The Big River Steel Appropriation

by Roby Brock ( 25 views 

Now that the Big River Steel Mill project has cleared its first two hurdles in the Senate, attention will turn to the House of Representatives, where it’s expected to also be approved by a simple majority vote.  On Tuesday afternoon (April 2), the Senate quickly approved enabling legislation for the 525-job creating, $1.1 billion steel mill project that wants to locate in Mississippi County.

However, an appropriation bill that dedicates a revenue stream for the $125 million bond issue tied to Big River will require a supermajority vote of 75% in both chambers – a high threshold, especially considering there is modest opposition to the deal.

The catch?  There is no standalone appropriation bill.

In fact, the appropriation bill that includes the Big River Steel Mill project money stream has already passed the Arkansas State Senate by a 34-1 margin. Sen. Bryan King (R-Green Forest) represents the lone vote not in the affirmative; he abstained from voting on the measure.  Earlier Tuesday, 26 Senators voted for the enabling bill (SB 820), while 9 Senators either voted against it or did not cast a vote.

The appropriation bill, SB 430, the General Improvement appropriation bill for the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, has been awaiting House action since Feb. 28 after its easy Senate passage.

As lawmakers only budget for the biennium, the bill only appropriates two years worth of payments on the bond issue with a line-item of $20 million.

“For payments on bonds issued for economic development projects authorized under Amendment 82 to the Constitution of the State of Arkansas of 1874, in a sum not to exceed $20,000,000,” the bill reads.

The appropriation bill contains other project funding, including:

  • $3 million for workforce training;
  • $2 million for rebates for the motion picture industry;
  • $37.5 million for incentives and rebates for new and existing industry expansions as part of signed financial agreements;
  • $500,000 for the state’s strategic plan; and
  • $5 million for the Innovate Arkansas Fund, for start-up tech businesses.

The measure also includes $50 million for the Governor’s Quick Action Closing Fund, which has been used to fund incentives and close deals for scores of economic development projects across the state since Gov. Mike Beebe (D) took office.

Clearly, administration officials thought strategically on the appropriation aspects of the superproject knowing it would require a 75% supermajority.  As a standalone measure, it would have been an up-or-down vote for members, and for those opposed, it would be an easy “no” vote with only 26 Representatives or 9 Senators killing the funding.

If SB 430 is not approved by the House now, it could be problematic for members as they’ll have a vote on their records against jobs and economic development far beyond the scope of Big River Steel.