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The Arkansas General Assembly gathers for the 2024 Fiscal Session from Apr. 10 to May 9.

Legislature adjourns with no funding for Game and Fish

On Tuesday, representatives in the Arkansas House met to start the special session by reading Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call. The House and Senate voted to approved proposed tax cuts by the governor.
Arkansas House
On Tuesday, representatives in the Arkansas House met to start the special session by reading Gov. Asa Hutchinson's call. The House and Senate voted to approved proposed tax cuts by the governor.

The Arkansas Senate voted again not to fund the Game and Fish Commission on Thursday.

This came right before the House adjourned for the session, an event known as Sine Die. The vote marks the second attempt for the House to pass an appropriation bill for the commission this year. Legislators voted amid discussion of a controversial pay raise for the director.

Game and Fish Commission Director Austin Booth currently makes over $152,638. He asked the legislature for a $40,000 pay raise, which would push his salary to over $190,000.

The commission is now short of the $150 million requested from the state. A special session could be called to give them the missing funding.

In March, an amendment was added to the game and fish budget bill to allow for the directors' $40,000 raise. It was put forward by Republican Sen. Terry Rice who called the raise “comparable to other directors.” He said it was the “maximum amount” they could give him. The budget passed easily.

When the amended budget went to the Senate. Republican Rep. Frances Cavenaugh said the raise for the director gave her “heartburn.”

“It's going to put them higher than 9 current secretaries,” she said, explaining that the Secretary of Agriculture and The Department of Corrections Secretary make less money. She thought the Commission should have asked for the raise earlier in the session.

Republican Rep. Lane Jean initially pitched the appropriations bill. He said it will cost far more to the taxpayers, an estimated $100,000, to have an extended or special session to deal with the Game and Fish Budget.

Only 32 people voted yes on the bill, which required 75 votes.

On Thursday, legislators made a last-ditch effort to fund the department. Republican Rep. Lane Jean made the motion to again pass the appropriations budget. He said this version of the bill had a compromise salary of $170,000. The Senate was already adjourned when he made this request, meaning if the house had passed the bill it would not have funded the commission.

Republican Rep. Robin Lundstrum said the Game and Fish Commission took too long to turn in their paperwork.

“We need to have a reality check,” she said. “All the other directors and agencies managed to get all their stuff done and in on a timely fashion.”

She described the department's behavior as “emotional blackmail,” and compared it to a toddler crying in a supermarket.

“We are holding up a budget for all these other people that need to get salaries too come July first, for one person.”

Republican Rep. John Eubanks said the delay had more to do with procedural issues in the legislature than the commission itself.

“I think the Game and Fish has received a very stark awakening as to the sentiment of the legislature,” he said. “I've never seen an appropriation go down like that one did. I think they’re showing good faith.”

62 Representatives voted yes out of the needed 75.

The Game and Fish Commission has other sources of revenue beyond the legislature. In 1996, voters passed Amendment 75, giving the commission 1/8th of 1% of the state's sales tax. 45% of those funds go to the Game and Fish Commission. While the rest goes to The Parks, Heritage, and Tourism Department along with Keep Arkansas Beautiful. A 2023-2025 budget manual estimates that the commission gets $43 million from the tax. The budget report says they get over $23 million from federal money. In 2023, the legislature gave $148 million to the commission.

Copyright 2024 KUAR

Josie Lenora is a news anchor and reporter for KUAR News. She has listened to KUAR and NPR since she was a young child growing up in Little Rock and says she is thrilled to give back to an organization she loves. Josie was previously an intern in the fall of 2021 assisting in production, then spent another semester with the station interning in the newsroom in the spring of 2022.