LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Arkansas faces a $353 million budget shortfall because of the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak, Gov. Asa Hutchinson said Monday.
Hutchinson announced the shortfall as he said the state was delaying its filing and payment deadline for individual income taxes from April 15 to July 15, mirroring a move by the federal government. The governor said most of the state's projected drop in revenue will come from that move, and officials had already expected $160 million less coming in because of the outbreak's impact on businesses.
"It is going to be a challenge for the next three months," Hutchinson said.
Health officials announced the number of coronavirus cases in the state increased from 165 Sunday to 197. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported the deacon of a Cleburne County church said nearly three dozen people who attended a children's event at the church tested positive.
For most people, the coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover.
Hutchinson said he planned to call a special session of the Legislature to address the shortfall. Legislative leaders said they expected the session to begin as soon as late this week.
"The sooner we do this, the more evenly we can spread out the pain between now and the end of the fiscal year," said Senate President Jim Hendren, who is also the governor's nephew.
Hutchinson said the state has a $173 million reserve that can help avoid cuts to essential services such as the Department of Health, the Department of Emergency Management and the state's child welfare program. However, the governor said some surplus money must also be set aside for other needs that will come up during the outbreak, including equipment for hospitals.
The state also has other surplus money, including more than $152 million in a long term reserve fund.
Lawmakers had already been preparing for this year's session, focused on the budget for the coming fiscal year, scheduled to begin April 8.