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A legislative panel on Wednesday approved Gov. Asa Hutchinson's proposals to provide $6.4 million in rainy-day funds to several agencies, ranging from the Arkansas Economic Development Commission to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff.

The Republican governor's proposals cleared the Legislative Council's Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review Subcommittee. The council itself will consider the proposals Friday.

Hutchinson proposed distributing $1.5 million in rainy-day funds -- one of the state's reserve funds -- to the Arkansas Economic Development Commission for the Innovate Arkansas fund and $600,000 to support the continuation of the Accelerator program.

The Innovate Arkansas fund was created by the Legislature in 2007 to fund a program for encouraging technology companies in Arkansas, and it's been funded with one-time funds since then, commission spokesman Scott Hardin said after the subcommittee's meeting. The Accelerator program was created in this year's regular legislative session to provide grant funding for accelerator "boot camps" that will be attended by early-stage entrepreneurial companies and will be formally launched Oct. 1, Hardin said.

Hutchinson also proposed granting the following amounts in rainy-day funds to the following agencies:

• $1.2 million to the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs to help the agency with operational costs of the Arkansas State Veterans Home in North Little Rock.

• $1 million to the Arkansas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Training to make repairs and updates to training facilities.

• $847,200 to the Arkansas Department of Agriculture for maintenance, improvements, upgrades and repair of property and facilities relating to county and district fairs.

• $500,000 to the University of Arkansas at Little Rock to fund improvements at its Nanotechnology Center.

• $422,000 to the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff to provide matching funds for the 1890 Research and Extension Grant programs.

• $300,000 to the state Department of Education to provide additional scholarships through the Succeeds Scholarship Program.

Students with disabilities who have individualized education programs and those in foster care living in a group home are eligible for the program, Department of Education spokesman Kimberly Friedman said after the subcommittee's meeting.

The scholarship program was originally funded at $664,600 in fiscal 2017, which ends June 30.

"With this additional $300,000, the program will have received a total of $964,600," Friedman said in an email. She said the original funding was to provide 100 scholarships at the state foundation funding amount of about $6,700 per student. "Currently, there have been 24 scholarships awarded. However, ADE has received 181 applications and is working through the approval process for these applications."

• $100,000 to the University of Arkansas System to provide aid for operations of the Criminal Justice Institute.

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If the Legislative Council on Friday approves the governor's requests, the rainy-day fund balance will be $36.2 million, said Wendy Cartwright, senior legislative analyst at the Bureau of Legislative Research.

Senate President Pro Tempore Jonathan Dismang, R-Searcy, asked about the proposals for the county fairs and UALR's Nanotechnology Center.

Duncan Baird, the state's budget director, said the state has released the same amount of about $847,200 for the county fairs from one-time funds for at least the past four bienniums.

"This will just be a continuation from the practice that has been done in the past," Baird said.

Joni Lee, UALR's chief government relations officer, said the university requested $500,000 in rainy-day funds in February to help fund its Nanotechnology Center operations.

"We started that center back in 2005. It was under Gov. [Mike] Huckabee's leadership that the original appropriation for major equipment at that center was allocated," she said. "However, a permanent funding stream for that Nano center was not completed as it was planned ... so continually since then under Gov. [Mike] Beebe, and now under Gov. Hutchinson, we have received multiple one-time funding streams to help fund the continuation of the operation."

Lee said this request will be the last.

"The university has been making strides the best we can to fully fund the operations of this center, so this money will help us get through this fiscal year and next fiscal year to be able to complete the gap that we have in total funding that it takes for the base operation of the center," she said. The center has a base budget of about $1 million a year, she said.

Dismang said he wants a breakdown of where the $500,000 in rainy-day spends would be spent at the UALR Nanotechnology Center.

Metro on 06/15/2017

Print Headline: Panel backs requests for rainy-day funds

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