When the voters of Arkansas approved Amendment 86 to the Arkansas Constitution in 2008, I dare say that most of them didn’t know what they were really getting themselves into. That amendment, of course, requires appropriations to be passed annually rather than every two years, resulting in the requirement that the General Assembly meet in a limited fiscal session during the years in between the general sessions. Because general sessions always occur in odd-numbered years, fiscal sessions occur during even-numbered years.
At first thought, the idea of yearly budgeting seems reasonable. Budgeting for one year in advance sounds easier than budgeting for two. What voters may not know, however, is that partly due to the sheer amount of time necessary to construct a state budget of $5 billion, and partly due to the fact that Arkansas has always budgeted on a biennial basis and things have always worked out just fine, the state continues to budget on a biennial basis, meaning that the only thing actually required of legislators during a fiscal session is a quick “rubber-stamp” of appropriations that have already been planned and approved during the previous year’s general session. This, however, costs taxpayers a lot of money, as in addition to their salary (as meager as it is), legislators receive a per diem for attending committee meetings and are reimbursed for things like housing and travel costs while in Little Rock.
With that being said, what’s even worse than the cost of having to rubber-stamp what’s already been decided is the cost of giving an opportunity for legislators to completely rehash, often for political purposes only, what’s already been decided. There are several examples of this you’ll see this year’s fiscal session, which started today. The most notable may be the fight over the Medicaid Private Option appropriation. Another example is this proposed resolution filed today to consider a bill to delay implementation of the Common Core State Standards in Arkansas, though implementation has already began. I don’t expect this to go anywhere, as it takes a 2/3 vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate to consider non-appropriation bills during the fiscal session, and I don’t think the resolution will have that type of support. Even so, back to my original point, what a waste of time and money.