Thursday, April 9, 2009

Update on legislative doings this week by Lindsley Smith

Legislative Update April 6‏
Sent: Thu 4/09/09 10:22 AM
Date: April 3, 2009

Budget dominates as session draws to an end

The regular session of the 87th General Assembly is moving closer to adjournment with the passage of the Revenue Stabilization Act and the General Improvement Fund.

Lawmakers expect to adjourn April 9 but could return on May 1, if necessary, to consider the override of any vetoes or make corrections. More often than not, adjournment sine die is a formality requiring the presence of only a few lawmakers.

The Revenue Stabilization Act ensures that the state doesn’t spend into a deficit by regulating the flow of money to state agencies based on incoming revenue and by prioritizing state spending into categories.

The General Improvement Fund consists of a $300 million state surplus accumulated the past two years from leftover agency funds and earned interest. About $100 million of the surplus could be used to plug holes in the state budget discovered late in the session, and $50 million is expected to go into a “quick closing” account used by the governor in sealing the deal with a major employer looking to move into Arkansas.

About $9 million is expected to shore up the struggling State Police retirement system. The governor will have about $65 million at his discretion for statewide projects, and the House and Senate each will have about $30 million for projects routed through various state agencies.

Deciding which, if any, constitutional amendments to refer to voters at the November 2010 general also will be one of the last major decisions of the session. The House, so far, has recommended one such proposal, House Joint Resolution 1007, by Speaker of the House Robbie Willis, to expand the scope of Arkansas’s effort to lure major industries to the state. Currently law allows the state to issue general obligation bonds to land a company that intends to hire at least 500 employees and invest at least $500 million. HJR 1007 eliminates the 500-500 minimum and allows the General Assembly to decide bond issues on a case-by-case basis.

Meanwhile, in the session’s penultimate week, Wills named his three appointments to the newly created Arkansas Lottery Commission. They are Joe White, a Conway businessman; Mike Malone of Fayetteville, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Council, a private group that promotes development in the area, and Dr. Susan Ward-Jones of Marion, chief executive officer of the East Arkansas Family Health Center in West Memphis. The Commission’s nine members are appointed by the speaker of the House, the governor and the Senate president pro tempore. Only the governor’s appointments remain to be announced.

Also during the week, the House recalled a bill from the governor’s office that earlier had been approved in both chambers. The bill raised the wholesale tax on milk as part of an effort to save the state’ small, struggling dairy industry. The wholesale tax would have been passed on to consumers eventually, costing them a couple of dollars extra each year. The governor said he didn’t like the idea of taxing people’s milk at the same time that lawmakers chipped another penny off the state sales tax on groceries. About $9 million from the state’s alternative-fuels fund will go to the dairy industry instead. The alternative fuels effort has gone dormant as oil prices have come down.

Also during the week, the House approved:

· HB 2160, by Rep. Fred Allen of Little Rock, to ban the sale of toy guns that look like real guns, with exceptions for BB guns, air guns, replicas of antique guns, guns with orange markings on the barrel or guns used in theatrical or sports events. The bill goes to the Senate.

· HB 1060, by Rep. Tracy Pennartz of Fort Smith, to provide an investment tax credit for projects in central business improvement districts. The credit would be equal to 20 percent of up to the first $1 million of a project’s cost. In a single year, the state could award a maximum of $10 million in investment tax credits, with up to half of that amount going to projects in cities with a population under 50,000 and half going to projects in larger cities. The bill goes to the Senate.

· Approved HB 2243, by Speaker Wills, to set up a 16-member lottery advisory council that would make recommendations to the state Department of Higher Education and the lottery commission. The bill also clarifies that lottery director’s maximum salary is $354,000. The bill goes to the Senate.

· HB 1978, by Rep. John Edwards of Little Rock, to make driver’s license and identification cards with enhanced security features available in Arkansas if the federal government requires the cards. The bill goes to the Senate.

· SB 776, which was presented in the House by Rep. Bubba Powers of Hope, to overhaul the juvenile justice code, including the establishment of a five-day waiting period for marriage of those under 18. The bill goes to the Senate to consider an amendment.

· SB 464, presented in the House by Rep. Steve Harrelson of Texarkana, to repeal the Child Maltreatment Act and rewrite state law governing how someone is placed on the maltreatment registry. The bill allows a person an administrative hearing at which he could contest his placement on the registry before it appears. The bill goes to the governor.

· Approved HB 1748, by Rep. Steve Breedlove of Greenwood, to establish an income-tax deduction for the purchase and installation of a solar energy system. The bill goes to the Senate.

· Approved HB 1929, by Rep. Bill Sample of Hot Springs, to allow for the tripling of damages against an employer who pays an employee without deducting and withholding any amount of the wages. The bill is aimed at under-the-table cash payments for work. The bill goes to the Senate.

· HB 2203, by Rep. Darrin Williams of Little Rock, to require companies that loan money to consumers against anticipated income-tax refunds to be more clear in the fees they charge. The bill goes to the Senate.

No comments: