Gov. Asa Hutchinson was to talk about his call for a special legislative session this afternoon, but his office later announced the news conference would be delayed until Thursday morning when the agenda and “government efficiencies” are to be discussed.
The session call seems likely to include:
* CORPORATE WELFARE: This will be the proposal to expand state bonding capacity to provide cheap financing for Lockheed Martin to be able to improve its bid to win a defense vehicle contract for its operation in Camden. This deal was all but completed during the Beebe administration, so those skeptical of corporate welfare and using Arkansas taxpayers to help bloat the federal defense budget should pin bipartisan blame. The cost isn’t known. The bond issue is expected to be less than the $125 million package given to land a startup steel mill in Mississippi County.
Noted: Arkansas, which has a state funds budget of around $5.12 billion anually, is a funny provider of benefits to Lockheed Martin. Its gross profits in 2014 were $5.37 billion, equal to all state general revenue, on sales of $45 billion. Maybe Arkansas should ask Lockheed for a loan.
* SEC PRIMARY: Hutchinson is expected to help Mike Huckabee by moving the 2016 presidential primary to March on the same day as other Southern states. This is thought to give a leg up to Huckabee’s presidential candidacy because he performed well in the South in 2008. Objections to the cost of a special early presidential primary apparently caused Hutchinson to consider moving the entire primary to March. Bad idea, though incumbent legislators will love it. The candidate filing will be completed earlier, in November, and they won’t be hampered by the startup of the fiscal legislative session with restrictions on raising money at session time. But this also would mean moving the fiscal session to April, from the normal February start. With big decisions looming on the extension of the private option version of Obamacare, that will produce a short deadline (by July 1) to complete a potentially difficult process. All this to help Mike Huckabee?
* DRUNKEN BOATING: A proposal to clean up the DWI law is to be on the call. This arises from a conflict with federal highway funding law as a result of an Arkansas Supreme Court ruling that said a driver had to knowingly drive drunk to be convicted of DWI. There’s been a related push to add DWI boating to the list of DWI infractions that count toward license loss and the item in the call could make another DWI change relevant.
* DECK CHAIR SHUFFLING: Hutchinson will move to reorganize some of state government, with some shuffling of where agencies are placed in the structure.
* ROAD WORK: The call could include a measure to allow an exception from normal interstate highway rules for agricultural equipment access on the Interstate 55 corridor in Northeast Arkansas.
The delay in the discussion could have been explained by the usual continued jockeying for special consideration by a number of interests, particularly from agencies affected by the executive’s decision to pare spending from appropriated levels to pay for Hutchinson’s capital gains tax cut for the wealthy. Somehow, I don’t expect the special pleaders who got the governor’s ear included the already underfunded Ethics Commission, which faces a real-dollar budget cut next year for an operation already inadequate for the task. Libraries, community health clinics, declining college scholarships, rising tuition fees, the clamor of highway contractors for money and more also face the governor and legislature. UPDATE: Apparently the delay was due to a missed airplane connection, though it is true that many other people had hopes for special items in the call.
Also: No word if more Bledsoes have been found to add to the state taxpayers’ dole.
UPDATE: The governor’s office issued the special session call moments ago. It will convene May 26. It follows:
Agenda items are as follows:
To consider an Amendment 82 “super project” at Highland Industrial Park in Calhoun County.
To consider reorganization of state agencies to provide efficiencies, better services and savings:
Ø Merging the Arkansas Department of Rural Services (ADRS) with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC)
Ø Merging the Arkansas Science & Technology Authority (ASTA) with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission (AEDC)
Ø Merging the Arkansas Building Authority (ABA) with the Department of Finance and Administration (DFA)
Ø Merging the Division of Land Survey with the Arkansas Geographic Information Office (AGIO)
To make a minor fix to DWI law to assure continuation of federal highway funds.
To ensure that state law aligns with potential changes in federal law regarding farm-equipment traffic on a new section of interstate highway.
To correct technical errors made to bills when amendments were engrossed.
To move the full Arkansas primary elections from May to March.
To move the General Assembly’s fiscal session from February to April.
To honor Johnson County Deputy Sheriff Sonny Smith.
To confirm Gubernatorial appointments.