The former chief fiscal officer of the Arkansas Forestry Commission told legislators Tuesday that the agency's chief knew for years about financial problems that led the planned layoff of 36 workers.

The former chief fiscal officer of the Arkansas Forestry Commission told legislators Tuesday that the agency's chief knew for years about financial problems that led the planned layoff of 36 workers.

The agency announced this month that the workers will be laid off Jan. 13. About 300 people work for the Forestry Commission.

Robert Araiza told a Legislative Council subcommittee Tuesday that state Forester John Shannon told him in 2010 that Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe didn't want any public discussion of a shortfall until after last year's general election and had canceled a meeting with forestry professionals.

Beebe's spokesman Matt DeCample said the governor didn't know how bad the agency's financial problems were and had canceled the meeting because it pertained to raising the severance tax on timber amid an anti-tax climate.

The Forestry Commission this year has a $4 million shortfall that is being blamed on a drop in timber sales. The shortfall prompted the layoffs.

"It was like they were listening but they weren't hearing me," Araiza said.

Shannon told the panel that he canceled the meeting after talking with the governor's office. He said he expected the meeting to focus on taxes and also told the legislators there needs to be a "fresh look" at how to fund the agency.

The state's timber industry has been hit hard by the nation's housing market's woes. Georgia-Pacific announced in September that it would indefinitely suspend its plywood and stud manufacturing operation in Crossett, affecting 700 employees.

Shannon said previously he had known that the commission's budget was strained, but didn't learn how bad the shortfall was until November. He also said earlier he planned to ask for help in February when the Legislature convenes for its fiscal session.

Arkansas agencies have avoided the major layoffs and cutbacks that other states have suffered. The Forestry Commission is unique because of its reliance on timber sales to fund its budget.