The Arkansas General Assembly is expected to begin meeting Thursday, March 26 in special session to address the coronavirus pandemic in Arkansas.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced that he is planning to begin the special session on Thursday. However, he noted during the Tuesday afternoon that the proclamation had not been issued yet because he wanted to ensure that there was consensus among the assembly members about the proposed legislation. Once he has determined the level of support for the legislation, Hutchinson said he plans to issue the proclamation. “We do not to get together for a prolonged period of time with contentious debate. We need to be together, and I believe that we will be together in a bipartisan way in support of what is needed in the special session…” he said.
This special issue is designed to address the issue of essential state needs and a budget shortfall caused by the coronavirus crisis. “This is important to make sure that we can continue to meet the essential needs of state government in the emergency during this emergency health crisis that we have,” Hutchinson said.
On Monday, March 23, Hutchinson announced that the state would be experiencing a $353 million budget shortfall between now and the end of the fiscal year on June 30. Part of the shortfall is caused by the slowdown in economic activity and business shutdowns. This part of the shortfall accounts for approximately $168 million.
In the same press conference, Hutchinson announced that he had decided to shift the individual tax filing deadline back to July 15, in line with the federal decision. As a result, there will be a $185 million gap in the current fiscal year’s budget.
Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration Secretary Larry Walther has revised the state’s official revenue forecast as a result of these changes. To make up for the loss in revenue, the state will be required to use its budget surplus. According to Walther, the surplus currently stands at $173 million.
Hutchinson has been required to call a special session of the Arkansas legislature, though, in order to dole out the necessary funds. Legislators had already been set to convene on April 8 for the fiscal session, but addressing the budgetary issues is “urgent,” Hutchinson said.