LITTLE ROCK — The legislative Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday endorsed requests by Gov. Mike Beebe for supplemental appropriations for the current fiscal year, but the panel rejected a lawmaker's request to fund additional state Forestry Commission firefighters with money the Legislature uses for membership dues to national organizations.
LITTLE ROCK — The legislative Joint Budget Committee on Wednesday endorsed requests by Gov. Mike Beebe for supplemental appropriations for the current fiscal year, but the panel rejected a lawmaker’s request to fund additional state Forestry Commission firefighters with money the Legislature uses for membership dues to national organizations.
The committee voted down House Bill 1114 by Rep. Nate Bell, R-Mena, to transfer $267,400 earmarked for membership dues to the National Conference of State Legislatures and the Council of State Government. Several legislators said the groups provide valuable information that lawmakers need.
“In the era of term limits … we all struggle to be informed,” said Sen. Joyce Elliott, D-Little Rock. “We need to be very thoughtful about cutting off the ability for us to do a good job.”
Some Republicans on the panel said they are members of the conservative American Legislative Exchange Council and they pay their own dues, while their dues for NCSL and CSG are paid by the Legislature.
Elliott said the NCSL is non-partisan.
Bell said he realized the organizations provide necessary services, but making sure there are enough firefighters in rural areas of the state was more important.
The Forestry Commission laid off more than 30 firefighters earlier this year. Fifteen have since been rehired after Gov. Mike Beebe approved a transfer of $550,000 from the state Department of Agriculture to the commission’s budget.
With little discussion, the budget panel endorsed several more supplemental appropriations requested by Gov. Mike Beebe for this fiscal year, including HB 1159, which would use $9 million from the state’s surplus to pay overtime and holiday wages owed personnel at the state Department of Correction.
Other supplemental funding requests endorsed by the panel:
• HB 1157, which would use $2 million from the surplus to reimburse counties for housing state inmates.
• HB 1158, which would use $1.4 million from the state surplus to expand and operate an inmate housing facility on Roosevelt Road in Little Rock.
• Senate Bill 130, which would use $3.4 million in state surplus funds to help the State Hospital regain compliance with standards of the federal Centers for Medicaid Services.
• SB 131, which would use $130,000 in state surplus funds to replenish the Governor’s Emergency Fund, which released $130,000 to the state trial court assistance program last year.
• SB132, which would place $10 million in state surplus funds into the state Merit Pay Fund, which lawmakers have been told would be available to agencies that may need additional funding for employee salaries, such as merit pay or time-in-service pay increases.