LITTLE ROCK — Legislative leaders Monday declared measures to repeal a sales tax exemption for truckers and allow the denial of parole eligibility to felony sex offenders dead for the fiscal session, and no action was taken on a new state budget.

LITTLE ROCK — Legislative leaders Monday declared measures to repeal a sales tax exemption for truckers and allow the denial of parole eligibility to felony sex offenders dead for the fiscal session, and no action was taken on a new state budget.

The Joint Budget Committee is expected today to advance the budget measure for the 2012-2013 fiscal year that begins July 1.

House Speaker Robert S. Moore Jr., D-Arkansas City, told reporters there is not enough time left in the session for the tax exemption and parole measures to be adopted in both chambers. Legislators have set Friday as the last day of regular business for the session, with formal adjournment set for March 9.

The Senate on Monday declined to take up House Concurrent Resolution 1006, which would allow lawmakers to consider repealing a $4 million sales tax exemption for large trucks and trailers that they passed in 2011.

HCR 1006 passed in the House 81-15 but faced opposition in the 35-member Senate, where it would need 24 votes to pass.

Lawmakers approved the tax break during the last session in exchange for the trucking industry’s support of a 5-cents-per-gallon diesel tax increase to finance a $1.1 billion bond program for highway improvements. The Arkansas Trucking Association later asked the governor to hold off on calling for a special bond election, saying it lacked public support.

The association did not oppose repealing the tax exemption, which is scheduled to take effect July 1.

If passed, HCR 1006 would allow the introduction of a bill to repeal the tax break. The bill-fling deadline for the session was Monday.

“I’m certainly disappointed,” Senate President Pro Tem Paul Bookout, D-Jonesboro, said. “I would have liked to have seen us take that issue up.”

Bookout and Moore both said last week that several senators were reluctant during an election year to support a measure that could be seen as raising taxes.

“I tried over the weekend, I know other senators have, and I have tried over the last few weeks to get enough support to pass it, but the support is simply not there,” Bookout said Monday.

Moore also said he was disappointed the measure did not come up for a vote. He said the original plan was for revenue from the diesel tax to cover the cost of the tax break, plus raise $16 million annually to finance highway bonds.

“This is substantial,” Moore said. “Not only do we not get the benefit of the $16 million, but losing $4 million out of a woefully underfunded (state highway department) that is so integral to the safety of Arkansas citizens and to future economic benefit just sends a bad message in my opinion. Beyond that, I think it sets a bad precedent for the legislative process.”

Meanwhile, Senate Concurrent Resolution 4, which would allow consideration of a bill to authorize the state Parole Board to deny parole eligibility to felony sex offenders, stalled Monday after clearing the Senate late last week.

Moore said the resolution “was clearly not related to fiscal matters, and I think it more appropriately will be taken up with a comprehensive look in the (2013) General Assembly.”

The resolution did not arrive in the House until Thursday, by which time House members did not have time to give it proper consideration, he said.

On the budget, Sen. Gilbert Baker, R-Conway, co-chairman of the Joint Budget Committee, said he expects a vote today on a bill to amend the Revenue Stabilization Act, the mechanism by which the Legislature sets the state budget and spending priorities. Delaying the vote Monday did not affect the Legislature’s ability to complete its business Friday, he said.

The RSA bill closely follows Gov. Mike Beebe’s proposed $4.7 billion budget for fiscal 2013. Beebe has proposed a $114 million increase in funding for Medicaid and a $56 million increase for public schools, but his proposal keeps funding flat for most agencies.

Republican lawmakers spent most of the first two weeks of the session pushing for cuts to Beebe’s budget proposal but relented late last week in the face of opposition from the governor and Democratic leaders.

During the budget committee’s meeting Monday, Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, presented but did not ask for a vote on a proposed amendment to the RSA bill that would transfer $40 million of the state’s current surplus to the Medicaid Trust Fund and would transfer 75 percent of next year’s surplus, up to a cap of $60 million, to the trust fund.

Dismang said he planned to meet with Beebe on the matter and asked for the vote to be delayed until after that meeting.

State Department of Human Services officials said last week the state’s Medicaid budget is projected to see a shortfall of $350 million to $400 million in fiscal 2014.

“We have a crisis that is just on the horizon, something that we need to take charge of today,” Dismang told the budget panel.

Richard Weiss, director of the state Department of Finance and Administration, told the committee the Beebe administration opposes acting on Dismang’s proposal during the fiscal session.

“Whatever is left over in the surplus will be there come January when you all go into regular session again. There may well be other crises that come up between now and then,” Weiss said.

Dismang said he did not want to wait to act, saying he did not want to leave the surplus sitting in a “cookie jar” where it might get used for other purposes.


Reporter Rob Moritz contributed to this report.