Arkansas Senate Fails 2021-2022 Fiscal Appropriation For Department of Commerce
The Arkansas Senate failed to pass appropriations for the Arkansas Department of Commerce's 2021-2022 fiscal year on Monday. Members of the Senate voted 20-8 with five members not voting, which was ultimately not enough to pass Senate Bill 132.
In speaking against the bill, Sen. Trent Garner, R-El Dorado, said he could not vote for any appropriation that would "fund and pay for the head of the Department of Commerce, Sec. Mike Preston."
"I’ve lost confidence in his ability to lead that critical department," Garner said. "We look over the last year, we look at how contracts went to out-of-state businesses like Carvana for economic development, putting our small businesses here in Arkansas at a competitive disadvantage. We look at how he has authorized $15 million dollars for grants during the height of the pandemic without approval from this body."
Garner also said he believed someone should replace Preston in the position.
Sen. Bob Ballinger, R-Ozark, also spoke against the bill, but cited the department’s continuation of funding an economic development office in China as his reason for voting against it.
"From my standpoint, it’s I think bad policy for us to do that while they’re in midst of a genocide against an ethnic and religious minority group. I wish that they would have agreed not to provide that funding and keep that office going, but at this point, I’ve got to vote against it because of that," Ballinger said.
He was referencing China’s treatment of Uigur Muslims, which in a 2020 report from the United Nations, met the definition of a genocide.
After the vote, Sen. Linda Chesterfield, D-Little Rock, asked Sen. Jonathan Dismang, R-Beebe, who presented the appropriation bills, if the Senate does not pass a new appropriation for the Department of Commerce, would the funding essentially be the same as the previous year’s appropriation. Dismang replied that he had a "suspicion" that the Senate will eventually pass this year's appropriation.