Big cuts at UAMS 

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Quote of the week

"Over the last 10 years, the tuition increases have ranged from a low of 3 percent to a high of 6.2 percent, so it's time to give our students a break. It is time to help make college more affordable."  — Governor Hutchinson explaining to the Joint Budget Committee why he will ask all state four-year institutions to freeze in-state tuition next year and ask all two-year colleges to limit their increases to the consumer price index. Hutchinson pushed through a change in the higher education funding formula during the last legislative session that moves the state from a method based largely on student enrollment to one based on student performance. Hutchinson's ask to colleges is based on improving "efficiency," not on significant increases in state funding to keep up with rising costs and keep tuition in check. Neither Hutchinson nor the legislature directly control where state institutions set tuition.

Medicaid rolls fall

The number of beneficiaries covered by the program fell from 1,048,000 on Jan. 1, 2017, to 931,000 on Jan. 1, 2018, Governor Hutchinson announced last week. That includes both the Medicaid expansion program known as Arkansas Works that covers low-income adults, and the traditional Medicaid program, which covers disabled and lower-income kids in ARKids, the elderly and many other vulnerable populations.

Hutchinson credited a strong economy and low unemployment rate, as well as an effort by the state's Department of Human Services to review eligibility, for the reduction in the rolls. The Medicaid program will now require $47 million less in state general revenue for the next fiscal year, according to Hutchinson, who will once again have to convince a supermajority of Arkansas legislators to reauthorize Arkansas Works in the fiscal session of the legislature that begins Feb. 12.

On Tuesday, Hutchinson presented his proposed $5.6 billion budget plan to the Joint Budget Committee. It includes an increase in state spending of $172 million and $64 million projected as surplus.

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Big cuts at UAMS

The University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences is reducing its workforce by 600 positions to cut between $26 million and $30 million this fiscal year and up to $60 million in the 2019 fiscal year. More than half of the positions were unfilled; 258 employees were laid off Monday, including faculty.

Even with the cuts, UAMS is still running a deficit. The 2018 fiscal year budget included a $39 million deficit, a figure that could reach $72 million. A spokeswoman said UAMS is looking at other measures to both save money and generate revenues. It has contracted with Huron Consulting of Chicago to look at such changes. 

In UAMS' statement to the public, Interim Chancellor Stephanie Gardner noted that UAMS is the state's largest employer with 10,900 employees working in 73 of the state's 75 counties, and has an estimated financial impact of $3 billion.

Another casino push

A group calling itself Driving Arkansas Forward announced last week that it was launching an effort to push for a constitutional amendment to allow three casinos to be built in the state. The first would be in Jefferson County, followed by one in Crittenden County and the third in either Miller, Mississippi, Pope, Union or White counties.  The group filed the proposal with Attorney General Leslie Rutledge on Friday and will now await certification of the proposed popular name and ballot title. If certified, the amendment would need to collect around 85,000 signatures of registered voters by July to make it on the ballot in November.  The amendment would allocate 65 percent of casino tax revenues to the state's Department of Transportation to pay for improvements to the state's roads and bridges. The rest of the tax revenues would go to the city and county where each casino is located.

John Berrey, chairman of the Quapaw Tribe of Oklahoma, said the tribe would apply for a permit to open a casino in Jefferson County if the measure was approved by voters. The Quapaw own land in Pulaski County, but Berrey said the tribe does not plan to build a casino there at this time.

Share your Big Ideas to make Arkansas a better place

The Arkansas Times is soliciting suggestions for its annual "Big Ideas" issue. As in years past, we're searching for specific, potentially transformative suggestions for making Arkansas a better place to live. We're open to practical, wacky and everything in between. Send your ideas to lindseymillar@arktimes.com before Jan. 17.



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