Ark. ends fiscal year with $78.7M surplus

LITTLE ROCK — Arkansas ended the fiscal year with a nearly $79 million budget surplus and has more than $174 million in one-time money available for various projects when the Legislature convenes next year, state finance officials announce Wednesday.

The Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration announced that net available revenue for the fiscal year that ended Monday totaled $5.02 billion, which was $4.5 million below the previous fiscal year but $78.7 million higher than originally projected.

The department said the state was able to fund all categories of its budget, which priorities spending based on expected revenue.

"It shows that we're continuing to slowly come out of the recession and the recovery period," DFA Director Richard Weiss told reporters at the state Capitol.

The state already had a $95.8 million unobligated surplus before the end of the fiscal year, and Wednesday's announcement grows that figure to $174.5 million. State Budget Director Brandon Sharp projected interest will push that figure up to $180 million by next year.

Surpluses are not uncommon in Arkansas which is barred by law from running a deficit. The state had an even greater surplus at the end of the previous fiscal year of nearly $300 million.

Lawmakers have already been eyeing the one-time funds for various needs, including calls for a new prison to ease overcrowding at local jails around the state. Business groups have also been urging more money be set aside from the surplus for an incentive fund for economic development projects.

Individual income tax collections for the fiscal year totaled $3.1 billion, which was $33.2 million below the previous year's collections and $10 million above forecast. The state paid out $509 million in individual income tax refunds, which was $14.2 million above the previous year but $32.4 million less than expected.

Weiss said a cause for concern was the state's sales tax collections, which totaled $2.1 billion. That figure was $48.6 million above the previous year but $34.6 million below forecast.

Beebe, who is serving his last year as governor, said he hoped next year's Legislature would look at replenishing the "Quick Action Closing Fund" he established to lure new businesses and help existing ones expand. He also said lawmakers will have to be cautious about the tax cuts they approved last year, saying there may not be enough revenue growth for some of the reductions in future years.

"They're going to have to make some adjustments if all of the assumptions stay the same," Beebe said.