Arkansas Government

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

Starting Saturday through the first week in December, the Arkansas State Capitol building will be closed to the public on weekends.

Renovations on the first floor and to part of the House chamber pose safety concerns, says Chris Powell, spokesman for the Secretary of State's office. The office oversees the Capitol grounds.

"There is a lot of scaffolding, so we were primarily concerned with the safety of the public," Powell says. "On the weekends we have a lot of visitors and we just wanted to make sure it was going to be safe for people."

Arkansas severance tax collections fell more than 50% in May from year ago levels as the state’s rig count plummeted to single digits and drilling crews are leaving the state for other richer wet shale plays across the U.S., according to state severance tax and employment data and industry reports.

That has left state tax revenue for natural gas production at just over $4 million in May, down 54.5% from $8.8 million a year ago, according to monthly tax data compiled by the Revenue Division of the Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson has announced that former state Rep. Duncan Baird will become the state budget administrator at the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration.

Hutchinson said Thursday that Baird will be involved in the state budget process and in Hutchinson's efforts to reform state government.

Baird is a Republican from Lowell who was first elected to the House in 2009 and served as House chairman of the Legislature's Joint Budget Committee. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for state treasurer in 2014.

Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

A former employee fired from the Arkansas treasurer's office has filed a lawsuit against the treasurer's chief of staff, accusing his former boss of defamation.

David Singer filed the lawsuit Thursday in Pulaski County Circuit Court against treasurer's office Chief of Staff Jim Harris.

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that Harris published false statements about Singer's mental health to co-workers, Treasurer Dennis Milligan and to members of the media. Singer was fired from his job as outreach manager in late April.

Both chambers of the Arkansas Legislature have advanced proposals to move several smaller state agencies into larger ones.

Identical bills backed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson cleared the House 95 to 0 and the Senate 33 to 0 Wednesday.

Under the plan, the Department of Rural Services and the Science and Technology Authority would be merged into the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. Hutchinson also wants to merge the Division of Land Survey into the Geographic Information Office and the Arkansas Building Authority into the Department of Finance and Administration.

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Brian Chilson / Arkansas Times

A coalition of groups is rallying support for a measure vying for a spot on the Arkansas ballot next year that would require more disclosure from outside political groups participating in campaigns.

An Arkansas finance official says the state's budget administrator has been fired from the post he's held for nearly four years.

Department of Finance and Administration Deputy Director Tim Leathers on Tuesday said Brandon Sharp had been terminated a day earlier. Leathers declined to say why Sharp had been fired from the post.

Sharp was appointed budget administrator in June 2011, replacing retiring administrator Mike Stormes in the post. He had previously worked for the department as a state budget manager.

Governor Hutchinson Facebook
Arkansas Economic Development Commission

You haven’t seen much out of Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s public schedule the last two days. That’s because the new Arkansas governor has been on the West Coast for a little R & R. Not “rest and relaxation,” but for a few “rendezvous and recruitment.”

Arkansas Treasurer Dennis Milligan.
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

The Arkansas state treasurer's office has put on hold a new office policy requiring employees to delete all emails after 30 days.

Spokesman Grant Wallace for Republican Treasurer Dennis Milligan said Wednesday that the policy put in place April 17 had been suspended pending further review. An email was sent to treasurer's office employees on April 29 directing them to disregard the deletion policy, which was being removed from the employee handbook.

The email said employees would be notified if and when any new retention policy was established.

Arkansas Capitol
Michael Hibblen / KUAR News

An Arkansas legislative committee is scheduled to hear from the state's top economic official.

The Joint Committee on Economic and Tax Policy will meet at the state Capitol Wednesday at 2 p.m. for a presentation on the state's general revenue forecast from Department of Finance and Administration Director Larry Walther.

State officials released the April revenue report Monday, which showed a surge in tax collections in nearly every major category.