The Arkansas General Assembly will be convening in Little Rock on Thursday, March 26 for a special session to address the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson released a proclamation, calling an “extraordinary session” of the legislature to respond to critical budgetary issues. The session will begin at 1 p.m. on Thursday, with the Arkansas House of Representatives meeting at the Jack Stephens Center on the UA Little Rock campus and the Arkansas Senate meeting at the Arkansas State Capitol.
Hutchinson announced the planned special session on Tuesday, March 24 but delayed the proclamation in order to ensure consensus among assembly members on potential legislation. He told reporters on Tuesday that he wanted to build support before officially calling the session and said, “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…”
According to the proclamation, the legislature will consider three matters connected to the coronavirus pandemic and enact necessary laws to address the. The matters include creating a COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund and transferring monies into the fund; confirm gubernatorial appointees; and provide for payment expenses and per diem of the legislators during the special session.
The special session was precipitated by a $353 million budget shortfall caused by economic slowdown and shifting the individual tax filing deadline back to July. According to Hutchinson, the loss of businesses and partial economic shutdown has cost the state $168 million in revenue.
This is compounded by the state’s decision to shift the individual tax filing deadline to July 15, a move that mirrors the federal government, in order to provide monetary relief for taxpayers. However, the decision will leave a $185 million gaps in the current year’s fiscal budget.
In order to create the COVID-19 Rainy Day Fund, legislators will use state surplus funds. Arkansas Department of Finance & Administration Secretary Larry Walther told reporters on Tuesday that these funds amounted to $173 million.
Currently, Arkansas Money & Politics has not confirmed the gubernatorial appointees that Hutchinson will be putting forth for the legislature. Under Arkansas Code 10-2-113, the governor is required to “immediately submit the names of all appointments to boards and commission” upon convening a special session of the legislature.