Thursday, May 28, 2015

Week In Review

State Capitol Week in Review
            LITTLE ROCK – The legislature completed a special session after voting to issue $87 million in bonds for a proposed industrial development project in south Arkansas that would manufacture the next generation of light military vehicles for the Army and the Marines.
            The Arkansas Economic Development Commission has been working on the proposal for two years. Arkansas is in competition with Indiana and Wisconsin to be the site of the plant, which will produce more than 50,000 vehicles costing about $250,000 each. They will replace the military’s current fleet of Humvees.
            The new vehicles are designed to have equal off-road capabilities as a Humvee and to be more able to withstand explosions. They also will be equipped with the latest generation of communications technology.
            The Defense Department is expected to make an announcement this summer of the name of the company that gets the contract. Lockheed Martin, a major corporation with vast experience contracting with the Defense Department, is one of three companies vying for the contract. The company has committed to locating in south Arkansas if it is successful, partly because it already has a plant in East Camden.
            The project would create almost 600 new jobs and secure more than 500 existing jobs at the East Camden location. The average salary is expected to be about $58,000 a year.
            According to an analysis commissioned by the legislature, if Arkansas is successful in recruiting the plant, over the next 25 years the net benefit to the state would be more than $16 million.
            The legislature approved the issuing of bonds under Amendments 82 and 90 to the state Constitution, which authorizes the state to issue revenue bonds for economic development projects. Amendment 82 limited the bonds to projects in which more than $500 million is invested, and which create more than 500 new jobs.  Amendment 90, approved by voters in 2010, removed those criteria.
            It is the second time the legislature has approved Amendment 82 bonds. In the 2013 regular session the legislature voted to issue $125 million in bonds to help finance and to pay for site preparation for a large steel mill in northeast Arkansas.
            Also during the special session, the legislature passed bills to merge several relatively small state agencies into larger ones, saving taxpayers more than $1 million a year in salaries.
            The legislation moves the Rural Service Department, the Arkansas Building Authority and the Arkansas Science and Technology Authority under the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. The Land Survey Division will be combined with the Arkansas Geographic Information Office. A total of 34 positions will be eliminated, mainly through attrition.
            The legislature made changes to state DUI laws to conform with federal statutes and ensure that more than $56 million in federal highway funding continues to flow into Arkansas. 
            The most controversial bill passed in the special session moves the 2016 primary elections from May to March. Supporters say the earlier primary would give Arkansas voters a stronger voice in choosing the candidates of the major political parties. By May, those candidates usually have been chosen already in primaries in other states.
            Other southern states are moving their primaries to March, creating what is being labeled as the Southeast Conference primary. Opponents say that moving up the date of the primary would lengthen the election, which already is too long, and that the earlier filing periods would create unfair hardships for candidates wishing to challenge incumbents.

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