LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas ended its fiscal year with a $145 million surplus and could have more than $200 million in one-time money available next year to help with emergency needs such a looming Medicaid shortfall, state finance officials said Tuesday.
The Department of Finance and Administration said the state's net available revenues for the fiscal year that ended Saturday totaled $4.7 billion, a record for the state and $178.7 million more than last year. The state collected 3.2 percent more than finance officials predicted.
Combined with the unobligated portion of the previous year's surplus, finance officials say the state has $191 million in one-time money available for when the Legislature convenes for its regular session in January. That figure will likely top $200 million once unused balances from various agencies and interest earned are factored in, the department said.
Most of that money will likely be eyed by lawmakers and Gov. Mike Beebe for helping with a shortfall projected in the state's Medicaid program. Human Services officials estimate the program faces a deficit of between $250 million and $400 million for the fiscal year that begins July 1, 2013.
"This will help a whole lot in dealing with the Medicaid crisis that we've talked about," said Richard Weiss, the department's director.
The additional money will likely fuel more tax-cutting talk in next year's session. Beebe, a Democrat serving his second term, has said he wants to continue cutting the state's grocery tax if there's money available. Republicans in the majority-Democrat Legislature have said they want to see if there are additional tax cuts the state can afford.
Weiss warned that lawmakers and others shouldn't view the surplus as a sign that the state can afford large tax cuts.
"We still have just very shaky economic times in this country and for anybody to say 'well, we've crossed over into some time where we can cut all the taxes and not have any income and everything's going to be rosy,' I don't think you can read that at all," Weiss said. "I certainly don't."
The state saw a rise in its three largest categories of tax collections. Individual income tax collections for the year totaled $2.8 billion, which was $156.2 million above last year and $59.5 million above forecast. Sales tax collections totaled $2.1 billion, which was $56.1 million above last year and $11.4 million above forecast.
Corporate income tax collections totaled $435.3 million, which was $43.7 million above last year and $43 million above forecast.