number of layoffs would occur at the Department of Human Services, which would see its administrative budget cut by $469,132 under the plan. The department says the reductions would lead to possible layoffs of 39 employees, elimination of the department’s security software and reduced travel.
The proposal would result in a $490,506 cut in the state crime lab’s budget, and Beebe’s office said that would lead to 10 forensic scientists being laid off. The state Department of Parks and Tourism said the cuts would likely lead to cutting back hours at state parks.
Several other agencies said the cuts would lead to layoffs, but did not offer a specific number of employees who would be affected. Other agencies said they would have to leave vacant positions unfilled, a move the governor said could further reduce services.
Beebe said the cuts would also threaten the state’s decision to rehire 15 firefighters with the state Forestry Commission who were laid off. The firefighters were rehired after money was shifted from another part of the state Agriculture Department’s budget. The GOP proposal calls for cutting $475,556 from the Agriculture Department budget.
The governor said his biggest concern is the plan calling for using surplus money to pay for $14 million of a $114 million increase in the Medicaid budget he has proposed. He said that plan worries him because it would use one-time money to pay for an ongoing need.
That would exacerbate a shortfall the state’s Medicaid program is expected to face in 2013, Beebe said.
"How do you cut $14 million out of the base and make it any better?" he said.
House Speaker Robert Moore and Senate President Paul Bookout, both Democrats, said they didn’t believe there would be support for changing Beebe’s Medicaid proposal.
"You don’t need to toy around with Medicaid, not with the situation we’re looking at," said Bookout, D-Jonesboro.
The House has delayed a vote to introducing the budget bill, a resolution that requires 67 votes. Republicans hold 46 of the 100 seats in the House. Moore, D-Arkansas City, said he hoped to bring the resolution before the House for a vote on Wednesday and said lawmakers may be able to find some compromise.
"If we do our jobs, everybody has an input and we reason well together, there may be efficiencies that can be found," Moore told reporters. "If there are, we hope to find them, come together, agree on them, take care of the people’s business and go home."
Beebe’s budget calls for the Medicaid increase and a $56 million funding increase for public schools, and keeping most other agencies flat.
The Republican budget proposal would not change the public school funding increase.
Beebe and Burris indicated they believed some compromise was possible on the budget. Beebe said it could take more than one vote to get his proposal through.
"I’ve never seen us leave here before without a budget," Beebe said. "If they do, I don’t think the people would like that."
Burris said he would talk about the responses with the GOP caucus, but said there’s not a minimum number of cuts they’re seeking.
"My feet aren’t firmly planted on any specific cut or any specific item," Burris said. "The goal is simply working toward a smaller budget."