Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the budget work of the upcoming fiscal session will further demonstrate his commitment to efficiency in government while delivering on initiatives ranging from education to economic development.
“We should be able to, in the fiscal session, pass a revised budget… and to fine-tune the framework of the budget that was passed the last session of the General Assembly,” Hutchinson said. “But there will be some significant adjustments in the budget. That will be my effort to create more long-term savings for the state and to continue our efforts in reducing on the spending side while at the same time making sure we are able to fulfill all of our essential services.”
Asked what areas he was specifically targeting for these cost-cutting measures, Hutchinson said he has all government department chiefs looking for ways to save costs.
“I’m going through the process with all the major agencies and probing on what their needs are and how we can best meet those needs,” he said. “But also, areas where we can reduce the general revenue expenses to those agencies. I’m continuing to drive, with our agency directors, the need for efficiency and cost-cutting measures where appropriate. In the final analysis, we hope there will be some savings created from that effort in the fiscal session as well.”
The governor said the state’s health care channels offer prime opportunities for these measures, building on the Legislature’s actions from the previous session.
“A large part of the focus is on controlling our Medicaid spending,” he said. “We passed the reform of Arkansas Works that has been helpful in making sure that we control the number [of people] on Medicaid but also the spending side of it.”
“But even outside of that, in traditional Medicaid we’ve created a number of transformation efforts to decrease the growth of Medicaid spending. As we get ready for the fiscal session, that will be an area that we continue to look at.”
Hutchinson also spoke broadly about the areas which will continue to receive priority attention in his budget, including investing in education and job training initiatives. Under Hutchinson’s administration, Arkansas has been recognized nationally as a leader in primary and secondary-level STEM training and investment in skilled labor training has also increased.
“We’ve had a good measure of success, but there’s always more work to be done. Being recognized for our state leading the nation in computer science education is a hallmark achievement,” he said. “We’re continuing to build layer upon layer to make our STEM education program in Arkansas one of the most successful in the country.”
“We’ve also invested in workforce training centers and workforce training grants that we have been implementing over the course of the last two years. Those have been very successful and helpful to our two-year colleges in increasing workforce training. We’ve continued the emphasis at the high school level, providing a meaningful path for those that are looking for work opportunities outside of the four-year college area.”
Hutchinson said outside of government constructs, the state’s business leaders are about to gain a golden opportunity with the new federal tax plan which he predicted will rev the state’s economic gains which peaked at 3.5 percent in the second quarter this year, placing it in the top 25 percent nationally.
“What I’m excited about in 2018 is that with the passage of the federal tax reform bill, that should give us confidence and the ability to continue and sustain that level of economic growth in this state,” he said. “I want companies to invest in their wage rate, I want them to invest in their employees and in expansion that will be good for this state.”
“That excites me about the year ahead, as well as continuing the improvement in the workforce and the transformation of state government. So, much to do, but I’m looking forward to 2018.”