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HDCs Cut Out Of Surplus Spending

In the end, far too few legislators spoke up for the state’s five Human Development Centers, one of which is located in Booneville.

A voice vote of the Joint Budget Committee last Thursday did not provide enough sound to warrant a role call vote on whether to appropriate $10 million in surplus money to the HDCs.

On Feb. 20 a legislative panel had endorsed a proposal to create an amendment to the state Developmental Disabilities Services budget — Senate Bill 112 — to use $10 million of the state’s unobligated general improvement funds to help pay for renovations at the HDCs.

Then Rep. Jason Rapert, R-Conway, said each of the five centers need improvements and the division does not have the money. He said work at the center in Booneville alone has been estimated at $6 million.

Thursday’s vote by the Joint Budget Committee continues a trend of putting off renovations, HDC superintendents like Jeff Gonyea in Booneville have said is needed now.

During the 2012 legislative session a $6 million budget request for the Booneville HDC to start a $20 million capital improvement plan was turned down as well.

Instead funding last year was just over $500,000 for three projects at BHDC the Developmental Disabilities Services Board was told when it met in Booneville in October.

“This particular group around the state has not received extra funding over the past few years for any capital improvements, whatsoever,” Rapert said in February, adding he discussed the possible funding with Gov. Mike Beebe and “he had no problem with this proceeding.”

The HDC spending Beebe had endorsed was not the only thing the Joint Budget Committee left out of the spending package it advanced.

Beebe had proposed spending more than $90 million of a projected $125 million surplus but the panel forwarded only about $22 million in spending in an agreement negotiated behind closed doors Thursday afternoon. Beebe had sought to spend $2 million on early childhood education.

What did make it into the plan was one-time spending of $719,873 for 200 new prison beds; $4.2 million to reimburse county jails for holding state prisoners; $5 million for Department of Correction employees’ banked holiday compensation; $5 million for loans to charter schools to build facilities; $5 million for grants to schools for broadband; and $2 million for the state Department of Health’s breast care program.

Beebe had requested surplus money for all but the breast care program. The budget panel endorsed spending a little over half of the amount Beebe requested.

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