LITTLE ROCK — After a week of wrangling over state spending, legislators on Wednesday advanced matching House and Senate resolutions to allow consideration of a state budget for the next fiscal year.

LITTLE ROCK — After a week of wrangling over state spending, legislators on Wednesday advanced matching House and Senate resolutions to allow consideration of a state budget for the next fiscal year.

The House version of the measure passed in a 91-1 vote after House Minority Leader John Burris, R-Harrison, spoke in support of it on the House floor. The resolution had been held up for a week because of negotiations over Burris’ proposal to cut $21 million from Gov. Mike Beebe’s $4.7 billion proposed budget for 2012-13.

Beebe has rejected Burris’ proposal, saying it would force layoffs and cuts to essential services. The governor announced Wednesday that after scouring his budget proposal he could find room to cut only $678,586.

“We hunted every place we could hunt to try to be cooperative,” Beebe told reporters.

Burris on Wednesday offered an alternate proposal that would trim $2.5 million from Beebe’s budget, but the governor said he could make no more concessions.

“I’ve gone as far as I know how to go and have a clear conscience about being responsible on the essential services,” Beebe said.

Burris told reporters he still believed more cuts were possible and said he regretted that a House committee had not advanced an alternative budget resolution that he filed, but he said a consensus appeared to be unreachable.

“We’ve tried multiple ways, multiple solutions, looking for ways that we agree, but it’s been met with resistance from day one,” he said.

Speaking on the House floor, Burris said, “In the interest of the timing and having an expeditious session, I think we should pass this resolution today.”

House Concurrent Resolution 1004, by Joint Budget Committee Co-Chairman Kathy Webb, D-Little Rock, would allow introduction of a bill to amend the Revenue Stabilization Act, the law that sets state spending priorities for a year at a time. It requires a two-thirds vote to pass during a fiscal session, which in the 100-member House means 67 votes.

The resolution now goes to the Senate, where it needs the votes of at least 24 of the 35 senators for concurrence.

The Senate on Wednesday passed a matching resolution, Senate Concurrent Resolution 1, in a 34-0 vote. That measure goes to the House, where a vote is expected today.

Republicans are a minority in the Legislature, but they hold enough seats to block a two-thirds vote in either chamber. Burris said he did not expect House Republicans to block the Senate version of the budget resolution.

“We could, but we’re more responsible than that,” Burris told reporters. “We’ve said all along the goal was compromise while passing a budget. If there’s no compromise to be found, we’re going to pass a budget — we’re just going to do it begrudgingly.”

House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr., D-Arkansas City, told reporters he also expected a “yes” vote in the House.

The biggest sticking point in the negotiations has been Burris’ proposal to take $14 million away from Medicaid’s general-revenue funding and replace it with one-time money from the state’s surplus. Burris’ latest proposal retains that idea and would transfer the rest of the surplus, about $25 million, to the Medicaid Trust Fund, an idea advanced by Sen. Michael Lamoureux, R-Russellville.

“Instead of the state spending $40 million on roads or some other project, they would be spending it on the thing that would give us the most benefit for the dollars and just avoid a future crisis,” Lamoureux said Wednesday.

The state Medicaid program is projected to see a budget shortfall of between $200 million and $300 million by July 2014.

Beebe said Wednesday he continues to consider taking any general revenue away from Medicaid a “non-starter.” He also said there is no need to transfer the state’s surplus to the Medicaid Trust Fund during the fiscal session because the money is not going anywhere.

“If they want to put that in the Medicaid Trust Fund in January when they’re in charge, they can do that,” he said.

Beebe spokesman Matt DeCample clarified later that Beebe’s use of the phrase “in January when they’re in charge” was a reference to the Legislature’s authority to make such a decision during the next session, not to the possibility of a Republican majority in 2013.

Beebe has said Burris and other Republicans proposed the budget cuts because they want to lay the groundwork for future tax cuts. Burris said Wednesday his sole intent is to address the looming Medicaid crisis.

“This has never been about tax cuts,” he said.

The cuts that Beebe said Wednesday he was willing to make would take $90,162 from the Department of Labor, $260,000 from the Department of Higher Education, $126,319 from the Department of Environmental Quality, $97,947 from the state Science and Technology Authority and $104,158 from the Natural Resources Commission.

Lawmakers have set March 2 as the last day of regular business for the fiscal session.


Reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.