Arkansas lawmakers moved one day closer to recess and final adjournment after approving a massive $4.9 billion spending bill, $170 million in surplus funds, and a new Senate leader.

Two identical versions of the Revenue Stabilization Act, which lays out the state’s spending priorities, were approved by both chambers, but still need to clear the opposite chambers.

All told, the measure includes increases for public education, Medicaid, and salaries for state employees. Legislators also approved a $125 million bond package for incentives for a $1.1 billion steel mill superproject to be located in Osceola, Arkansas (Mississippi County).

Two bills outlining spending for $170 million in surplus funds – known as General Improvement Funds (GIF) – laid out priorities for excess collections during the past biennium. Legislators will spend the surplus on items that include:

  • Higher education projects across the state
  • U.S. Marshals museum in Fort Smith
  • Electronic health records grants
  • A state police wireless information network upgrade
  • Knowledge-based technology business grants
  • Volunteer fire departments
  • Department of Corrections facilities
  • State capitol improvements

They also approved more than $120 million in net new tax breaks, although most of the cuts will not go into effect until year after next. Lawmakers are calculating that savings from a health insurance expansion plan tied to federal Medicaid funds – the “private option” – will result in significant state savings to pay for the tax cuts.

Arkansas legislators referred three proposed constitutional amendments for voter consideration in the 2014 general election. They include an ethics and term limits reform,  changes to the signature collection process for citizen initiatives, and a mechanism to allow for more legislative oversight of executive branch rule making.

Also, the Arkansas State Senate chose Sen. Jonathan Dismang (R-Beebe) to be the next President Pro Temp of that chamber in the 2015 90th General Assembly.

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