Department of Finance and Administration officials outlined specific state budget priorities in a legislative hearing Tuesday.
Governor Mike Beebe is proposing a $5 billion budget for the coming year that would boost funding for education, human services and the state's prison system.
Brandon Sharp is the administrator of the Office of Budget. He fielded lawmakers’ questions in a hearing before the Joint Budget Committee. Sharp says the "private option" plan to expand health care to low-income residents using federal Medicaid funds was the major topic of discussion during the hearing.
“About $85 million in tax cuts, passed during the regular session, will hit in fiscal year 2015. Those were offset through some savings that we were going to get through uncompensated care or state agencies, like UAMS, that have been providing services to the public for people who didn’t have insurance,” Sharp said. “Under the private option, a lot of those uninsured people now have insurance which has allowed us to kind of reduce the budget for those agencies.”
Sharp says Governor Beebe’s budget proposal calls for a $105.8 million increase in state funding, with the largest increase going toward the state's public schools.
“Hopefully, this budget will go smoothly. The budget addresses a lot of the pressing needs that we have, but it is predicated on the continuation of the private option,” said Sharp. “If funding for the private option does not pass, then we will need to go back and revisit a lot of these budget numbers.”
Governor Beebe’s budget would also provide increases in funding for state prisons, with $7 million to go toward county jail reimbursements. The fiscal session begins February 10.