Ark. House Republicans fail to pass spending cap
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas House Republicans failed to secure enough votes Tuesday to cap the growth of government spending, a centerpiece of their legislative agenda this year.
By a 49-47 vote the measure fell two votes short of the majority needed to pass the House. Democrats opposed the bill while all but two Republicans supported the proposal. Rep. Karen Hopper voted "present," and Rep. Mary Slinkard did not vote.
The proposal sponsored by Republican Leader Rep. Bruce Westerman would have limited the annual growth of state government to a formula tied to a five-year average of the state's personal disposable income. Under the current law, the government is allowed to spend up to the amount it receives in revenues each year.
Gov. Mike Beebe had opposed the bill, saying it would "wreak havoc" on the state's budget. The state's top finance officials warned that the proposal would threaten funding to important state services.
Westerman said the bill failed in part because of "tremendous pressure" on some lawmakers from higher education and public school advocates who feared the measure would cut their budgets.
Some Democrats said on the House floor that they were opposed to changing the existing budget system and said they were concerned that predetermining a cap on growth could prevent lawmakers from being able to allocate funding to programs that need it.
Rep. Reginald Murdock, D-Marianna, said on the floor that the bill was predicated on a laudable goal of responsible spending but, in practice, would be harmful to the state.
"We need to have that flexibility to address the needs of people, and I don't think you get that flexibility," he said. "You're putting us in a box by this policy."
Imposing a cap on the annual growth in the state's annual budget was a centerpiece of the platform on which Republicans campaigned to take control of the House last November for the first time since Reconstruction.
So far this legislative session, Republicans have passed bills restricting abortion, relaxing gun laws, and offering rewards to state employees who blow the whistle on government waste. But other parts of their legislative agenda remain unaccomplished — such as proposals aimed at lowering taxes, reducing Medicaid fraud, and expanding access to charter schools.
"I'm not going to step out on a limb and say we've got a solid majority on any vote that comes up," Westerman said after Tuesday's vote. "When you're operating on a one-person margin in a majority the fact of even trying to get everyone here when there's a close vote is a logistical nightmare."
Westerman said he didn't plan on bringing up the spending cap legislation for another vote during this year's session.
"It had its day in court and it didn't get the votes," he said. "In my opinion, it's time to move on and focus on other issues."